The Celtic Tree of Life: Crann Bethadh

By Eryn Perez
on June 10, 2019

Celtic Tree of Life

When the Ancient Celts began to clear land for settling, they realized how truly immense the forest that they lived in was. The large trees surrounding them provided for both humans and animals alike with nourishment and shelter, but also a home.
 At the very center of each field, a single tree was left behind that became known as the Crann Bethadh, roughly translated to the “Tree of Life” in English, to all of those who inhabited the area. This particular kind of tree was described as having a force capable of caring for all life on Earth.
Celtic Druids only lived in places where such trees were present. The appointment of chieftains, influential meetings between high ranking officials, and schooling were all some of the activities held under the Tree of Life. Sacred rituals were performed to mark the different stages a community’s tree went through. These marked its birth when the tree began to take root, death when it shed its leaves in autumn and hibernated in the winter, and rebirth with the growth of new leaves in the spring. The Tree of Life was valued for its longevity, wisdom, and strength.
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The Tree of Life is often depicted as a large oak tree with its branches reaching out towards the sky, and intertwined with its roots that are spread deep into the earth. According to Celtic mythology, the tree’s roots were so far underground that they could actually reach the underworld. The tree’s broad trunk is the only part of the tree that remains visible from a human point of view, left to represent the connection between the invisible worlds.
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 Trees were believed to be magical and mystic beings. They were powerful enough to provide portals into other worlds, including the land of fire, the world of the dead, and the land of Asgard. Trees were used as mediums to deliver messages to entities from other worlds, enabling mere humans to communicate with their gods.
Another meaning associated with the Tree of Life is “Creator”. The Druids believed that humans originated from trees. Because of this, they were called the ancestors. Stories tell that the trees were elder beings full of knowledge, who taught humans how to use the alphabet, the calendar, and the entrances to the hidden realms of the supernatural.
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The Celts were almost completely surrounded by trees. They made use of them in their everyday lives, whether it was for warmth through the firewood they provided, food, or even the letters in their alphabet. Today, it can be found on a large variety of items, including tapestries, jewelry, and tattoos. Truly, it should come as no surprise to see that the symbol of the Tree of Life has still maintained its popularity more than hundreds of years later.
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Dublin Castle: Caisleán Bhaile Átha Cliath

By Eryn Perez
on June 07, 2019

Dublin Castle: Caisleán Bhaile Átha Cliath

     In a letter to his trusted cousin the Chief Governor of Ireland, King John of England wrote: “You have given us to understand that you have no safe place for the custody of our treasure and because for this reason and for many others, we are in need of a strong fortress in Dublin.”

     Originally built in the 13th century, Dublin Castle lies in the city’s center between Trinity College and Christ Church Cathedral. In earlier years, this same site had been settled by the Vikings. Despite being reconstructed several times, some of the initial Viking and medieval structures are still available to the public today.
 
 
      Of the castle’s original four corner towers, the Medieval Tower and the base of Bermingham Tower are the only ones remaining. They were built under the reign of King Henry the third, approximately 1204 to 1228. Medieval Tower, also called the Wardrobe Tower or Gunner’s Tower, has served as the king’s personal closet, a treasury, and at one point a prison. The tower was also used as an archive for state papers from 1811 to 1989. It is currently closed and being restored to its original glory.
      After a disastrous fire in 1684, the severely damaged property was reconstructed, but instead of keeping the castle’s medieval style, it was almost fully transformed to look like a Georgian Palace.
 

 

      New rooms called the State Apartments were added to accommodate the Viceroy. Throughout what became known as “the season”, the Viceroy (and occasionally the visiting British monarch) hosted a series of festivities. These included events such as state balls, banquets, and regal ceremonies for members of the aristocracy.
     The Anglican Chapel of the Viceroy was designed by Francis Johnston in the early 19th century and was opened on Christmas Day 1814. The Medieval Tower was revamped to match its Gothic style, implementing a higher roof and new masonry battlements. Though there has always been some place of worship for government officials within the castle walls, this one was renamed the Chapel Royal after King George lV attended a service in 1821.
    Just outside the gates to the central courtyard, Lady Justice stands with “her face to the castle, and arse to the nation”. If you notice, her scale is also a bit tilted. In contrast to other sculptures of Lady Justice, she is smiling at her sword rather than holding it towards the ground. Adjacent to the castle is the Dubh Linn Gardens, marked by a Celtic symbol inlaid with brick.
 
 
     After the Easter Rising of 1916 in the Irish War for Independence, the British presence in Ireland had finally come to an end after 700 years. The Last Viceroy of Ireland handed the keys to the castle and ownership rights over to revolutionary Michael Collins. Following his death 6 months later, it was decided that the castle would remain under the authority of the newly formed Irish State.

    Since 1938, all of Ireland’s presidents have been inaugurated at St. Patrick’s Hall, one of Dublin Castle’s State Apartments. It has continued to be used for state receptions, and on occasion can be closed to visitors for important government meetings.

Phoenix Park - The Pride of Dublin

By Julie O'Shaughnessy
on July 09, 2017

Phoenix Park - The Pride of Dublin

Dublin’s beloved Phoenix Park is one of the largest city parks in all of Europe, encompassing some 1,720 acres. The sprawling park, which turned 350 years old in 2012, was begun under the reign of Charles II as a royal deer park. Actually, the park was larger originally, as it reached across the Liffey River to the south, but was reduced in size when the Kilmainham Royal Hospital was built. I have a particular affinity for this magnificent park, as my husband’s grandmother once lived right across the street from this landmark.


The history of this parcel of land is fascinating and goes back much further than the reign of royalty. Archaeologists estimate that a community of Neolithic peoples lived some 5,500 years ago at the southern edge of the park on an elevated strip of land that lies between Knockmaroon and Islandbridge.


There is a Neolithic burial ground within the park boundaries as well, located west of St. Mary’s Hospital. Remains of three males, along with shell, bone and flint artifacts, were found interred there as well as four urns containing human ashes from the later Bronze Age.

In addition, Forty Viking graves have been found within the park, the largest Viking cemetery outside Scandinavia and include the skeleton of a woman who was buried with a pair of brooches made of bronze.

 


Phoenix Park is a showcase for both plant and animal biodiversity. A wide variety of deciduous trees such as ash and oak, sycamore and horse chestnut make up about a third of all the tree species in the park. A full 50 percent of all mammal species found in Ireland and 40 percent of all birds in Ireland are found in the park. Underscoring the public’s fascination with the Park’s natural beauty, nearly 1 million visitors a year enter the gates of the Dublin Zoo, located within the park.


In 1840, the Victorian People’s Flower Gardens were built, originally as a Promenade Grounds. The Flower Gardens encompass 22 acres and include picnic areas, a children’s playground, a large lake and of course, ever changing beds of beautiful flowers which showcase stunning Victorian era horticulture.


There are numerous monuments and buildings within the park and many of these structures were designed by famous well known architects, including Edward Lovett Pearce who designed the old Parliament building which is now the Bank of Ireland. Ashtown Castle, build in the 1430’s as a tower and later rebuilt with stone, is the oldest building in the park. One of the best known of the Park’s structures is the massive 116 foot Papal Cross erected for the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1979, when one and a quarter million people, including my future husband and his family, came to the park to hear Pope John deliver his sermon.

 


The southeast section of the park is the location of the Magazine Fort, originally the site of the Phoenix Lodge, built in 1611 by Sir Edward Fisher. Later, in 1734 when the Duke of Dorset ordered a powder magazine to be constructed for the city of Dublin, the Lodge was dismantled. In 1801 an additional wing was constructed to house troops.


Phoenix Park has a darker history as well. There have been several murders within its boundaries, including the infamous Phoenix Park Murders of May 6, 1822 when Lord Frederick Cavendish, the personal secretary to Prime Minister Gladstone, was stabbed on the very day he took up his new position as Chief Secretary for Ireland, along with Thomas Henry Burke, Ireland’s most senior civil servant. In 1982, the brutal murder of a young nurse named Bridie Gargan as she lay sunbathing in the park, led to national outrage after it was discovered that the murderer, Malcolm MacArthur, was hiding in the home of a former attorney general. Today Park Constables patrol the grounds and the police force of Ireland, the Garda Síochána, has its headquarters in the park.


As large as this park is, there is really no way to see it all in a day. In addition to the Dublin Zoo, the Victorian Gardens, the Papal Cross and other monuments, there are playgrounds, Segway tours, ice cream kiosks, the famous Victorian tea rooms and the Phoenix Cafe. The Cafe has been voted one of the top ten independent cafes in Ireland and is well known for its scones, specialty teas, coffee, lattés and cappucinos. The Cafe offers a variety of freshly cooked soups, salads and homemade cakes as well as quiche. Diners enjoy a beautiful setting surrounded by lush trees and there is an outdoor dining terrace as well.


In planning a trip to Ireland, especially if you visit Dublin, the Phoenix Park should be first on your ‘must get there’ list of places to visit. You will soon see why the Phoenix is one of my very favorite places in all of the Emerald Isle.

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