Friday, May 11, 2018

The Lone Star Flag, part 1

Republic of West Florida 1810-1811

I have a great interest our heritage and people.  This includes many different aspects of them from ancestry, to culture, society, history, etc. and with that preamble,  I focus on an early banner used by the Anglo-Celts.  This chapter of their history takes place in what is now the state of Louisiana.  A flag with a single star, a Lone Star, had its beginning in 1810 in the short lived Republic of West Florida.  It was and is a simple design, a single white star in a blue field.  

For those not familiar with the Anglo-Celts, they are the Irish, Scots, Welsh, Manx, Cornish, Scots-Irish, and English, in any form or combination.  The term normally refers to these people in their Diaspora in the USA, Canada, and Australia, and the other places they settled around the world. Anglo-Celt is also applied to the descendants of these people.

I first heard the term Anglo-Celt used by Texas historian T R Fehrenbach, who wrote Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans.  He used the term to describe that large group of indigenous Americans, meaning those early settlers and their descendants.   Most modern historians incorrectly apply the term Scots-Irish to this group.  However, they were diverse people, but within the context of the British Isles and Ireland.  They developed into a people with a shared heritage, values, related ethnicity, etc. T R Fehrenbach used the term to describe the people that settled in Texas from 1820 into the early 1900s.  And that is where the story of their banner comes in.  The Anglo-Celts originated the Lone Star flag as their symbol in 1810 in Louisiana.

After the America Revolutionary War, Spain regained control of the territory of West Florida.  This was located in east Louisiana, across southern Mississippi, southern Alabama into the western Florida Panhandle.  Anglo-Celtic settlers flooded into this area in the early 1800s.  These families were of Irish, Scottish, Scots-Irish, English, and Welsh ancestry.  Some were new immigrants and many were descendants of families that had migrated to the Colonies in the 1700s. There was an issue with so many Anglo-Celts settling in this area.  West Florida was under Spanish rule and these were extremely independent minded Anglo-Celts. The situation was not unlike the one they found in Texas just fifteen years later.  

West Florida 1800

The Anglo-Celts had conflicts with the Spanish officials in West Florida.  The settlers took action to remove themselves from Spanish rule.  With the large Scots-Irish component present, a revolution was inevitable.   

From June to September 1810 leaders in the settler communities held secret meetings which eventually escalated to open conventions.  These took place in the Baton Rouge District of what is now Louisiana.  A consensus was reached and the settlers moved to establish an independent Republic of West Florida, with its capital located at St Francisville in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana.  On the morning of 23 September 1810, the Anglo-Celtic militia attacked Fort San Carlos in Baton Rouge.  The Spanish troops were ready and firefight ensued.  The Anglo-Celt militia prevailed and gained control of the area from Spain.  

The militia used the first Lone Star flag on that day.  The flag was a single five pointed star on a blue field. The flag was made by Melissa Johnson, wife of Major Issac Johnson, who commanded the Feliciana cavalry, the militia force that made the attack.  The exact shade of blue in the flag's field is not known, but was believed to be a lighter blue than a navy blue. The flag was popular from its beginning.

Area in control by Republic of West Florida 1810
The flag endured and variations of the flag have been in use since that day.  However, the Republic of West Florida was short lived.  After their successful take over of West Florida, the leaders of the revolt became mired in politics.  The United States refused to recognise the new republic.  

On 27 October 1810, United States president, James Madison, proclaimed that the USA should take possession of the new republic on the dubious basis that it was part of the Louisiana Purchase.  The lands of the new republic were located east of the Mississippi River, which were not part of the Louisiana Purchase.  

Governments, being governments, the USA managed to read the various treaties and agreements in such a way that it was suggested (sort of) that the lands east of the Mississippi River could in fact, more or less, be included in the Louisiana Purchase and therefore, could be annexed into the United States.   It was not legal, but it was effective.

Fulwar Skipworth governor Republic of West Florida
By this time, the Republic of West Florida had chosen a governor, Fulwar Skipworth (keeping the long standing tradition of Southerners having unique names).  President Madison ordered William Claiborne, the USA military governor of Orleans Territory to take possession of the Republic of West Florida.  The West Floridians refused to submit.  

Governor Fulwar Skipworth proclaimed that he and his men would 'surround the Flag Staff and die in its defense.'  Bold talk and they meant it, and it was a bonnie flag.  Governor Skipworth did have some support from the French, but alas, it was in the form of words and an opinion only.  The French negotiator of the Louisiana Purchase, François Barbé-Marbois, agreed that the Baton Rouge district, or the Republic of West Florida, was considered part of Florida, as it was east of the Mississippi River.  But, might makes right, and it became a moot point.

USA military governor Claiborne ordered 300 United States soldiers from Fort Adams under Colonel Lenard Covington to move into the fledgling West Florida Republic.  On 6 December 1810, Colonel Covington and his troops moved into Baton Rouge.  Matters escalated quickly. The militia of the new republic were not looking forward to a war with the United States.  On 10 December 1810,  Governor Skipworth and his legislature entered negotiations with the USA.  Given the circumstances, i.e. an overwhelming show of military force,  Governor Skipworth accepted President Madison's annexation proclamation. Congress passed a joint resolution which was approved on 15 January 1811. 

So came the end of the short lived Republic of West Florida.  But, its Lone Star banner lived on and is still in use.

© 2018 Barry R McCain

Monday, April 30, 2018


Beltane is the anglicised name of the Gaelic May Day festival.  May Day is on 1 May and is held on or near the halfway mark between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. It is one of the oldest and most ancient festival days.  It is widely observed in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man, and in modern times has spread to the Diaspora.  In Irish Gaelic it is called Lá Bealtaine, in Scottish Gaelic, Là Bealltainn, an in Manx Gaelic Laa Boaltinn.  Beltane is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals, along with Samhain, Imbolc, and Lughnasa. 

It is not a 'fire festival,' but fire is a integral part of the festivities.  Prior to modern times it was a festival to mark and celebrate the moving of livestock to summer pastures, to honour the Old Ways and old gods, and evoke blessing of fertility of the tribe and the life giving cattle.  It was pastoral in its focus. 

Beltane is mentioned in the earliest written Gaelic literature when Christian monks began to write down Gaelic lore and myths in early medieval times.  The medieval accounts were ancient even then and date back before Christianity was introduced to the Gaelic homelands. 

On the Beltane Eve the festival began.  The people gathered to feast, have drink, and make offerings to the Aos Sí, who are the old gods of the Gaels.  Byres, the windows and doors of homes, etc., were decorated with flowers.  It was a joyous festival ushering in the bountiful time when the days grew longer, the sun shined more, and the weather grew warmer.

Beltane survived the coming of Christianity and continued on for centuries, despite the attempts of overly zealous Christian officials who wanted to stop the practice, as they were fully aware of the origins of Beltane.  By the 20th century the festival had almost died out and was only celebrated and practiced in certain areas in Ireland, Scotland, and Man.  However, in the late 20th century there was a revival of Beltane festivities.  The focus of Beltane changed some in these more modern times, but the main core beliefs did remain.  The concept of the season change, the coming of the sun, and the start of the season of growth and plenty, etc., remain.

Fire was and is an integral part of Beltane.  All fires were put out on Beltane Eve and then rekindled starting with the lighting of the bonfire.  It was this holy flame from which the 'new' flames of the the folk began.  It was the 'force fire' and sacred.   Many will recognise the fire ritual as the same ritual used in the Catholic Church and several other Christian denominations in the Easter lighting of the Paschal candle.  The Paschal candle ritual was probably borrowed from the European Old Faiths. There are many old pastoral customs practiced on Beltane Eve.  There are too many Beltane nuances and rituals to describe here, but there is one core aspect of the ritual.  This is a Deiseal procession around the sacred fire.  Deiseal means 'right-hand direction' or Sunwise (clockwise).   The Deiseal procession around the sacred fire was a Blessing of the Cosmos upon all. 

Beltane is still celebrated and the practice is growing.  It is now held not only in the Gaelic homeland, but in the Diaspora, and has been incorporated into similar May Eve and May Day celebrations in Europe.  While many see Beltane as just a good time with a bonfire, there is also a growing interest in the spiritual aspects of the festival.  The concepts of the a new growing season, the connection to the Old Ways of ancestors, and reflection upon life, are also now part of Beltane for a growing number of people.

a sacred fire of Bealtaine
So... Do enjoy Beltane.  A bonfire is best way to partake of course and with a Deiseal (clockwise) procession around the sacred fire.  Followed by toasts to the Old Ways, to Ancestors, to the coming season of Summer.  If you lack the means of a bonfire, a candle will do, or even a wee fire in your fire-pit.  Connect with your Ancestors and the Old Ways, as these are very good things. 

Sláinte ar Lá Bealtaine

Post Script: there are many excellent books on Gaelic folkways and Old Ways and I encourage all to explore these... and for those with a little patience, I will be putting out a small book on the Gaelic Old Faith in future, as my current writing projects are finished.

© 2018 Barry R McCain

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Gall-Gael

Gall Ghaeil Lord circa AD 1000

During the reign of Coinneach Mac Ailpín (AD 844-860) a people appeared in mid Argyll who were closely connected to Norwegian vikings.  These people joined with these vikings on their plundering expeditions and they were called the Gall Ghaeil.  The name itself is a combination of the word Gall meaning a 'stranger'  or 'foreigner.'   The second element in the name is 'Gael'  i.e. a Gaelic speaking Celt. Gall-Gael is the anglicised form of the Gaelic term Gall-Ghaeil. They were literally the 'stranger Gaels.'

Mid Argyll was the epicentre of Gall Ghaeil society. Later in their history they were also connected with the Kingdom of Galloway (Dumfries and Galloway, and southern Ayrshire) in present day southwest Scotland.  In this area of Scotland they were called the Galwyddel, which is the Cymreag Celtic (Welsh) form of Gall-Ghaeil.   There was both a Gaelic and Cumbric component to Gall-Ghaeil society.  The Gall Ghaeil were a fascinating part of the history of Old North in the dynamic Viking age.

The Gall-Ghaeil were generally Celtic in ethnicity with some Norse admixture, and were influenced by their exposure to Norse vikings.  They essentially became Gaelic Vikings. They adopted Norse accoutrements of war and shipbuilding.  The Gall-Ghaeil developed a strong warrior caste based society.

Gaelic Lord and warrior circa 1000 AD (c) Ulster Heritage

Gaelic Lord and warrior circa AD 1000 in Argyll.  Mid Argyll was one of the homes of the Gall-Ghaeil, or the 'foreign Gaels,' in the early medieval period (AD 850 to 1150).

In medieval primary sources we are only given negative reports on the Gall Ghaeil for the most part.  Generally, we only see reports of their raids or of their employment with an Irish chief in the Irish annals.  The Church considered them pagan and  actively condemned them.  The Gall Ghaeil were active from the late 9th Century into the 12th Century. The Gall Ghaeil lived in a twilight world between pagan and Christian, between Gael and Norse, and they and their descendants were, are, a dynamic people. 

Their descendants gave rise to the families and clans that became the Gallóglaigh and later the Redshanks. Many of these families and clans migrated to Ireland; the Gallóglaigh circa AD 1300 to 1450 and the Redshanks in the 1500s.  

Viking was a profession, not an ethnicity.  In parts of Argyll, Galloway, and northern Ireland, some Gaels went viking, and became Gall-Ghaeil. 

© 2018 Barry R McCain 

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Monday, April 2, 2018

Book Review: A Bullet In His Forehead

(a book review, this work by a Peruvian born writer; I like South American writers, I love their perspective, dry wit and a cultivated sense of irony, and in general, the verging on metaphysical ambience of so many of the South American writers)

A Bullet In His Forehead is the first installment in a trilogy by Peruvian born writer Manuel Aguirre.  The book is a study of the fascinating and engaging world of Second Lieutenant Gerardo Arrieta.  It’s setting is in Peru with much of the action taking place in the Forward Operation Base located on the border between Peru and Bolivia, close to the famous Lake Titicaca.  It is a cold and arid environment where Aimara Indians, bloodthirsty smugglers, and even the Devil himself vex the protagonist.  Second Lieutenant Arrieta has only the local Indian shaman to help him find a path to survive. 

Photo: Percy Ramírez

I was hooked on the book from the opening pages. It is not only interesting, but also a glimpse into the very different world of the Peruvian highlands.  The familiar use of South American irony and dry humour kept me smiling as the narrative unfolded.  A Bullet In His Forehead uses changes in narrative point of view and chronology to expertly lay out an enchanting tale.  The back cover blurb insightfully describes the book as a ‘surrealistic transgressive-fiction.’  It is also a masterpiece of storytelling.  I highly recommend A Bullet In His Forehead.  This book is available on Amazon. 

Barry R McCain 


Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Redshank and His Pay

Gaelic Redshank (this is is by Angus McBride)

The above illustration is of a Gaelic warrior from the west Highlands and Islands.  These warriors were often call Redshanks.  They were a well known component of Irish armies in the 1500s.  Generally, the Redshanks, would travel to Ireland for employment under various Irish chiefs. It was a straight forward business arrangement.  They were mercenaries, but within the framework of traditional Gaelic society.  The Ó Neill and Ó Dónaill clans were the largest employers. Redshanks were popular among the Irish chiefs as they were elite troops and were more numerous than the famed Gallóglaigh. There are other factors that made them so popular, but I will post on that topic at a later time.  This short article will address the business aspect of the Redshanks. 

The Redshanks, traditionally, returned back to the Highlands and Islands after a campaign... however, this paradigm changed.  In the mid to late 1500s some of the Redshanks began to settle in parts of Ulster, especially in east Donegal and Tyrone, and in north Antrim. These Redshanks came from the same Gaelic clans as had the famous Gallóglaigh during the previous two centuries.  The Mac Leóid, Mac Giolla Eáin, Caimbeul, Mac Aodh, and related and allied families, supplied these Redshanks to the Irish chiefs.  Clann Chaimbeul was especially adapt at brokering Redshank deals with the Irish chiefs.   

Gaelic Scot drawn from life, de Heere 1570s

The Redshanks took service in Ulster and in other places in Europe for the money. Being a Redshank soldier was profitable. Most of the Redshanks came from Argyll, Lennox,  and the Hebrides, but some came from the west Scottish Lowlands. In the sixteenth century, during their heyday, the pay was good and grew in the second half of the century as the wars in Ulster between the Irish and the Elizabethan English grew in size and scope.

By 1575 a Redshank consapal (constable or captain) was on the same pay-scale as a Gallóglaigh captain according the Calendar of State Papers concerning Ireland.  The pay-scale during this time was on the increase because demand was greater than the supply.  In 1553 a Gallóglach received the equivalent of 4d (pence) per day, but by 1562 the pay had risen to 8d a day.  The Consapal received considerably higher wages.  This was done via deadpays or the wages of a soldier in a córugud (company) that went to the consapal.  The standard córugud was 100 men on paper, but the actual number of men would be normally 87 and the pay of the absent men would go to the constable as deadpays.  

The consapal received his pay and 13 addition soldiers' pay which was a substantial wage in that day.  The pay was received in a variety of ways. It could be cattle, or goods, or food, etc., or coin realm. If in coin realm there was considerable difference between pay in Scots coinage, Irish coinage, and English coinage.  Scots money in particular was considerably debased and worth much less than English money.  

Redshanks late 1500s
The Redshanks adopted the kilt, or féileadh, as part of the unique dress in the 1500s.  In 1595, Lughnaidh Ó Cléirigh described a troop of kilted Redshanks in County Derry in the service of the Ó Dónaill clan.
Redshanks were in very high demand as the wars against the Elizabethan English escalated.  Here is an example of daily wages of soldier in the mid to late 1500s:

Captain 8s ($390)   
sub captain 4s ($192)
Leeche (medic) 4s ($192)
sergeant 1s ($48)
soldier 8d ($32)

For perspective, the yearly income of a country squire at this time was around 100 to 150 pounds.  A Redshank consapal could expect at least 72 pounds for a half year's work, plus would often have other benefits, such as a horse to ride, a pack horse, and arms, supplied to him.  This would put him on par with the gentry of his age.  A particularly well placed and successful Redshank consapal could earn more than this figure and rise to the ranks of an elevated country squire or more.

The Redshanks are a interesting aspect of Irish history, one that should be studied more.  They had a great impact on Irish society.  Their dialect of Gaelic influenced Ulster Irish and their descendants are still found in Ireland, easily recognised by their surnames.

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Saturday, March 24, 2018

Billy the Kid Was an Irish Speaker

Two years ago, my brother sent me an interesting magazine article on Billy the Kid.  The article was written by Chuck Usmar, a writer, historian, and scholar, on the life of Billy the Kid.  I learned from the article that Billy the Kid was a Gaelic speaker.  Usmar discovered this fact in reading primary sources which included interviews with people that knew Billy the Kid. 

There were a lot of Irish and Scottish immigrants on the frontier in those days and Gaelic speakers were common in the Old West.  This Gaelic heritage is still around of course.  For example, Butte, Montanan, had at one time a Gaelic language newspaper.  Eamon DeValera visited Butte in 1919 and Irish President Mary McAleese also visited there in 2006.  Butte today has a very active Gaelic language organization that sponsors yearly immersion Gaeltacht seminars for Gaelic language learners and speakers.  Personally, I can not imagine a better location to practice one's Gaeilge than Montana... cowboy culture, slow cooked barbecue beef, excellent beer and ale, beautiful mountains, dry cool air, and the opportunity to speak Gaelic.

Mining, railroads, homesteading, and ranching, brought many Irish immigrants to the West.  In Butte the large Irish population came mostly from Counties Cork, Wicklow, and Donegal.  In August each year Butte enjoys a large outdoor Irish festival. 

Irish Gaeltachtaí 1870 (Gaelic Speaking Areas)

But, back to Billy.  Billy the Kid's real name was Henry McCarty and he was born to an Irish immigrant family that lived in New York City on 17 September 1859.  His early years are still elusive to historians, much is known, but elements of his early life are still unknown.

By 1872 his family had moved to Sante Fe, New Mexico, and this is where the legend of Billy the Kid begins.  Billy was a good looking young man, he stood 5' 8" tall, had blond hair, and a smooth complexion.  And, he was drawn into an event called the Lincoln County Wars which involved cattle, land, water rights, and armed cowboys.  His history is well known, so I will not go into further detail, but will turn to his Gaelic language abilities now.

Three Rivers area, New Mexico

Billy sold cattle to another Irish immigrant, cattle rancher, business man, Pat Coghlan.  He was born in Clonakilly, County Cork in 1822 and arrived in New Mexico in 1874. Pat ran the Three Rivers Ranch which was located north of Tularosa, New Mexico.  It is a beautiful, wild, area, still to this day.  Billy often stayed at the Three Rivers Ranch because of his business connections with it.  Pat Coghlan had the US government contract to sell beef to Fort Stanton, where from there it was prepared and taken to the Mescalero Indian Reservation. 

Billy the Kid (to the left) on the Three Rivers Ranch, north of Tularosa

In the late 1870s Mary Coghlan, Pat's niece, came to live at the Three Rivers Ranch.  She came straight from Ireland and did not know English at all, her only language was Gaelic.  Pat Coghlan did not have enough Gaelic to speak with Mary and her having no English made for a difficult time.  Pat asked Billy the Kid to act as interpreter as Billy knew both languages fluently.  On interest, Billy could also speak fluent Spanish, so he was a handy man to have around.  Writer Chuck Usmar discovered Billy's Gaelic language ability while reading through interviews with people who knew the Coghlans and Billy.  It is another interesting piece of Old West lore.

© 2018 Barry R McCain

Mi Dieta Paleo

the Ouachita Mountains © 2018 Barry R McCain

Estoy en la dieta Paleo durante siete días. Estoy haciendo esto como parte de mi projecto Neurogénesis, pero diré, me encanta cómo me hace sentir. Mi pensamiento es muy claro, mi memoria es muy buena. Tengo buenos niveles de energía. Es una buena cosa.  Un efecto secundario, perdí nueve libras en una semana. No tengo sobrepeso cuando comencé el protocolo ... sin embargo, ahora soy más refinado y más pequeño.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Banshee in America

County Meath

I often write about Celtic Faerie lore from a point of view of that lore that migrated to the New World along with the people of Ireland and Scotland.  There is very little academic literature on this topic and I have had to scratch and tear bits of data from what primary sources I can find... usually from a family's oral history.  One of the most resilient and enduring entities that appears in the New World is the Banshee.  This entity is known in both Canada and America from Colonial times to the present.  As a young boy, I heard tales of the Banshee, and this back in the 1950s. 

Banshee is a anglicised form of Bean Sí, which literally means Woman of Peace, and the inferred meaning is a Faerie Woman.  Bean Sí is said like the phonetic anglicised form, Banshee.  For you students of Gaelic grammar, Bean Sí is a non lenitied form.  Bean (woman) is a feminine noun and normally would take lenition, i.e. An Bhean, but it is an exception to the rule in this case.  A Faerie man is a Fear Sí.  

In Gaelic lore the Bean Sí is a Faerie woman, one of the Tuatha De Danann, who appears with fore knowledge of some important event.  Often the event is a death, but the Bean Sí can also be a portent of outrageous good fortune.  While the term Bean Sí means Faerie Woman, it has taken on an additional meaning in lore.  So a Bean Sí can specifically mean that female entity who is a harbinger of events or can just mean a generic Faerie woman.  

The Bean Sí is fairly well known in the New World in areas where people of Celtic ancestry have settled.  I am most familiar with them in the South and there are legends about them.  Many people in the past, and the present, have seen or heard a Bean Sí.  And, just in case you think a Bean Sí could not get any more spooky... there are legends of a Bean Sí going bad.

There is a type of Bean Sí who is called in Gaelic, a Baobhan Sí.  The Baobhan Sí is a murderous, often blood sucking, Faerie woman.  The Baobhan Sí appears as a beautiful, fair haired, woman, dressed in white.  In the South, there are dozens of stories about The White Woman. She is charming and uses spells to render the victim defenseless.  The Baobhan Sí uses her delicate hands, and sharp finger nails, to put deep cuts in her victim, and proceeds to feast on his blood.  Hunters are especially vulnerable, it is said, because she smells the blood on their hunting clothes. 

There are several variations of the lore concerning The White Woman, but they all involve the death of some unsuspecting man, lured to his demise, by a beautiful, young woman, dressed in white. 

A famous Bean Sí, inhabits the banks of the Tar River near Tarboro, Edgecombe County, North Carolina.  North Carolina was largely settled by Scots-Irish, Scots, and Irish, and it is no surprise to find a Bean Sí in that area.  The Tar River Bean Sí first appeared in 1781.  On this occasion she did so in the customary role as harbinger of a death, of Dave Warner, who was attacked and drowned, by British troops.  After the murder of Dave Warner, the soldiers were haunted.  The Bean Sí was heard keening (caoineadh to cry or weep) outside their quarters... and she told them that they would all soon be dead.  This came to pass when they were indeed killed in a skirmish with North Carolina militia.  The Bean Sí did not stop there, she was seen about the Tar River where Dave Warner had been killed and on occasion, her sorrowful wail has been heard. 

the Bean Sí

Another well known Bean Sí incident happened in Marrtown, West Virginia.  Thomas and Mary Marr with immigrants from Scotland and made a life for themselves in western Virginia, now in West Virginia.  Thomas on several occasions noticed a robed figure riding a white horse. The face of the rider was obscured by the hood of a cloak, so that he never had a clear view of the rider's face.  When he tried to approach the rider, the figure would disappear into the morning mists.  In February 1878, the white horse and rider approached the house of Mary Marr while her husband was away.  As the rider came close, Mary could see the face of a veiled woman, who spoke to Mary, 'I am here to tell you Mary Marr, that Thomas Mar has just died, Say your prayers, Lady, I bid you well.'   The Bean Sí made one more appearance upon Mary passing.  Mourners at the funeral heard the keening of a unseen woman. 

A Bean Sí normally follows a family, from generation to generation.  Occasionally, a Bean Sí will cross to water to follow the fate of her host family.  There are Bean Sí sightings from specific families in both America and Canada.  In the busy post modern world, with endless distractions devoid of heritage and culture... there are very few recent accounts of the Bean Sí.  Sadly, many people do not even know their ancestors and have lost connections with them.  For them, the continuum is broken. There are still families that have managed to keep their cultural continuum with their ancestors alive and for them the Bean Sí still lives.    

© 2018 Barry R McCain

Monday, March 12, 2018

Omega 3s and Blueberries

Five months and two weeks, feeling well, in Bright Sun

El sol está brillando hoy. Tenemos un clima muy agradable.  Tá an ghrian ag soilsiú inniu. Tá aimsir an-deas againn.

I am five months and two weeks into recovery from two strokes I had in late September.  It has been an interesting road I have travelled in recovery.  As all stroke survivors and neurologists will tell you, every stroke is different and the recovery can be different as well.

I begin this blog post in Castellano and Gaeilge (Gaelic) as prior to my stroke I used both of these languages.  I could not use them, or English for that matter, after the strokes.  I had aphasia.  Aphasia is the inability to formulate and comprehend language due to an injury to the brain, in my case from a blot clot in the base of my brain.  Due to the correct decision being made by my son Conar and then the medical people attending me, the treatment and care I was given allowed me to recover well.  I would characterise the recovery as rapid. Within a couple of weeks my speech and language comprehension came back.  Three months into recovery I hit a plateau... but slowly, it is finally all coming back.  I can function again in three languages.  I focused, for obvious reasons, on English, but I am now spending more and more time, using Castellano and Gaeilge. 

Doing Well!
 In the last five months I have studied neurogenesis.  Neurogenesis is the process of birth of neurons generated from neural stem cells.  This is a new field of science.  As recently as 1998 the phenomenon was not known and in the old paradigm there was a belief that one could not grow new brain cells.  This was incorrect however.  In the last eighteen years the research on neurogenesis has made great progress.  The process is now well documented and there are methods and protocols in place that encourage the neurogenesis process.

In short, there are things one can do to greatly enhance brain function.  The neurologists have identified how to improve and increase neurogenesis and conversely, they know behaviours that decrease the process.  One's diet, nutrition, sleep habits, exercise, and other factors, greatly enhance and speed up neurogenesis.  These last few months I have consumed truck loads of Omega 3 fish oil supplements, blueberries, cold water fish, and other items to feed my old hippocampus.

Now this is good news for anyone with a brain injury, be it stroke, concussion, a head blow, and even age related cognition issues, such as Alzheimer's and dementia.  These medical issues can be treated and in some cases there is a complete recovery... and even recovery to the point of being better before the problem developed.  Alzheimer's for example, often is a form of Diabetes III, this type of Alzheimer's responds well to treatment.

back when the old beard was Red
Neurogenesis is a complex topic and is still a relatively new field of medical science.  Much too complex for me to write about it on my McCain's Corner blog.  I do encourage anyone interested to read on the topic.  There are some very good video talks and lectures on neurogenesis on Youtube.   A good place to start is with Dr Brant Cortright and Dr Sandrine Thuret.   This is good data to have even if you are in the pink and Bristol fashion... and just want to make sure the ole brain stays hummin' along.  It is in short, it is Good Stuff.

I gave myself six months to recover.  This is only two weeks away now.  I am doing well.  I am writing again and doing a lot of research reading, for my next projects.  I can say, with confidence; estoy de vuelta en la sillín de nuevo, el sillín del escritor que es.

the tea... Darjeeling, my fave

© 2018 Barry R McCain

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Béara In Faerie Lore

Walking up to the summit of Loughcrew
This photo taken on the same day that I had the strange experience at Loughcrew in County Meath, at Sliabh na Cailleach, which is the main hill at the site. Sliabh na Cailleach is the abode of Béara, who is a Bean Sí (faerie woman) and one of the Tuatha Dé Danann.  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.  The structure is 5,200 years old.  It was old before the Egyptian pyramids were built. 
Mound at Loughcrew
I give a full account of my strange and singular experience at Loughcrew in my book Finding the McCains.  The Celtic faeries that are found in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man, are not your wee, cute type, of the Victorian era children's books.  They are tall, fair, powerful beings of light, and they are dangerous to be around.  Béara 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, fair, and dressed in green.  
Béara as the Cailleach (veiled woman)

Béara is known throughout Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man, the three traditional Gaelic homelands.  In Scotland, I have seen Béara spelled as Beura, often with the prefix Cailleach, i.e. Cailleach Bheura.  As with Ireland, Béara is associated with Winter and is known throughout Scotland, but her lore is perhaps most remembered in the parish of Kilmichael Glassary, in the Loch Awe area.  My own family, Clann Mhic Eáin, originated in that parish and I am quite sure they knew the lore of Béara.  It is perhaps more than a coincidence that my encounter with Béara took place upon her Sí (Faerie Mound) in County Meath. I did not even know her legend prior to my trip there and I think she was having a gesture with me.  

Ultimately, Béara goes back to our distant past and  she is linked to older lore.  We must remember that our contemporary myths come to us through a dark mist of the distant past.  It has been taboo to openly talk about our ancient European pre Christian faiths for many centuries.  I think Béara is linked to not only the Tuatha Dé Danann, but to our very early Celtic roots... and back to the Indo European past.  She has cognates and homologues in Ireland, the UK, and Europe, such as Epona and Frau Holle.  

It is even quite possible that Béara is a form of the Gaelic Étain, associated with Sun, one of the Tuatha Dé Danann.  Étain has another moniker, which is Eachraide, i.e. the Horse Rider, i.e Epona.  She is a Celtic goddess associated with the Indo-European myth of the Horse and with fertility.  The Horse in our early myths, and is a creation icon and a complex topic better left to another day.

Epona circa 250 AD Gaul

The old gods and demigods of our distant past have over the centuries taken on different forms and functions. In many cases they have been reduced from their former prominence to lesser beings, such as a Gruagach, a Glaistig or even the mountain Cailleach.

The Glasistig is a type of Gaelic Faerie known also as a Maighean Uaine (green maiden). Her appearance is that of a tall, young, woman, with fair hair, blue eyes, and dressed in green.  She is a tutelary faerie,  a protectoress of cattle, of herders and shepherds, she watches over children as the father and mother go about their daily work... she is the protector of the household.  The Glaistig in her tutelary form is certainly a homologue for older and more prominent beings, such as Béara.  In our Gaelic lore, we often encounter cognates and conflated forms of the Tuatha Dé Danann of the Old Faith. 

My current book that I am working on explores the world of the Faeries from the perspective of the Irish immigrants that settled in Colonial America in the early 1700s.  What did they believe about the Faeries?   Did they have concepts and beliefs that we recognise?  Can we see in their tutelary spirits and their entities of wood, field and mountain, a glimpse of older gods?   Let's find out...

© 2018 Barry R McCain