Dydd santes dwynwen hapus - Happy St Dwynwen’s Day

St Dwynwen's Church

St Dwynwen’s Day (Welsh: Dydd Santes Dwynwen) falls on 25th January every year. People all over Wales celebrate St Dwynwen's Day, the Welsh patron saint of lovers. St Dwynwen is the Welsh equivalent of St Valentine. Dwynwen - whose names translates to "she who leads a blessed life" - still enjoys great popularity throughout Wales, particularly in her home of Anglesey (Welsh: Ynys Môn). Whilst the date is not widely known outside of Wales it has become increasingly popular in recent times. In Wales special events commemorating St Dwynwen’s day are held. Dydd santes dwynwen hapus (Happy St Dwynwen’s Day) to everyone celebrating on this special date.

It was said Dwynwen was the prettiest of Welsh King Brychan Brycheiniog's twenty-four daughters. Her father had arranged for her to marry, but she fell in love with another man; a prince named Maelon Dafodrill. Dwynwen knew she had to follow her father’s wishes and though it broke her heart prayed to God and asked for help to forget Maelon. She was visited by an angel as she slept who gave her a potion to erase her memory of feelings for Maelon and turn him into a block of ice.

Up Helly Aa 2015. A celebration of Shetland’s Viking Heritage

Burning Viking Ship

Shetland (Scottish Gaelic: Sealtainn), also called the Shetland Islands, lie to the north-east of Scotland. The islands are some 50 miles (80 km) to the northeast of Orkney and 170 miles (280 km) southeast of the Faroe Islands forming part of the division between the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the North Sea to the east. This is also where Scotland meets Scandinavia.

In 2000/2001 DNA sampling  in Shetland and Orkney people were found to have a strong Viking genetic heritage with 60 per cent of the male population having DNA of Norwegian origin. The remainder of the area’s population was identified as similar to the Ancient Britons, with no evidence of Anglo-Saxon or Danish influences. It is also a place of great beauty where of the more than one hundred islands just 15 of them are inhabited; it is a noted haven for wildlife.

In Lerwick, the capital of Scotland's Shetland Islands, a fire festival named Up Helly Aa is held every January. Other smaller such festivals are also held on other parts of the Shetland Islands.

Illiam Dhône Commemoration 2015 - Mannin (Isle of Man)

Illiam Dhone

This years Illiam Dhône commemoration took place on 2nd January 2015. It was close to the location of Hango Hill that Manx National hero Illiam Dhône was shot on 2nd January 1663. Hango Hill is also possibly a prehistoric burial site with an artificial mound. Its name comes from the Norse 'Hanga-Haugr', meaning Gallows Hill. Illiam Dhône (14 April 1608 - 02 January 1663) was a Manx nationalist and politician, who was executed by firing squad at Hango Hill in the Isle of Man on 2nd January 1663 for his part in the Manx Rising of 1651. The name Illiam Dhône means "Brown William" in English, a name that was given to him because of his hair colour. His name in English was William Christian. Illiam Dhône was appointed Receiver General of the Isle of Man in 1648.

This years event was held on a very bright and cold winters day. The days proceedings were introduced by Bernard Moffatt, Director of Information for The Celtic League. The oration in Manx Gaelic was given by Cesar Joughin. Cesar is the son of well known Manx musicians Greg and Hilary Joughin. The oration in English was given by Alastair Kneale, President of Yn Cheshaght Vanninagh Lunnin (London Manx Society) and Transceltic.com contributor. Mark Kermode of Mec Vannin (the Manx nationalist party) talked of the need for the Manx government to change course from the programme of austerity which they have followed for a number of years now and to act in the best interests of ordinary Manx people.

The Celtic Roots of Christmas Traditions

Celtic Christmas

The roots of the Christmas traditions that we recognize today can be traced back to pre-Christian celebrations of the Winter solstice. The solstice is the twice yearly event when the sun appears to be at its highest or lowest point above the horizon. In the northern hemisphere the Winter solstice usually occurs annually between December 20 and December 23.

The Winter solstice was seen by the ancient Celts as one the most significant times of the year. The Neolithic monuments of Newgrange in Éire, Maes Howe in Orkney, Scotland and Bryn Celli Ddu in Ynys Môn,  Wales are examples of burial chambers scattered throughout the Celtic nations constructed to capture the full impact of sun’s rays during the solstices.

Druids, the priestly class in ancient Celtic society, celebrated the festival of Alban Arthuan (also known as Yule) at the time of the Winter solstice. It was on this day that they ceremonially gathered mistletoe from oak trees. A practice described in the writings of Roman historian Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius Secundus AD 23 – August 25, AD 79).

"That’s Just How It Was" by Mary Thorpe

We highly recommend "That’s Just How It Was" by Mary Thorpe. This deeply moving, personal account paints a vivid picture of what life was really like in Ireland during the late part of the Nineteenth Century and early part of the Twentieth Century. Mary writes about the struggles and determination of her grandmother Bridget O’Rourke, who overcame many difficulties during the turbulant times leading up to Ireland's independence. 

We feel that that Mary's book holds a particular interest for the descendants of those who left Ireland during this period.

Mary was interviewed recently about her book and you can watch it here on Youtube:

Cashtal Purt ny h-Inshey as yn Moddey Doo - Peel Castle and the Moddey Doo: A Manx Story of the Supernatural

Peel Castle

‘Ta scanjoon 'sy cashtal shen! Drogh - cur twoaie da (That castle is haunted! Evil - beware of it)!’ Jimmy, looked down at the old woman who was clasping his arm with her cold, boney, white purple veined hands. Bright blue intense eyes stared into his, piercing like shards of Nordic ice. Her warning in Manx Gaelic was clear and there could be no mistaking that the message was meant to be taken seriously. Not sure about how to respond, he watched as she walked away from the entrance of the castle and across the narrow breakwater that separates St Patrick's Isle (Manx: Ellan Noo Perick) on which Peel Castle (Manx: Cashtal Purt ny h-Inshey) stood from the town of Peel (Manx: Purt ny h-Inshey) on the Isle of Man (Manx: Mannin). 

Oh well! That was one thing about the Manx, superstition ran deep within them and always had. After all, he was a born and bred Manxman so he should know. This castle did have stories of ghosts attached to it. But then so did many of the sites they had visited in all of the Celtic lands. Manx views of supernatural entities should not have surprised him really. However, he had been off the Island for many years now and forgotten how deep they were embedded in peoples psyche here. Work had taken him abroad and he had spent the last ten years living in New Zealand. A place of outstanding beauty and perfect for his passion for photography. Mannin always drew him back though. It is the same with all Manx people; a connection to their homeland that could never be broken. Just like with all of the Celtic peoples he had met around the world; a sense of belonging to these ancient lands on the very edge of northwest Europe.

Dark deeds and death at Carrowntryla House

Carrowntryla House

Dunmore (Irish: Dún Mór) is a village in the north of County Galway (Contae na Gaillimhe). It is the place where I grew up, on a farm that is on land that was once part of the Carrowntryla estate. Carrowntryla House was one of the ‘Big Houses’ in the area. The house was originally owned by the Catholic Burke family, who supported King James II at Aughrim. The Battle of Aughrim (Irish: Cath Eachroma) was one of the last and bloodiest battles on Irish soil. The protagonists were the army of King James II and the army of King William III. The deposed Catholic King James II fled to France in 1688 but sought to regain the throne. In 1689 this War of the Two Kings, or Cogadh an Da Ri moved to Ireland when James landed in Kinsale, County Cork. Two years later, an estimated forty five thousand soldiers from eight European nations fought a battle at Aughrim, at the end of the day of 12 July 1691 nine thousand, predominantly Irish, soldiers were killed. James’s army had to retreat. The name of the battle is taken from the nearby village of Aughrim (Irish: Eachroim) in County Galway. These events ultimately led in 1753 to the Burke’s having to sell and the house passed into the possession of the Protestant Henry family. Their only daughter, Anne married William Handcock, son of Reverend Elias Handcock of Cavan in 1802.

St Andrew Patron Saint of Scotland and the Scottish National Day

St Andrew

St Andrew has been the patron saint of Scotland from at least the mid tenth century and legend says long before. He was born in the village of Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee in the early 1st century and is the brother of St Peter. According to the Gospel of St John, Andrew was a follower of the preacher John the Baptist and then became a disciple of Jesus who he recognised as the Messiah. A messiah is associated with Abrahamic religions which originate in the Middle East. Christianity is one of these religions and Jesus Christ in that religion is seen as the son of god. Andrew was one of the twelve apostles who was present at the Last Supper. Interestingly his name, Andrew, is not Hebrew in origin as might be expected, but Greek. St Andrew is thought to have died in the mid to late 1st century and was said to have been crucified on a diagonal or X-shaped cross which is now known as St Andrew’s cross.

The spread of Christianity to Scotland mainly came from Ireland in the fifth century. The national flag of Scotland (Scottish Gaelic: Bratach na h-Alba) is a white cross against a blue background. It is known as the Saltire and legend dates its origins back to King  Óengus mac Fergusa (Óengus II) who defeated a force of invading Angles in the ninth century. The legend is that in 832 AD the Scottish King prayed to St Andrew for help to defeat the English.  Against the blue sky the diagonal white cross appeared and it was on such a cross that St Andrew had been martyred.  The English were beaten and honouring his promise prior to the great victory Óengus made St Andrew the patron saint of Scotland. The association of St Andrew with Scotland goes back further than the reign of King Óengus II to Óengus I who was King from 732 to 761 AD. Legend also says that relics of St Andrew were brought from Constantinople in about the middle of the tenth century to the place where the town of St Andrew’s (Scottish Gaelic: Cill Rìmhinn) now stands.

Ireland’s Love of Leann Dubh and the Fame of Guinness

Irish language Guinness advert

Irish Pub’s around the world are known for selling Guinness. Seeing the Guinness sign when outside of Ireland is a reminder of home. This is very much known as an Irish tipple of choice. The beer is sold in over 100 countries worldwide and brewed in almost 50. There are other breweries associated with the dark Irish stout known in Irish as leann dubh (black beer), including the Murphy’s and Beamish beers from Cork (Irish: Corcaigh) in Ireland.

The history of Guinness, with its distinctive harp logo, goes back to the Irish brewer and founder of the Guinness brewery Arthur Guinness (1725 – 23 January 1803). He established the St. James's Gate Brewery (Irish: Grúdlann Gheata Naomh Séamuis) in Dublin in 1759 and started producing Guinness soon after. The symbol of the harp is associated with Ireland. It is on the coat of arms of Ireland (a gold harp against a blue background), on the Standard of the President of Ireland using the same combination of colours and the flag of Leinster (a gold harp against a green background). However, you will notice that the Guinness harp faces in the other direction.

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