Thursday, August 16, 2012

Brigit's Cloak & An Ancient Yew Forest

Jo at Celtic Memory Yarns wrote a year and a half ago about putting out a brat bhride for the first time, and also about her visit to an ancient yew forest in Killarney. (Also a lot of other things. For the full post, or to subscribe to her blog, go here.)
Monday, April 04, 2011

Of Brigit's Cloak, An Ancient Yew Forest, Bee Judgements and Bould Actors (excerpt)

I should have thought of it sooner, of course. Isn't it always the way, that you have studied something for years, and yet you never apply its practicalities to your own life? That back of mine wasn't getting any better, and I was still unable to sit at the computer - or anywhere else for that matter - for more than two minutes at a time without discomfort.

With time to think (a rare commodity), I remembered that the morrow was Feb 1, Brigit's Day, Candlemas, Imbolc, whatever you call it in your corner of the world. And that very day, a friendly woman who runs a great coffee house in Macroom town square, had said her family had always put out the 'Brat Bride' on the eve of her festival. I'd been checking for old customs and traditions as usual, for De Next Book, and noted this down carefully as evidence of the old ways still continuing in West Cork. Somewhere between twilight and dark, the rusty penny dropped in my own brain.

Why not put out the Brat Bride myself, and see would it help the back any? (It's pronounced 'brah breed-eh' by the way.) This is a length of ribbon or cloth placed on a friendly bush on Brigit's Eve where the dew or rain can fall on it, and Brigit herself can confer power upon it as she passes. Next day it is brought back into the house, dried, and kept carefully for the year ahead, to apply to anyone suffering from pain or injury. What better to use than the Advent Lace Shawl I'd knitted along on with Zemy during December? Just the right sort of thing to appeal to Brigit, I felt.

Outside the front door it went, to be carefully draped around the bay tree which stands there in a pot. Didn't dare to place it any further afield, as the wild winds would certainly blow it to Tir na n'Og and I'd never see it again. Brought it in duly on February 1, dried it, and laid it across my bed that night. Possibly it was going to happen anyway, especially with the physiotherapy I'd been getting, but my back started to improve right away.

Now it's in a place of honour on the spinning chair, ready for the next emergency. Old ways are good.

So much recovered did I feel that we headed down to Killarney in search of a very ancient yew forest, the only one remaining in Ireland, and one of just three in Europe overall. It has all kinds of official protective status now, but for me the important thing was that it had been there back in the mists of time, when trees were highly valued and believed to be the holders of considerable magical powers. Oh of course we know better these days. How could a tree be stronger or better for us than a computer chip, for heaven's sake? What benefit could a bush possibly bestow that modern technology cannot?

Here's just a glimpse of the edge of that ancient wood, which was old when the Tuatha de Danann walked this land. You'll get more when we go back in brighter spring weather to do a serious photoshoot. But let me share with you a very very venerable quotation which I discovered recently while researching De Next Book. The speaker is Fintan the seer, who claims to his hearers that he survived the Deluge and has lived in Ireland ever since, seeing kings come and go, landscapes change, while he lives ever on.

‘One day I passed through a wood of West Munster in the west. I took away with me a red yew berry and I planted it in the garden of my court and it grew up…’ Now you can't get more west Munster than Killarney, and I think that Fintan is surely speaking here of this selfsame ancient yew wood of Reenadinna, now within Killarney National Park. It gives you a strange feeling to stand silently amid those trees and moss-covered rocks, and think how long this forest has been here. Of course the individual trees grow and die (though yew has a very long life, sometimes a thousand years), but new ones spring up from their roots or their fruit, and the forest continues in an unbroken tradition.

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