Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Summer Solstice on the Dingle Peninsula

No-one knows the name of the first people who lived here on the Dingle Peninsula. But its Irish language name, Corca Dhuibhne, means 'the territory of the people of the Goddess Danú.'.

Danú, whose own name means 'water', was the Earth Mother of the Iron Age Celts. Her husband was Lugh, the Celtic Sun God, who drove his chariot, pulled by fiery horses, across the sky each day from east to west.

Lugh and Danú represent the three basic elements which, together with air, are required for human survival.
And fire.

Here in Ireland, at turning points in the year, the ancient Celts celebrated the union of Lugh and Danú with huge fires and gatherings on hilltops, promontories and beaches. And now, thousands of years later, fires are still lit in Corca Dhuibhne, celebrating the Summer Solstice at boundaries, on high cliffs and on golden beaches washed by the Atlantic waves.

Lebor Gabála Érenn, The Book of Invasions of Ireland, is the Ireland's earliest written history. One passage describes the arrival of invaders who made landfall 'on the shore of a headland' here in Corca Dhuibhne. I love its mix of poetry and statistics.

It starts with detailed lists of the names of the warriors manning the tall ships of the invading army, and the names, deeds and ancestry of the kings and chieftains who gathered on the shoreline to repel them.

Then, swirling up like smoke from wet sticks, comes a description of a magic mist raised by enchanters and druids who send demons screaming through billowing clouds to poison the invaders.
And then, across the millennia, comes the voice of a poet called Amergen, speaking the words of the oldest Irish poem in written record.

It's an expression of the enduring strength of water, earth and fire. And it invokes the power of the Sun God.
I am the wind in the sea.
I am a sea-wave on the land.
I am the sound  of the sea.
I am a bull of seven battles.
I am an eagle on a cliff.
I am a teardrop from the sun.
I am the most beautiful of plants.
I am a wild boar for valour.
I am a salmon in a pool.
I am a lake in a plain.
I am the excellence of art.
I am the head of a spear in battle.
I am the God who puts Fire in the head.
Who spreads light on the gathering in the hills?
Who tells the ages of the moon?
Who knows the place where the sun stands?