The Gaelic Origins of Halloween

The closest I get to a celebration of Halloween these days is to put a pumpkin on the front porch and call it good, but, of course, some folks get a lot more excited about it than I do. Some, in fact, take it too seriously—and I’m not talking about the folks with the inflated Headless Horseman in the front yard—which is why I also enact the Great Halloween Lockdown for my beautiful black cat.

Laddie never met a human he didn’t like, which makes him vulnerable to stupid people this time of year.

Laddie never met a human he didn’t like, which makes him vulnerable to stupid people this time of year.

The Lad thinks I’ve just forgotten to open the cat door, and spends a lot of this week before Halloween trying to get my attention so I’ll remember. It’s a trial for both of us. 🙂

Where were we? Oh yes.

Samhain. The Gaelic origin of Halloween.

They didn’t teach these things to little American children when I was growing up. Wikipedia says Samhain

is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the “darker half” of the year. It is celebrated from sunset on 31 October to sunset on 1 November, which is nearly halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. Along with Imbolc, Beltane and Lughnasadh it makes up the four Gaelic seasonal festivals. … [It] is mentioned in some of the earliest Irish literature and is known to have pre-Christian roots. Many important events in Irish mythology happen or begin on Samhain. It was the time when cattle were brought back down from the summer pastures and when livestock were slaughtered for the winter. As at Beltane, special bonfires were lit. … Samhain (like Beltane) was seen as a liminal time, when the spirits or fairies could more easily come into our world. … In the 9th century, the Roman Catholic Church shifted the date of All Saints’ Day to 1 November, while 2 November later became All Souls’ Day. Over time, Samhain and All Saints’/All Souls’ merged and helped to create the modern Halloween. Historians have used the name ‘Samhain’ to refer to Gaelic ‘Halloween’ customs up until the 19th century.

I tell you all this so you’ll enjoy this article from an Irish web newspaper, about some ancient Samhain spots in Meath, Roscommon, Dublin, and Wexford:

The Hill of Ward (Tlachtga), Co. Meath

Rathcroghan, Co. Roscommon

The Hellfire Club, Co. Dublin

Loftus Hall, Co. Wexford (2 distinct links here)

Me, I don’t care much for the spooky, so when I get to visit these sites, I’ll make sure it’s in the broad daylight. In summer. Boo! Happy Halloween!

(Note: the author misspells William Conolly’s name; he was Speaker of the Irish House of Commons, which is how, apparently, the author comes up with “William Speaker Connolly.”)

Worth Getting Out of Bed Early! The Last Saturday Market of 2013

It was 24° when I got up this morning at 6am. That’s darn cold, considering it was in the seventies well into November last year (and we may still have some of those nice days coming). But I hustled into clothes and out the door, because the Saturday Market ends in October … and this is the last Saturday in October.

Actually, I love this time of day—the market opens at 8am—although the light isn’t good for photos. So I did my shopping first. When I got back to the car I looked up at the courthouse—one of my absolute favorite sights in my little town—and realized I had a camera with me. Well, well.

Not your typical view of the courthouse.

Not your typical view of the courthouse.

(Here’s something a little more typical of the views you see of our Greek Revival-style courthouse. It’s a beauty.)

Too chilly for anyone to be sitting in the shade today.

Too chilly for anyone to be sitting in the shade today.

So I walked back around the courthouse park and took a few photos. I love this town.

A yard sale sign does double duty. On the other side it says MUMS.

A yard sale sign does double duty. On the other side it says MUMS.

I don’t know this man’s name, but he is definitely one of my preferred vendors, here at the Saturday Market and at the Rutherford County Farmers Market on Tuesdays and Fridays too.

I don’t know this man’s name, but he is definitely one of my preferred vendors, here at the Saturday Market and at the Rutherford County Farmers Market on Tuesdays and Fridays too.

Lots of pumpkins and apples at the market today.

Lots of pumpkins and apples at the market today.

This is THE Marcy of Marcy Jams (small batch jams and jellies). I am a sucker for fruity things to spread on toast, and have tried a lot of vendors. Marcy is preferred. :)

This is THE Marcy of Marcy Jams (small batch jams and jellies). I am a sucker for fruity things to spread on toast, and have tried a lot of vendors. Marcy is preferred. 🙂

By the way, Marcy has a website; you should check it out.

You’ll see a lot of the Pick Tennessee Products signs. And I do.

You’ll see a lot of the Pick Tennessee Products signs. And I do.

Did you know October is National Pork Month? I didn’t until I went to the Pick Tennessee Products website. My brother and his wife are farmers—Purple Tree Farm, Shelbyville—so that’s another good reason I care passionately about supporting local vendors. It’s my community, y’all.

I come to the square most Saturdays to buy eggs from Rock Hill Road Farm. “The Girls thank you,” they say. :)

I come to the square most Saturdays to buy eggs from Rock Hill Road Farm. “The Girls thank you,” they say. 🙂

Rock Hill Road Farm participates in the Stones River Market, which means I can buy eggs year ’round. So if you’re from the area, you can go here, create an account (which costs nothing) so that you get an email on Sundays, telling you what’s available. Unlike other co-ops, buying clubs, or CSAs where everyone gets the same box of stuff (and you don’t know what you’re getting until you get it), with the Stones River Market you order what you want, in the quantities you want, from the farms you want. The weekly email lists the produce, milled products, fresh flowers, and artisan goods available that week. Then you pick up the products on Wednesdays in downtown Murfreesboro.

Cortney is in the October spirit. I also love love love her jams and sauces.

Cortney is in the October spirit. I also love love love her jams and sauces.

I particularly enjoy the interesting combinations, like peach-brandy jam, and interesting sauces like jalapeño honey mustard and habañero ketchup. Check them out here.

I always wondered …! I think this is brilliant marketing.

I always wondered …! I think this is brilliant marketing.

I buy up fresh blackberries and blueberries in season and pop them right into the freezer. Then I dole them out a handful at a time in breakfast oatmeal and fruit salads. My latest experiment is to roll six berries in individual dough squares (i.e. readymade) with a little raw sugar and bake for twelve minutes at 350°. You could glaze them, I guess, but they never last that long. 🙂

So that was it. There were only about half as many vendors today as there are, say, in July and August. And there were a little fewer than last week. Already I can’t wait for next year! The carillon played the quarter hour (in this case, 8:45am) as I took the last photo.

Another of my favorite views. I can see the tower from the old First United Methodist Church as I approach the square. And that’s a Civil War monument, of course.

Another of my favorite views. I can see the tower from the old First United Methodist Church as I approach the square. And that’s a Civil War monument, of course.

What’d I buy? Oh, good stuff. Some fresh garlic, yellow squash, and bell peppers (I’m in the mood for some stuffed peppers). I just finished my small jar of Marcy’s cherry jam last week, so I bought a big jar to see me through the winter … though Marcy assures me if I run out I should call her. A scone to have with tea when I get home. A dozen of the Girls’ best. And some pumpkin “jam”—though you and I might call it pumpkin butter. I found a recipe in Southern Living for bread pudding that calls for pumpkin, and I think I’m going to make it for Thanksgiving. Maybe for dessert. Maybe for Thanksgiving Day breakfast, to get us in the spirit. We shall see.

My treasure on the last day of the Saturday Market.

My treasure on the last day of the Saturday Market.

Don’t forget, you can zoom in on any photo by clicking, then clicking again. You’ll see.

Not Really a Folly: Conolly’s Obelisk and the Wonderful Barn

When I was planning my return visit (May 2013) to Castletown House in Celbridge, Co. Kildare, I fully intended to visit two odd structures I’d read about before my previous visit (September 2012)—the Obelisk and the Wonderful Barn. Once a part of the estate, neither are now, though fortunately they have been preserved. (The barn, I was told, is on the grounds of a hotel now.)

For a variety of reasons, I didn’t see them yet again. We were told that both were being refurbished, that there was scaffolding, that we couldn’t get close … and so on. So we didn’t go. But when I was writing up the post about my return visit, I did a little research—and I thought you might be interested in that.

Both structures had purpose, of course. Conolly’s mansion was designed to have a specific vista, or focal point, from each of the four sides of the house. The obelisk (often called Conolly’s Folly) is what you see from the rear of the house. It’s two miles away, so it’s a very, very distant view, but it is there.

See? Two miles away (and no longer a part of the estate) is the Conolly Folly.

See? Two miles away (and no longer a part of the estate) is the Conolly Folly.

It was built in 1740 as a famine relief project for the local citizenry, and was intended to mark the boundary of the estate, but apparently ended up partly on the property of the neighbor, the Earl of Kildare. Whoops! You can read a little more about it here (and here), here, and here. There’s some nice photos here. I find it all just fascinating.

The barn was also intended to keep the poor of Celbridge from starving; it was built in 1743. It’s a highly unusual design—have a look here—sort of like something out of the Shire, and it closed the eastern vista from the house. You can read more about it here, here, and here. It looks like … well, like a teepee.

Two last things: there are some fabulous photographs of both the obelisk and the barn here. And I want to draw your attention to this gentleman’s delightful little blog, called Maynooth Archaeology. The subtitle is “Looking closely at heritage in Maynooth,” which just says it all. I’m swooning over it. I mean, just have a look at his post about Castletown House! Here’s a little excerpt:

William Conolly is the most famous figure associated with the house. He actually came from a humble background; born in Ballyshannon Co. Donegal in 1662, the son of a local Innkeeper. He married Katherine, who brought £2,300 into the marriage. With this William invested much into land confiscated after the Williamite Wars. In fact, by 1703, he has spent over £10,000 on buying 15,000 acres of land. Their first home was in Kilcock, before moving to Castletown. In 1709 he acquired Castletown and the surrounding states of 1,890 acres for £15,000. By the year 1728 Conolly owned a staggering 148,487 acres of land, with a rental income of £14,926. One of the reason’s for this is because he was Irish and landlords would rather sell to him than other English landlords.

The text is accessible and just fun to read. He is an interested reader and local “tourist.” And I’ll definitely be spending more time at this blog.

So that’s it. I’ve talked your ear off about Castletown, I know. But it’s definitely worth having a look at. My two Castletown posts are here and here.

Not by appointment do we meet Delight …

I’m still adding posts from recent and not-so-recent trips, but those things take time—writing, gathering photos. It takes at least an hour just to upload one once it’s been written and edited … and a gal’s gotta work sometime.

So in the meantime I wanted to leave you with something interesting to look at—photos from a new book from American photographer Mark Steinmetz, who resides in Athens, Georgia. About this project, the photographer says,

“My mother was French (my father was Dutch) and I speak the language fairly well and love their photographic tradition so it made sense that I would introduce myself to Europe through France. The earliest of the photographs in the book were made in the mid-1980s when I was in my early twenties. I would sublet my apartment and go to Paris where I would stay with old friends of my mother’s. They would put me up and feed me so it was wonderful—I could go out and photograph all day.”

Have a look! Time magazine has seventeen photos here. And here’s a little blurb from his publisher.

* Or Joy; They heed not our expectancy. But round some corner of the streets of life they of a sudden greet us with a smile. —Gerald Massey (1828–1907)

There Goes the Neighborhood

The Man Booker Prize shortlist is out, and possibly for the first time in my life, I’ve read something on it before it was listed (Colm Tóibín’s The Testament of Mary.) If you count the longlist, I’ve read two (TransAtlantic by Colum McCann). Both books knocked my socks off.

The Man Booker Prize for Fiction—I love the way Wikipedia boils these things down for us—“is a literary prize awarded each year for the best original full-length novel, written in the English language, by a citizen of the Commonwealth of Nations, the Republic of Ireland, or Zimbabwe.”

So it’s a good place to look when you’re thinking about what to read next. Do note, however, the committee has made some changes. Beginning in 2014, the Booker judges will consider authors from anywhere in the world as long as the work is in English and published in the UK. This has caused no small amount of consternation on the other side of the pond, and, honestly, doesn’t necessarily make me happy either. As an American, I’ve liked being exposed to books—via the longlist—I might not otherwise have seen at all in an American bookstore or might not have seen reviewed in the (American) media I generally see. I like having a collection of books in my language with a completely different “flavor” than the culture I live in. Just my two cents (a version of a comment I left here). The committee, of course, decided without me. 🙂

How will it change the Man Booker? Impossible to say at this point. But you’ve got forty-four years’ worth of lists to look back on, right? One could do worse than choosing one’s reading material from this list. When I wandered across a chart of the shortlist titles recently, I was astonished to see how many I’d read, including these eleven that won their year:

1982 Thomas Keneally: Schindler’s Ark
1987: Penelope Lively: Moon Tiger
1989 Kazuo Ishiguro: The Remains of the Day
1992 Michael Ondaatje: The English Patient
1993 Roddy Doyle: Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha
2000 Margaret Atwood: The Blind Assassin
2002 Yann Martel: Life of Pi
2003 DBC Pierre: Vernon God Little
2005 John Banville: The Sea
2007 Anne Enright: The Gathering
2009 Hilary Mantel: Wolf Hall

But listen: I only read to please myself. Not because I “should” read something or because everyone else is reading it or because it was considered special by some literary committee. I read strictly for pleasure and escape. And for a little local flavor.

A version of this post appeared at my editorial blog for writers and readers, Read>Play>Edit.