Wednesday, May 1, 2019

May Day-Lá Bealtainne

Well it is May Day... I remember well the May Pole ritual which was still around when I was a child.  And what is May Day? It is a very old celestial festival long celebrated in Europle. In Gaelic Celtic lands it is called Lá Bealtainne.  This is on 1 May, circa halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. 

May Day is still widely observed by the better sort of person and is particularly popular in Celtic areas. The festival ritual was, and still is, observed throughout Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man, and throughout the Gaelic Diaspora. It is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals, along with Samhain, Imbolc, and Lunasa.

On our earth, Lá Bealtainne is a transition between the seasons. In ancient times this was when cattle and other livestock were driven to the summer pastures. The old gods were evoked for blessings of fertility and growth for the new growing season. There are many rituals associated with Lá Bealtainne that date from ancient times and some have survived to this day. 

Foremost are the bonfires. In Old Times folk walked around the bonfires as part of a protective ritual. This is done in a Deisealach (towards the right, i.e. clockwise) fashion. People would jump over smaller bonfires also, which is still a common practice.

 Yellow flowers were, and still are, used as decorations on windows, barns, and on the folk and livestock themselves.  The yellow colour is a celebration of the coming summer, the warmth and fertility of the summer sun.  Holy Wells are visited with votives left in the well or on the Faery Tree. 

Lá Bealtainne was similar to Oíche Shamhna (Holloween) in that this was also a time when the Aos Sí moved about and the veil between the Otherworld and our world dropped.  An Dagda presided over Lá Bealtainne, as he does at Oíche Shamhna and the Aos Sí were about at this time. 


So, Remember your ancestors on the Day, and if you can, do light the bonfire and celebrate tonight... If this is not possible, not to worry, just light a candle. It is the fire ritual itself that is important, even a wee fire will do. And, a libation for you and your loved ones and one for the Old Ones as well.  Enjoy your May Day. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Scottish Heritage Weekend, 5-7 April; Laurinburg NC

I will be speaking at the 30th Charles Bascombe Shaw Memorial Scottish Heritage Weekend.  This symposium runs from April 5 through April 7. The event takes place in Laurinburg, North Carolina and is sponsored by St Andrews University.  

An excellent slate of speakers will be there. My talk is on the Redshank Migration from Mid Argyll to East Donegal.  This is the story of the Redshanks, or Highland Gaels, that in the 1500s settled  in the Lagan District, east Donegal. It is a romantic, though tragic tale, of the Scottish princess, Fionnuala Nic Dhónaill, the daughter of Seamus Mac Dónaill, the taoiseach, or chief, of Clann Dhónaill and how she became a pivotal figure in the migration of Highland Gaels into west Ulster. 

Fionnuala Nic Dhónaill is better known in history as Iníon Dubh (said Nee-an Doo), which means 'black haired daughter.'

If you have an interest in Scottish history and lore, do attend. Going to be an enjoyable and interesting event.

Click on Brochure Icons To Enlarge.   

Friday, February 1, 2019

Imbolc, the Day of Bríd

Bríd (artist unknow)

Imbolc... also called Lá Fhéile Bríde. A Gaelic festival that marks the halfway point between the winter solstice and spring equinox. Celebrated in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man; Imbolc is one of the four seasonal festivals along with Beltane, Lughnasa, and Samhain.  Bríd (anglized as Bridget) was incorporated in the early Christian faith as Saint Bríd. Bríd governed moral guidance, virginity, purity, the household, and livestock, and she was a patroness of crafts, such as smithing, and grain farming. 

Saint Bríd with the her cross icon

Her symbols are the Bríd’s Cross and the Brídeóg, which was a corn (grain) doll or effigy, that was paraded from house to house by girls, often with the strawboys joining the procession. 

Food and drink was left out for Bríd on this day and she was asked to protect the home, family, and livestock and a scared fire was lit. Holy wells were visited on this day and seers practiced divination at this time. 

Statue of Bríd, 2nd Century BC in Brittany France

We know of Bríd as a Gaelic goddess, but she was known throughout the Celtic world from Ireland in the west and across much of western Europe.  Part of our heritage and a lovely thing to celebrate on this cold day.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

White Beard Speaks: Intermittent Fast, Coffee, and Ketones

White Beard Speaks: Intermittent Fast, Coffee, and Ketones: Will coffee break your Fast?  Let's find out shall we. I am doing several consecutive days of intermittent fasts. Nothing grandiose, ...

Saturday, December 15, 2018

An Excellent Christmas Present

An Excellent Christmas Present. On Sale On Amazon. If you like things Irish, Scottish, a Gaelic princess, the biography of an Irish family, a brush with a Bean Sí... This is Your Christmas Gift. 

Line:  Finding the McCains

Barry R McCain

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Lughnasa 2018

Modern advertisement for a Lughnasa festival in Ireland

Here we are again, another year and the return of Lughnasa.  Lughnasa is one of the oldest festivals we have in the Isles.  In modern Gaelic spelling, it is Lúnasa, in Scots Gaelic, Lùnastal, and in Manx Gaelic Luanistyn.  I like the spelling Lughnasa myself.   

The festival is observed in Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man, and throughout the Diaspora of the Gaelic people.  The etymology of Lughnasa is from the Old Gaelic, Lug (the god) = násad (assembly). Lughnasa is the start of the Harvest season.

Lughnasa has been celebrated for at least three thousand years and probably much longer.  Traditionally it is held on 1 August and the surrounding days.  This is the time between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox.  Lughnasa is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals along with Samhain, Imbolc, and Lá Bealtaine.
An Tarbh (The Bull)

Lughnasa is mentioned in the earliest Gaelic literature and was ancient even by early Christian times.  The festival is named from the god Lugh, who is one of the ancient gods of the Gael.  Lughnasa includes religious ceremonies, ritual sporting contests, matchmaking, visits to holy wells and Faerie trees,  and special market days.  Since ancient times, there festival included the tasting of the ‘first fruits’ and elaborate feasts, the sacrifice of a bull, servings of bilberries, and a ritual play and dance where Lugh takes and protects the harvest for the people of the tribes. 

A pre Christian image of Lugh from France

Lughnasa enjoyed great popularity well into the 20th century, but waned in mid-century, as modernity put stress upon these old customs... but, fortunately, Lughnasa has seen a great revival in the last few years.  Lughnasa  festival, fairs, and activities are growing in popularity.  The festival survives under different names, such as Crom Dubh Sunday, Garland Sunday, Bilberry Sunday, Mountain Sunday.  Lughnasa has been incorporated in Christian ritual with Saint Patrick filling in for Lugh, in the pilgrimage to the top of Croagh Patrick on the last Sunday in July.

the Lughnasa fire

In Irish myth Lughnasa was begun by the god Lugh as a funeral feast and athletic competition to commemorate the death of Tailtiu,  his foster mother.  The legends tell us that she died of exhaustion after clearing the fields of Ireland for agriculture. Tailtiu was the wife of the last Fir Bolg king of Ireland, before the coming of the Tuath Dé Danann.  

Enjoy your Lughnasa... I cooked a beef brisket for the celebration and will have a wee fire out in the fire pit tonight.   We remember our ancestors on such occasions, always a good thing to do. 

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Irish And Scottish Female Ancestor Surnames

Irish and Scots Female Ancestor Names in Primary Sources

Finding the name of a male ancestor is fairly straight forward.  It will appear in some anglicized or phonetic spelling of the original Gaelic surname.  Most people are familiar with male surnames prefixes; Ó means “descendant of” and Mac means “son of.”   Mag is an alternative spelling of Mac and was sometimes used when the name that follows it began with a vowel.   

The ladies used a similar prefix system. Girls and unmarried women with an Ó surname are written Ní.  A Mac prefix surname is written as Nic.

A married woman would take her husband's surname, but the prefix form was different than the male form.  Ó became and Mac became Mhic.  

This name change did not always hide the surname of the woman’s father however.  In traditional Gaelic society some women retained their father's surname due to the strong sense of family and clan affiliation.  This was done when the woman was the daughter of a land holding family and had high status within society.

 Two examples from the mid to late 1500s that I located in my own research are:  Fionnuala Nic Eáin married Dónaill Mac Ailín.  Her “married name” was Fionnuala Mhic Ailín.  In actuality, she retained her maiden name in the community and is listed by that name in the records.  Her name appears crudely anglicised as Finvall Nikean.  Here is an entry from the Argyll records: 

In the same year (1572) Finvall Nikean, the wife of Donald M'Alane V'Donile of Dunnad, resigned to James Scrymgeoure of Dudhope constable of Dundee the twenty shillinglands of Carnyame, the said Donald warranting the constable free of all harm in respect of the lands from the heirs of the deceased Lauchlane M'Donald V'Alane.

This data allowed me to connect Fionnuala Nic Eáin to the House of Dónaill Mac Ailín's cousin, who was Donnchadh Rua Mac Ailín, who used the clan surname of Mac Eáin. (the man's name in the above document 'Donald M'Alane V'Donile' is Dónaill Mac Ailín Mhic Dhónaill, the 'Mhic' here meaning grandson or descendant of.) 

As you progress with your genetic genealogy research you will eventually reach a point where records were not written in modern English.   The records are often in Gaelic or written in an English dialect, such as Lallans or Hiberno-English, with the surname anglicised into a phonetic Gaelic form.
Dun Na Muc in Kilmichael Glassar

Another example connected with the family of Donnchadh Rua Mac Ailín, is Aifric Nic Dhonnachaidh Rua the wife of Malcolm Scrymgeour.  Again, this Gaelic woman does not use her husband’s surname, but rather a surname that identifies her clan.  In this case once again, to the family of Donnchadh Rua Mac Ailín of Dun na muc. He was a thane in Glassary.  In the actual record her name is recorded as “Effreta nein Donche roy.”

With men’s names this does not present too much difficulty if you are familiar with their Gaelic forms. Do not overlook the possibility of locating a female ancestor from this time period.  Most records and pre 1600 genealogies tend to feature only male names.  However, in some cases the name of a female ancestor will appear, but you will need to know how to recognize the surname when you see it.

When you get on the trail of your Irish and Scottish ancestors be aware of both male and female Gaelic surname forms.  You might make a great find.

Barry R McCain on Amazon

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Summer Solstice 2018

This is the Summer Solstice today.   It is the Midsummer festival which is often celebrated with a bonfire.  Saint John the Baptist was associated with the festival in Christian times and there were prayers for God's blessing upon the corps at the height of the growing season.  Of course, the festival is much older than St John and dates back to pagan times.  St John was a relative newcomer to the Midsummer event and it was none other than An Dagda, also know as Cromm, who used to bless the crops. 

In astronomical speak, it is the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere... and the shortest night of the year.  Midsummer is, and has been, a prominent cultural event in ancient Europe and still going strong in the 21st Century.  

Sucellus (Dagda's cognate in Gaul)
Midsummer is celebrated on or near the Summer's Solstice throughout Northern Europe.  Festivals and celebrations are held from 19 June to 25 June.  Midsummer festivals are held throughout Ireland on the weekend closest to the actual Solstice day.  Bonefires lit on the hill tops are a tradition. 

It customary to have a fire on the eve, or on the night, of the Solstice and advisable to run and jump over the fire to evoke the blessings of Dagda.  A toast to the Solstice, to Dagda and to ole St John as well, all advisable.  A bonfire is best, but a small fire in a fire-pit we do splendidly.  And for those apartment dwellers, it is fine to just light the candle and open the wine and make your toast.

So, Shake a Leg and Pull a Cork and Welcome in the Solstice!!!

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Laggan Redshanks

Dave Swift from the Claoíbh in Redshank attire
(Link to Claoíbh on Facebook)

In the sixteenth century Scottish Highlanders settled in the Laggan district of east Donegal. They were called Redshanks. Their story is told in the book The Laggan Redshanks.  The history of the Laggan Redshanks has many fascinating elements which include Clann Chaimbeul and their dynamic leader the fifth Earl of Argyll, Gaelic sexual intrigues, English Machiavellian maneuvers, and the Redshanks themselves.

The Redshank settlement in the Laggan took place in the tumultuous years during the sixteenth century that were dominated by Elizabethan English attempts to bring Ulster under the control of the Crown.  The Redshanks were vital players in these affairs and it was their military skills that delayed the conquest of Ulster until the beginning of the next century.  The Laggan Redshanks were part of a military build up to protect and support Clann Uí Dhónaill (clan O'Donnell).  They settled on Clann Uí Dhónaill lands in east Donegal that border the Foyle River.  One of their main functions was to protect the river harbours on the Foyle.

The Redshanks came primarily from mid Argyll.  The first cousin of the Earl of Argyll was the famous Iníon Dubh and it was she that organised the Redshank military forces that supported the O'Donnell clan.  Iníon Dubh married the taoiseach (chief) of Clann Uí Dhónaill in 1569 and this set the stage for the Redshank settlement.

Magh Gaibhlín, Porthall, Donegal, castle of Iníon Dubh
The Laggan Redshanks remained on their lands in Portlough precinct after the Plantation began in 1610.  Their Campbell connections, Reformed faith, along with their reputation as elite fighting men, made them acceptable to the incoming Stewarts who took over the east Donegal lands of Iníon Dubh.  The Redshanks were Gaels in every sense, but could be considered British subjects in an ecumenical sense, complete with appropriate loyalties, and a version of the Protestant faith.  In the Portlough area, the incoming Planter Scots came from Ayrshire and Lennox.  Lennox included lands in the Scottish Gaeltacht and parts of Ayrshire were still Gaelic speaking in the early 1600s.  The Scots from these areas were familiar with Gaelic language and customs and were ethnically similar to the Campbell Redshanks.

Many of the descendants of the Laggan Redshanks migrated to the English Colonies during the Ulster Migration and became part of the Scots-Irish people. Of interest to the genealogist, the book includes appendices of the Portlough muster rolls and surnames of the Redshanks and notes on their point of origin in Scotland.

Link: The Laggan Redshanks 

Link: Barry R McCain