I’m thrilled to welcome Rachel Pierce to Scope for Imagination with a fascinating guest post. Her new book is bursting with intriguing information about this wonderful country and culture.
The Hidden History of Ireland
by Rachel Pierce, author of Ireland: The People, The Places, The Stories
Ireland is an island of stories. They are woven through its history, stretching back through time to connect the past and the present. Fields, trees, stone circles and monuments, they all hold a story that makes them more than what you see. The real beauty of Ireland is digging beneath the visible to the invisible story threads that wind about the whole island.
If you see a hawthorn or ash tree with rags, beads and ribbons fluttering from its branches – like that at St Brigid’s holy well in county Kildare – it is a sacred ‘healing tree’. They are found at ancient sites, such as the Hill of Tara, and often near holy wells. In an ages-old tradition, people ask favours of the saint associated with the well or of the fairies – often a cure for an illness – and tie a colourful gift to the tree to mark their gratitude.
The battlefield at Aughrim, county Galway, has a bloody and terrible history dating back to 1691, when c. 35,000 soldiers clashed and between 6,000 and 9,000 of those men lay dead on the ground when the fighting ended. Today it is green and peaceful, but when the light is fading towards night, you might see the ghost dog that is said to haunt this spot, waiting patiently for its soldier master to return.
There are thousands of acres of peat bogs across Ireland, and they hold secrets. Peat bogs are acidic, with low levels of oxygen, which are excellent conditions for preservation. Wooden containers of bog butter has been unearthed, where the bog seems to have been used as a sort of pantry. But there have also been c. 120 bog bodies discovered, often with the tell-tale signs of a violent death. This has given rise to eerie tales of the bogs as a place suspended between two worlds – neither fully on Earth nor fully in the Otherworld. Two of the best-preserved bog bodies are Clonycavan man and Old Croghan man, and you can see them both at the National Museum in Dublin.
The Phoenix Park is the largest enclosed public park in any European city. It’s a much-loved place for Dubliners, where the President of the Ireland and the animals of Dublin Zoo live almost cheek-by-jowl. It is also the site of the largest Viking burial outside Scandinavia and there is a rail tunnel running beneath it. There are stories layered upon stories here, reaching back through history.
The Lia Fáil, known as the stone of destiny, stands on the Hill of Tara in county Meath, which is one of the six ancient royal sites of Ireland. When you visit today, you might think it’s an ordinary stone on a hill – but it’s not ordinary. This is a magical stone that was said to shout its approval when a worthy king was chosen. So if it’s silent on the day you visit, you’ll have to pass up any hopes of one day ruling Ireland!
Ireland: The People, The Places, The Stories is out now, published by Scholastic. It is written by Rachel Pierce, with a foreword by Dara ÓBriain. It contains artwork from 10 Irish artists: Graham Corcoran, Alan Dunne, Jennifer Farley, Linda Fahrlin, Brian Fitzgerald, Lydia Hughes, Ashling Lindsay, Conor Nolan, Diarmuid Ó Catháin and Donough O’Malley.