Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Fairies and the Old Faith

Walking up to the summit of Loughcrew
This photo taken on the same day as I had the strange experience at Loughcrew in County Meath, at Slieve na Callí, which is the main hill at the site. It is the abode of Béara, who is a Bean Sí (fairy woman) and one of the Tuatha Dé.  There is a passage tomb on top, in which at the equinox sunrise, the rays of the sun shine down and illuminate the inner chamber.  There are the graves of extremely ancient dead kings, queens, and warriors there.  I give a full account of my strange and singular experience at Loughcrew in my book 'Finding the McCains.'  These Celtic fairies are not your wee, cute type, of the Victorian era children's books.  They are tall, fair, powerful beings of light, that are dangerous to be around.  Béara is remembered throughout Ireland and Scotland, in the old Gaelic homelands. She is, or has become in legend, a primordial nature spirit and Queen of Winter.  She can appear as an old woman or as a beautiful young maiden, tall and fair.     

Placing an 'intention' on a Faerie Tree
The practice of leaving 'wishes' or intentions, on Fairy trees goes back to pre Christian times.  A Fairy Tree is often located near a holy well, which was a spiritual place of worship in pre Christian times. They are part of the Old Faith.   Many travel, a pilgrimage of sorts, to the Fairy trees, to leave prayers or intentions, to ask a blessing or a favour, from those mysterious, unseen but felt, aspects of nature and the Old Faith that still manage to survive at these locations. When you visit a Fairy Tree you will see an array of objects left in the branches or at the base of the tree.  You will see ribbons, messages written on paper, colouful pieces of cloth or foil, photographs, toys, small figurines, and even strips of fabric torn from a visitor's clothing. 

A Fairy Tree near a Holy Well

A Fairy Tree is often a Hawthorn tree, but not always.  A lone hawthorn standing in the middle of a field or pasture garners both respect and some suspicion by the local communities.  A Fairy Tree is thought to bring good fortune, but it is also known to belong to the Otherworld and is part of the Sidhe.  For this reason, it was the tradition to never cut nor harm the tree for fear of retribution of the old gods and their allies.  The Fairy Tree was, and to some still is, seen as a gateway into the Fairy realms.     


With my old son, Donovan, on Tara Hill at Lia Fáil. 
This photo taken at Tara.  My older son, Donovan, and I are standing by the Lia Fáil, a stone of power that was a gift to Ireland from the Tuatha Dé.  It is one of the four legendary treasures of Ireland brought to Ireland from the Northern Isles by the Tuatha Dé.   The treasures are the Claíomh Solais (sword of light), the Sleá Bua (victory spear of Lugh), the Coire Dagdae (cauldron of Dagda), and the last, the Lia Fáil (stone of Ireland).  


© 2017 Barry R McCain



Saturday, July 8, 2017

Irish Coffee… The Rest of the Story

Let's see, Irish whiskey, good strong black coffee, a bit of sugar, then nice thick cream, poured over the back of a spoon, so that it sits on top of the coffee, whiskey, and sugar mixture; what's not to love. When made right with good ingredients Irish Coffee is the perfect restorative. Last summer on my travels in Ireland I came upon the real story of Irish Coffee, in Ballybofey, County Donegal.


There is a common and widely held myth that Irish Coffee, that most wonderful of elixirs, was first created in the bar in Shannon Airport. It is true this luscious, Gaelic concoction, was served there at a very early date. But… it wasn’t the first place to serve this wonderful drink, it actually originated in County Donegal at Jackson’s Hotel, in Ballybofey.

There was a seaman named Joe Jackson, a Derry man, who served in the Merchant Navy during World War II. It was his misfortune to be on a ship that was torpedoed in the north Atlantic. When he was rescued he was suffering from exposure and was revived with a high proof drink made from coffee and rum, which was a Navy practice of the day. The rest of Joe Jackson’s service was in the eastern Mediterranean and there he was exposed to drinks containing cream, sugar, and spirits.

With the war over Joe returned home to Ireland and married a woman in the catering business in Ballybofey. Joe purchased a hotel in Ballybofey and calling upon his experiences during the war, began to experiment with new drinks. One of the specialties of the house was an ‘Irish Coffee’ which was made of strong black coffee, sugar, Irish whiskey, and then a layer of cream on top. This was circa late 1940s.

In the early 1950s a Scottish motoring magazine published an account of Joe Jackson’s Irish Coffee. The drink was replicated, according to lore, on 10 November 1952, in the bar of Shannon airport, but this was several years after Jackson’s Hotel served the drink. Perhaps it was a public relations coup or perhaps Donegal was in those days too distant and away, for whatever reason, the Shannon airport origin for Irish Coffee began to take root.

The real story is Irish Coffee is the creation of Mr Joe Jackson and was first served at Jackson’s Hotel in Ballybofey, County Donegal, where they still serve it today, exactly as it was created by Joe Jackson in the late 1940s.

Barry R McCain ©2017

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Why 'McCain's Corner?'


McKane's Corner


The story of why and how I call my blog McCain’s Corner goes back to the McCains that stayed in Ireland, in Donegal, when my branch of the family migrated to Colonial America.  I had, from my childhood, been fascinated with the concept of finding that part of my family that stayed behind in the Old Country.  My book, Finding the McCains goes into detail about my forty year search for them and how I finally located them and the McCains in the New World were reunited with the McCains that stayed in Ireland.   The McCain’s Corner blog is named after a landmark associated with our family in Stranorlar, County Donegal, Ireland.
In 2008 I wrote a group of articles for the Irish newspaper The Finn Valley Voice.  The paper is based in Stranorlar and its editor is Celine McGlynn.  It is an old fashioned regional paper that was founded in 1994 and it is one of the two oldest independent newspapers that have survived in Ireland, the other one being the Tirconaill Tribune.  It is unique in another regard in that it is owned by an all lady group.  Celine not only edits and manages the newspaper, but she is also an accomplished artist.  Celine does oil paintings of Donegal landscapes and her works have appeared in the Screig Gallery, in Fintown.  Celine wanted to run some articles to highlight the growing interest in John McCain’s presidential bid.  I suggested to Celine a column for her paper, which would address the McCain connection to the district and other topics of interest.  I suggested we call the column McCain’s Corner.  Celine McGlynn thought my McCain’s Corner idea a good one and in the spring of 2008 I began a series of articles that appeared as the McKane’s Corner column in the Finn Valley Voice.

Hanging Out at McKane's Corner
 
When I suggested that name I did not know that there exists a landmark called McKane’s Corner.  In the late 1800s John McKane of Trenamullin founded McKane’s General Merchants Shop at the corner of Chapel Street and Main Street in Stranorlar.  From the early 1900s this street corner was used by the local men to meet together and talk about the issues of the day and to enjoy the craic.  It became known as McKane’s Corner and remains to this day a Stranorlar landmark.  Pat Holland, a reporter with the Finn Valley Voice, told me of a poignant letter he read about McKane’s Corner.  The letter was written in 1917 by Patrick Kelly, who was away fighting in World War I.  He sent a letter home to his family and toward the end he wrote, “tell me how they are getting on about McKane’s Corner, you can tell them all I was asking for them.”  Poor Patrick was killed shortly after posting the letter home.  The letter is still in existence, kept by his grandnephew, Jonathan Kelly.
Pat gave me a tour around the twin towns and took me to McKane’s Corner.  On the day we stopped at the corner there were several older gentlemen seated there, deep in conversation.  They were keeping up the McKane’s Corner tradition of meeting to chat about the events of the day.  We talked to them and took photographs and they were delighted as were we.  Pat and I also solved a mystery while we were at McKane’s Corner.  The location of the original sign of McKane’s General Merchants Shop was unknown.  Many feared it had been taken down and was rotting away in some barn, or worse, had been burned as trash.  But we found it that day.  The Flower Shop is now in the building that once was McKane’s General Merchants and as we were looking at the current florist’s sign we noticed that behind it was the original McKane’s sign.  It is worth stopping the car to take a few photos on McKane’s Corner, and besides, Kee’s Hotel and bar are just a few steps away.