Manx Vikings, the great Irish-Celtic High King Brian Boru and the Battle of Clontarf

Brian Boru 18th century engraving

Now recognised as a coastal suburb on the north side of Dublin, the area of Clontarf witnessed a fair amount of change as it became the subject of urbanisation during the nineteenth century, but arguably its greatest claim to fame is the seminal Battle of Clontarf in 1014.

A bloody and vicious affair, the millennium of this influential battle will be celebrated in style throughout 2014 at five Irish locations, with much of the celebrations within Clontarf and Dublin city centre. Events will examine many strands of Irish life at that time, with a special focus on the Battle of Clontarf Millennium Festival in April and the life of one of the main players in the battle, Brian Boru.

But many may not realise the strategic part played by Vikings from the Isle of Man in the battle, which was said to have claimed thousands of lives, or the singular link to the death of one of Ireland’s high kings.

Although he had ruled most of Ireland since 1002, the country was still fragmented and the title of ‘High King’ largely ceremonial, but Brian Boru looked to change this unsatisfactory situation and unite the island of Ireland.

This was invariably a long term project, but in 1012 the King of Leinster, Máel Mórda mac Murchada, rose in revolt, although Brian Boru moved swiftly to thwart this by arranging a series of ‘cross-marriages’; giving his daughter to Sigtrygg Silkbeard (leader of the Dublin Vikings) and marrying Sigtrygg’s mother, Gormflaith, who also happened to be the sister of the troublesome Máel Mórda mac Murchada, himself.

Celtic Festival of Beltane - Fire and Fertility

Beltane Fire Festival 2014

The Celtic year is divided by the four annual Celtic Feast Days which are celebrated on the first of the month: the November Celtic New Year of Samhain (Halloween), Imbolg which was also the Feast Day of the Celtic Goddess Brigid in February, the May Spring Festival of Beltane and the August Harvest Festival of Lughnasa.

Unique amongst the Four Celtic Feast days, Beltane observances have survived in essentially archaic form due in part to its simplicity in that the celebrations historically included the lighting of bonfires.  Elements of the tradition have survived into modern times throughout the Six Nations with remnants of the ancient customs surviving into the 20th century in Ireland, Cornwall, Scotland and the Isle of Man (MacKillop).  As the Pan-Celtic movement continues to strengthen, Beltane is experiencing resurgence.

There is evidence that Beltane had its origins in rituals associated with the Pan-Celtic Solar God "Bel" and it is believed that the Druidical Orders historically played a central role.

Archibald Knox - The Anonymous Art Nouveau Celtic Design Genius

Archibald Knox

Archibald Knox (09 April 1864 – 22 February 1933) was a Manx Art Nouveau designer. Creating designs informed by his Celtic roots and inspired by the landscape and Celtic carvings on the stones and monuments that he had seen on his native Isle of Man (Mannin). The art nouveau movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was heavily influenced by natural structures and forms. This international movement has different names in various countries; for example in Germany Art Nouveau is more commonly known as Jugendstil, taking its name from the magazine Jugend.  However, it was in the Belgian journal L’Art Moderne during the 1880’s that the term Art Nouveau appeared when describing the work of Les Vingt.

Art Nouveau and was seen as both a style and philosophy that drew inspiration from the natural world rather than looking back into history and recreating historical styles. It was heavily influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement which sought to promote handicraft and skilled workmanship at a time when industrialisation was seen to be debasing the work of skilled artisans through the process of mass production. The Art Nouveau movement encompassed all aspects of art, design and architecture and was developed by a generation of skilled and energetic designers and artists who sought to advance an art form appropriate to the modern age. Those associated with the movement included Charles Rennie Mackintosh Scottish artist, designer and architect. Aubrey Beardsley, illustrator and author. American artist and designer Louis Comfort Tiffany who is particularly known for his work in stained glass. René Jules Lalique, French glass designer. Émile Gallé French artist in wood, glass and ceramics. Flemish designer and designer Victor Horta. Czech painter and decorative artist Alfons Mucha.

Drums, Pipes and Feuer - Celtica

The band Celtica, whose music has been described as heavy metal with a Celtic twist, is carrying the sounds of bagpipes to venues far from its usual haunts.  Combining powerful drums and Bag Pipes, this band puts forth a mighty performance. The band are comprised of two Scots and three Austrians accompanied by a performance artist who brings a bit of fiery zeal to the stage which includes pyrotechnic stage elements.

Celtica band

The Celtic stamp on this band is evident although with an unusual ethnic mix, three Austrians and two Scots. The bands composition reflects a resurgence of interest in Celtic history and culture extending beyond the English speaking world. The bands Web Page gives us an archive of the performance venues dating from 2010 which chronicles the bands evolution from playing Central European Celtic festivals to the niche they now occupy on the North American festival circuit.  Reviewing the history of this bands performances is akin to discovering a new variation of Celtic cultural awareness or peering through a low window into a room full of new friends and allies.

Celtica have performed at European Celtic festivals such as the Mac Vals Highland Games in Switzerland, the Netherlands Scottish & Celtic Festival in Hank, at the Celtic Irish Open Air festival in Austria as well as numerous Celtic festivals in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy. The number of Celtic festivals, primarily in the Germanic language areas, is growing and trying to fathom what is pushing the renewed interest in Celtic history and culture in German speaking Europe is a subject for another day. However, there is no doubt that it parallels the Celtic festival renaissance in North America and that the logical result of this phenomenon will be an increase in awareness and support in Europe for the survival of Celtic language and culture in the Six Nations.  

Celtic Island Animals - Environmental Protection Crucial to all Celtic Peoples

The flora and fauna within all of the lands of the Celtic nations is something to be celebrated and cherished. Our environment is an important part of us as a people and needs to be as protected as equally as our language and culture. Our landscape and geographic location has played a pivotal role in our history, beliefs and recognition of ourselves. For our culture tells us that we are part of and completely tied to the lands in which we live or from whence we came.

The Braaid

The ancient Standing Stones, Circles and Cairns within the Celtic nations pay homage to our environment in one form or another. We Celts cannot but be responsible for the protection of nature and the environment. Our ancestors demand it of us and if you delve into your Celtic soul you will hear that deep voice that says ‘Protect the Environment’. Wherever it is in the world in which you live or work. Listen to that voice within yourself because it, as much as anything, ‘Makes you Celtic.’

The Celtic lands of north Western Europe have given rise to exceptional opportunities for rare species to evolve and to act as sanctuaries for bird and marine life to flourish. This is particularly so on more remote islands within our Celtic sphere. In addition to Isle of Man, one of the six Celtic Nations, there are also many islands of various sizes around the coasts of Brittany, Cornwall, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. On some of these islands relative isolation over many centuries resulted in animals unique to these islands developing and being bred as livestock; although in many cases breeding programmes now exist in other parts of the world. Here are just a few examples of those distinct and unique animals native to some of the islands off our Celtic coasts.

Angelystor, the Old Yew Tree and the Grim Prophesy

Map of Celtic tribes of pre-Roman Britain from coin evidence

In the village of Llangernyw, in Conwy County Borough (Welsh: Bwrdeistref Sirol Conwy) in the north of Wales stands the church of St Digain. It takes its name from the fifth century Welsh Saint Digain. Digain was said to be a Prince of Dumnonia, the Celtic Kingdom of the Cornish. Digain ap Constantine was the son of King Constantine of Dumnonia. The name of this village confirms the Cornish connection for the name Llangernyw means “the church of the Cornishman”. However, ancient though the church is, it stands on a site that held spiritual meaning to the Celts long before the arrival of the Church or Christianity.

In the churchyard of the St Digain’s church stands an old Yew Tree estimated to be over 4000 years old. Yew (Taxus baccata) is a very old tree species. Renowned for its longevity, ability to survive extreme climate change and to renew itself. Yew has the unique ability to grow new trunks from the original root. It is little wonder that it was revered by the Celts. Seen by them to represent rebirth, transformation and immortality. In particular the Celts viewed the Yew as one of a number of portals to the Otherworld; that mystical land where their ancestors and gods of the pre-Christian Celtic pantheon reside.

Saint Patrick: His Day, His Party and His Myth

Dublin's Saint Patrick's Day Parade

There is no doubting the immensity of Patrick's presence in the English Speaking world. Without question it is rooted in Irish emigration, but what explains this phenomenon? How is it that a Roman Briton came to be an icon of the modern Celtic world?

As we approach the feast Day of the Patron Saint of Ireland, it is time for the annual nod to the revelers who participate in St Patrick's Day celebrations and to the mythic Saint Patrick himself.  One would like to imagine the throngs clogging the streets of most major cities of the “Anglo Saxon” world are soldiers of Celtic identity, but we know most are there because it is a party.  Participants in St. Patrick’s Day festivities are measured in the tens of millions. Based on published attendance records for Manchester, Dublin, New York City, Philadelphia, Toronto and Sydney, approaching 5 million people will either participate in or attend the parades in these cities alone.

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Scotland’s Gaelic College

View of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Scotland’s Gaelic College

Transceltic's Emmett McIntyre contacted Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Scotland’s Gaelic College, to find out more about their work. Mick MacNèill from the college kindly provided us with this fascinating introduction to their unique educational institution, which is dedicated to promoting and preserving Scotland's ancient Celtic tongue, Scottish Gaelic, as a modern, living language.

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Scotland’s Gaelic College, is located on the Isle of Skye off Scotland’s west coast. Founded in 1973, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig has become internationally recognised as a National Centre for the Gaelic language and culture.  The College is an academic partner within the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI), and provides high quality education and research opportunities through the medium of Scottish Gaelic.

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig's logo

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig (SMO), which translates to “The Big Barn of Ostaig”, is a modern, innovative college and has excellent learning resources on-campus including an exceptional library collection, broadcast and recording facilities, residential student accommodation and a Gaelic-medium childcare facility. SMO is committed to being a centre of excellence for the development and enhancement of the Gaelic language, culture and heritage, by providing quality educational, training and research opportunities through the medium of Scottish Gaelic; and by interacting innovatively with individuals, communities and businesses, to contribute to social, cultural and economic development. The College also plays a leading role in the promotion of the Gaelic arts and culture and hosts a programme of residencies for artists in music, literature and the visual arts.

Nain - Protector of the ancient Celtic monuments of Brittany

Dolmen in Brittany

An entity steeped within the ancient Celtic folklore of Brittany that bears the name Nain. They haunt the ancient dolmens erected by the ancestors of our Celtic peoples that live in the land of Brittany. They are described as having hooved feet, clawed hands and wings sprouting from their shoulders. Their faces are demon like with horns upon their head and their eyes are a glowing red. Dancing around the ancient stones and monoliths of Brittany they chant out the days of the week ‘dilun, dimerzh, dimerc'her, diyaou, digwener',  but not the days of ‘disadorn and disul’  for these two days are held as sacred to the fairies. The night of ‘dimerc'her’ is their special night though, particularly the first one of the month of May.

It was the Nain who inscribed the ancient monuments of Gavr'inis where it is said they wrote of the secret location of their treasure. For the Nain minted gold; but the coins would turn to the dead leafs of trees if humans tried to use it. Not that humans would willingly have any contact with the Nain. Legend tells us that should humans come into the domain of the Nain; the stone circles, cairns and ancient monuments of Brittany, in particular when they are holding their sacred ceremonies, ill fortune will follow. Should a human attempt to join in with dances and ceremonies of the Nain then there is nothing surer than that death will follow.

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