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Mysterious World Ireland
This article is adapted from Mysterious World: Ireland, the first in a series of guidebooks published by Mysterious World Press. Click here to take a journey to visit mysterious Ireland!
T ost people know that Ireland is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, but not everyone knows that it is also one of the most mysterious. When asked about the most mysterious vacation destinations around the world, most people might answer Egypt, or China, Australia, New Zealand, South America, or a variety of other places around the world. And though these locations certainly have their share of ancient mysteries to discover and explore, most of their mystery lies in the fact that they are far away from us, far from the enlightened, rational West, in places where what little technology and civilization exist form a perilously thin skin over traditional lifeways and ancient superstitions that still hold fast.

Many of our articles in Mysterious World, however, have proven this belief to be mistaken. As we have discovered, many of the greatest mysteries of the world are actually to be found in the "civilized" countries of the West, lying undiscovered or forgotten amongst the vast mountains and rolling prairies, enormous amounts of which still lie undeveloped and largely undisturbed between the superhighways that connect the glittering cities and bind the natural world in a web of asphalt and concrete.

Moreover, the "two-thirds world" (a fashionable and more accurate term than "the third world" that better describes the majority of the world that is still largely enslaved by a toxic blend of superstition, poverty and barbarism) has become in recent years increasingly dangerous to visit, to the point where large areas of the earth are effectively off-limits to all but the most daring of travelers. It is primarily for this reason that we at Mysterious World have spent the majority of our time researching the many mysterious travel destinations to be found in the West, many of which may literally be in your own back yard! And of all of the western nations, we have found that the tiny island of Ireland has come out in front as the best combination of mysterious and tourist-friendly, more friendly in some ways than even the United States. Moreover, Irish and Celtic culture has become increasingly popular throughout the West, St. Patrick's Day becoming almost universally celebrated throughout the U.S., Canada, and several other western countries. For these reasons, we decided to make Ireland the subject of the first volume in our new Mysterious World Travel Guides series.

Mysterious World: Ireland has been a labor of love spanning several years and enormous amounts of research, writing and, most of all, travel. More than just a travel guide, Mysterious World: Ireland is a complete guide to Irish history, mythology, and culture designed to give you a more complete understanding of Ireland so you can better appreciate the countless travel destinations to be seen and experienced throughout the sacred isle. The book will be a great help to anyone trying to plan a holiday in Ireland

And so you can "try before you buy", we have decided to publish excerpts from the book in order to give you a flavor of the kinds of treasures that can be found therein. So read on, and join experienced travel writer Ian Middleton on his journey to rediscover mysterious Ireland!


Part 1: The Beginning

The Celtic Circle
The Celtic Circle
Various Artists
An eclectic blend of modern Celtic music with a traditional flavor.
The Mystic's Dream
Runaway
Factory Girl
I Will Find You
Eirigh Suas A Stoirin
The Fellowship
The Shores Of The Swilly
Angel

Ian Middleton Hello, my name is Ian Middleton. Here’s me standing outside of my favorite place to stay when in Ireland: Kirwan House in Wexford, County Wexford. I am a travel writer based in southern England, but I have traveled the world, writing travel books and articles about my many adventures. However, my favorite place to visit, and write about, is Ireland — my home away from home.

One fateful day two years ago whilst surfing the Internet looking for travel sites and related things of interest, I stumbled across this amazing website called Mysterious World (http://www.mysteriousworld.com). Ostensibly a travel site, it actually includes a great deal more historical and mythological information than I am used to seeing in a travel site. I found the site fascinating and, as a travel writer always on the lookout for someone to write for, I contacted the publisher straightaway with an idea I had about writing a series of articles on traveling in Ireland.

Doug Elwell, the publisher, got back to me fairly quickly, reacting to my initial email enquiry with some interest. However, instead of just a series of articles on Ireland, he suggested that we make an entire book out of it, and call it Mysterious World: Ireland, the first in a series of travel guides. “That’s a great idea!” I replied, and a book was born.

Hot-Footing It around the Emerald Isle

Mind you I had already written a pretty good book about some of my travel adventures in Ireland (Hot-Footing It around the Emerald Isle, available at http://www.schmetterlingproductions.co.uk), but what Doug had in mind was not a simple travelogue, but a huge, rollercoaster of a travel guide, covering the entire island, crammed with all types of travel, historical and mythological information, with some hot gypsies thrown in (well, maybe not so many gypsies). He wanted to cover not only the superficial, touristy side of Ireland (as other travel guides do), but explore absolutely everything to do with Irish history, religion and mythology — everything that makes Ireland Ireland. My contribution to the project would be the travelogue & travel info portion, covering all 32 counties and several islands, that would make up the lion’s share of the book. However, like Mysterious World’s online journal (http://www.mysteriousworld.com/Journal/), the book would also include some very substantial sections that Doug would write on the historical and mythological backgrounds of the many places that I would be visiting throughout the island.

When Doug gave me my itinerary, I noticed that he had retained the old practice of dividing Ireland into four provinces — Leinster, Munster, Connaught and Ulster — in his planning. Though only used informally now, the use of the four ancient provinces into which Ireland originally had been divided by the Fir Bolg in ancient times helped to recall the ancient past that we were attempting to rediscover, as many of the stories behind these locations are still inextricably tied to the provinces in which they occurred. Interestingly, he also pointed out that I needed to travel clockwise around the island, as the ancient Irish believed that moving in that direction brought good luck. Moreover, moving anti-clockwise would actually bring bad luck. Why not? I thought, thinking that perhaps Doug was a little superstitious himself.

My part of the book was to be called “The Journey”, which was about my journey to rediscover the ancient, mysterious side of Ireland that has slowly but surely been disappearing in the face of encroaching modernization. And in my research I discovered that numerous ancient archaeological sites and even Tara, the heart of ancient Ireland, are right now in real danger of being seriously compromised, damaged, or even destroyed to make way for such things as superhighways. As such, the current government of Ireland’s legacy to future generations may well be the obliteration of their ancient past, just so commuters can shave a few minutes off their morning drive.

Paddy O'Foole

I then realized that the real importance on this project was not only to create a travel guide that actually had some depth to it, but to draw attention to the plight of that part of Ireland that is slowly disappearing — the raths, the stone circles, the megaliths — the very history of the land itself. Ireland is not just about leprechauns and pots o’ gold — it is a country with an ancient history richer than most in the civilized West, a history that needs to be cherished and protected.

With this in mind I piled all my usual travel gear into the “Mystery Machine” (aka, the “Scooby Van”, my name for a well-used Bedford Midi camper conversion that I have been using for the last couple of years for trips like this) and headed for Fishguard on the west coast of Wales to cross the Irish Sea on the ferry, arriving in Rosslare, southeast Ireland after only a few hours. The great thing about the ferry is that I can take my camper and everything across, saving the hassle (and cost) of flying, and of renting a car (which can get expensive). I can even use it to sleep in when funds are low, which I did frequently, as we shall see.

I finally made my way to Kirwan House in Wexford Town, “the last homely house” as I like to call it, from where I have begun many adventures. The year was 2004, and it was the fifth year I had been to Ireland. In that time I must have notched up over two years spent traveling or living in this country. I knew it well, or so I thought.

As I sat resting in the TV room, I picked up a copy of the South East Voice newspaper sitting nearby, and this headline jumped out at me: “Mysterious Circle Appears in Joe ‘Boy’ Conboy’s Back Garden”. I read on. It told how local man Joe had awoken one morning to find this mysterious circle. Many theories were suggested by other locals, (the most comical being from a farmer who claimed to have been abducted by Martians for eleven hours, warning that “they” were up to their old tricks again. Part of me couldn’t help wondering if this was inspired by one too many pints of Guinness.) However, one quote really caught my eye: “It was the work of the fairies”.

The Road

As I sipped my coffee I began to think more about this side of Ireland. It’s a land aglow with stories, ancient myths and legends: from fairies to leprechauns, from the ancient gods to the legendary giants. Many stories of great battles and magical tales have their origins here, and many are famous around the world. It was becoming evident that I had experienced many wonderful things in this green land, yet this, the most significant part of Ireland, I had overlooked. It was time to put that right.


Dublin - The National Museum of Ireland
The National Museum of Ireland. Image © The National Museum of Ireland
My journey in search of mysterious Ireland took me first to the current seat of Ireland: Dublin, in County Dublin, in Leinster province. Naturally this was the best place to start my journey, or so I had thought. I had decided to start at the National Museum of Ireland in order to get a good overview of Irish history and culture. This well-maintained building proved to be an excellent start in my journey, if only to point out how little I truly knew about the history of the island I had come to love. As I wandered through the echoing halls, I was greeted by row after row of sacred history laid out in neatly defined spaces, each room full of ancient artifacts yearning to tell me their secrets.

Caught in the moment, I had nearly forgotten that I had come here on a mission. Fumbling with my camera in front of one of the more impressive displays full of golden treasure, I was startled by an odd little man who suddenly sprang out from behind one of the displays, almost as if he had come out of nowhere.

'Jumpin' Jack the Leprechaun' © Mysterious World, 2006. All Rights Reserved.

“I’m terribly sorry, you can’t take photos of the artifacts,” said the little man, who turned out merely to be a short, rather rotund security guard. Then, as if sensing my discomfort, he peered upwards at me apologetically through his large glasses. Disappointed, I replied, “But I’m doing research for a travel guide to Ireland about the myths and legends and ancient history of the country.” I secretly hoped this would appease him so I wouldn’t be forced to overpower him and stuff his unconscious body inside the replica of the passage cairn we were standing next to.

“Well, the problem is there is a copyright on the artifacts and you will need permission. If you give me a moment, I’ll see if we can get it.” With a twinkle in his eyes, he then scuttled off to parts unknown, returning almost as soon as he had left. Unfortunately he said I could not have the special permission, so I put away my camera and continued the tour. As I stood in front of the Tara exhibit the security guard walked up and apologized once again. Though I hadn’t thought of it at the time, he had really gone out of his way to help me, but I wouldn’t realize until later why.

The museum is actually divided up into four facilities, three of which, the Decorative Arts & History Museum, the Archaeology & History Museum, and the Natural History Museum are in Dublin town and the fourth, the Country Life Museum, is in Castlebar, County Mayo, far off into the west. Today I was in the Archaeology & History Museum, which hosts an impressive array of artifacts from all periods. In the corner was a 15-meter dugout canoe found in a bog near Tuam, County Galway. It’s one of the longest found in Europe and made from a hollowed-out oak tree. Dated around 2500 BC, it illustrates how Ireland’s first inhabitants lived and moved around the waterways.
The Hill of Tara, image © SaveTaraValley.com
The Hill of Tara, the ancient seat of kingship and the center of Irish history, religion and mythology for thousands of years. The sanctity of Tara is currently under threat as a large new motorway is being built nearby, despite protestations from every sector of society. Click here to learn more about how to help save this enormously important landmark from further defilement. Image © SaveTaraValley.com.
Next to this was an example of how the next wave of inhabitants, the Neolithic people, left behind a legacy of megalithic tombs which feature largely in Ireland’s legends and folklore. But what intrigued me most was a display of the pivotal point of Ireland’s mysterious and spiritual past: The Hill of Tara. I realized then and there that this was to be where my journey would truly begin.

The display is a scale model of Tara’s two main hills and of the surrounding hillsides. It is said that the site was abandoned in the 6th century AD, but up until then it had been the seat of the High Kings of Ireland and the location for some of Ireland’s most famous battles. And though the political seat of Ireland is now Dublin, Ireland’s ancient, spiritual seat was, is and always will be Tara — the heart of Ireland’s mysterious past.

Before my journey to rediscover mysterious Ireland had begun, I had only been aware of the tales of fairies, leprechauns and the other superficial silliness normally portrayed in movies and TV. I had no idea that tales of warrior races with magical powers, cataclysmic battles between good and evil and tribes of giants roaming the land were also an important part of Ireland’s legendary past. It seems that there is much more to this island’s history than just funny little men guarding pots of gold.

The Ardagh Chalice
The Ardagh Chalice, image © The National Museum of Ireland
The “Ardagh Chalice,” the crown jewel of the National Museum of Ireland. Image courtesy National Museum of Ireland.
The large quantities of Bronze Age weapons on display were recovered from lakes and rivers across the country, suggesting that they were offerings to the gods. Along with it are hoards of gold and silver brooches and many silver chalices, the most magnificent being the Ardagh Chalice from the 8th century. The chalice had been discovered around 1868, buried in the southwestern side of a rath (ring fort) near the village of Ardagh in County Limerick. It was found by a young man digging for potatoes, believing that the ring was magical and therefore protected from the potato blight that had caused the Great Famine. Dated to the 9th century AD, the chalice is considered to be the finest example of Celtic craftsmanship in existence today. The chalice is bronze, overlaid with gold and silver, and carved with La Tène-inspired Celtic ornamentation highly reminiscent of The Book of Kells. The techniques employed to create this magnificent chalice include engraving, casting, filigree, cloisonné and enameling, indicating a level of artisanship rarely seen in the ancient world. In other words, this pot of gold is truly worth guarding.

The Cross of Cong
The Cross of Cong, image © The National Museum of Ireland
The Cross of Cong. Image courtesy National Museum of Ireland.
The most famous Christian relic on display is The Cross of Cong. This cross is composed of solid oak, 30 inches tall and 19 inches wide, covered with plates of bronze and silver. Parts of the cross are also covered with gold, including gold filigree work of a superlative quality. The Cross of Cong had been commissioned by King Turlough O’Connor of Connaught, and it is believed to have been completed and presented to the king in 1123. It is believed that the cross was later donated to Cong Abbey by the O’Duffy clan, where it was put on display during Christmas and Easter for many years. It is also believed that a piece of The True Cross is contained within this sacred artifact.

Another famous Christian artifact is The Tully Lough Cross. The Tully Lough Cross is an Irish altar cross believed to date back as early as the 8th century. The cross was originally found in pieces close to the edge of a crannog (artificial island) in Tully Lake, County Roscommon, and is the only known Irish example of an encased wooden cross.

Ogham Stones & Sheela-na-Gigs
Nearby was an Ogham stone. Ogham is the earliest known form of writing in Ireland. The term “ogham” comes from “Ogma”, the name of one of the tribal deities of the Tuatha dé Danann, whom they credited with teaching them the skill of writing, as well as all the other arts and sciences. The Book of Ballymote, compiled in AD 1300 records this, and over 300 Ogham inscriptions can still be found all over the country, mostly in the south. In fact, there are over eighty of them in County Kerry alone.

Most of these stones are simply inscribed with personal names and are believed to be either commemorative or boundary markers. There is even mention in The Táin saga of Cú Chulainn, the hero of the tale, using Ogham stones to mark his boundaries during battle.

The Viking Invasions
Upstairs I found a Viking exhibition. On display were the remains of a Viking warrior buried with his sword, and a vast collection of Viking weapons, pottery and coins with the image of a Viking king named Sitric.

There were various clashes between the Vikings and the kings of Ireland, which led me on to the medieval exhibition. In ancient times Ireland had been divided into five separate kingdoms: Meath, Leinster, Munster, Connaught and Ulster. Nowadays they form the four provinces, with Meath (from the Gaelic midhe, meaning “middle”) having become part of Leinster. Each province was ruled by a provincial king, who answered to the High King who ruled from Meath for most of Ireland’s known history. The last High King of Ireland was Ruaidhri Ó Conchobhair, who died in 1183. After this, only the provincial kings and petty kings remained until kingship was finally wiped out. Petty kings, or tribal chieftains as they were often referred to, ruled over small settlements or clusters of agricultural land.


Dublin Town
FourCourts-RossaBridge, image © Doug McKinlay/Lonely Planet Images.
Four Courts and the O'Donovan Rossa Bridge in Dublin. Dublin has superb restaurants, bars and nightlife, set in a romantic Old World milieu. Image © Doug McKinlay/Lonely Planet Images.

It was evening and the museum was closing, so I took a leisurely stroll along the Liffey. Dublin actually began as two Gaelic settlements, later being expanded into a major port city by the Vikings. Its original name was Átha Cliath, “The Ford of the Hurdle Work”, named after an ancient ford that once crossed the River Liffey. The city’s modern Irish name is Baile Átha Cliath. It’s believed that a settlement here goes back to prehistoric times, but it was first documented in the 5th century. “Hurdle work” probably refers to wooden wattles that were once used to cross the river at low tide.

The early settlement was on a ridge overlooking the river crossing, and a monastery was founded near the tidal pool of the River Poddle, a tributary of the Liffey. The area around the monastery thus was named Dubh Linn, “Black Pool”. Much of Dublin’s history is actually based around the time of the Vikings, who apparently had changed the pronunciation from Dubh Linn into Dyflinn, as this is the name found in the Viking sagas wherever “Dublin” is meant.

The Brazen Head Pub
I wandered along the Liffey to an area called the Merchant’s Quay, and spotted the Brazen Head pub, with a sign underneath that said it was the oldest pub in Ireland. Inside, the barman explained that the area around Merchant Quay and Wood Quay is the site of the original settlement established by King Turgesius.

The Dyflin, a reconstructed Viking ship
The Dyflin, a reconstructed Viking ship based upon the “Gokstad ship”, a Viking burial ship found in 1880 in Sandefjorde in Norway. The Gokstad ship, which has been dated to AD 850, was probably the tomb of the Westfold King Olav Gierstada, the Westfold possibly being an ancient Viking designation for Ireland. The Dyflin, named after the old Norse name for Dublin is seaworthy, and may be seen in and around Dublin harbor. The Dyflin was prominently featured in the documentary, In Search of Ancient Ireland.

“Is this really the oldest pub in Ireland?” I asked. “Yes.” he replied, and went on to explain that the Brazen Head was an old coaching inn from 1688, and it actually stands on the site of a 12th-century tavern. Nowadays they no longer do accommodation, but they have a restaurant and two bars: old and new. The old bar was once used as an escape route for Robert Emmet, who planned the 1803 rising while staying here. It’s said that the bar could be moved back to allow him escape through a tunnel underneath. He took me upstairs and showed me the original writing desk used by Robert Emmet, situated in what is now the restaurant, and also some engraving on the window said to have been done by him also.

Dublinia
I finished my drink and wandered up the road. On the way I passed Dublinia, which was created by the Medieval Trust as a sort of living museum to Dublin’s medieval history. The name “Dublinia” comes from a Latin derivation of the city’s name after the Anglo-Norman invasion.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral
St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin
St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin
St. Patrick’s Cathedral was just up the road. This is one name that was familiar to me. You would have to be deaf, dumb and foolish to have traveled Ireland and not heard of St. Patrick. He is Ireland’s Patron Saint, and credited with just about everything associated with the coming of Christianity in Ireland. It is said that St. Patrick himself converted the local chieftain, MacEchold, to Christianity. Many monasteries and schools were set up around what was then a relatively unimposing cluster of settlements, and the town began to grow from there. Patrick used to baptize Christian converts at a well on the site where the cathedral now stands. The present cathedral dates from the 12th century, but there has been a monastery on this spot as early as the 5th century.

I had read that there is a cross carved into a stone at the northwest corner of the cathedral, which marks the site of the well, but I couldn’t see anything around the walls. I found the main entrance around the corner and wandered in. There is a small charge for entry, but when I arrived a service was due to begin shortly. As I poked my head through the door, a man came over.

“Are you here for the service?” he asked.
“No, I’m writing a guide to ancient Ireland and I’ve heard about a cross-inscribed stone here that marks the spot of St. Patrick’s Well. Could you tell me where it is?”

He directed me inside to the northwest corner, explaining that there were two ancient stones there. “But please be quick, the service will begin shortly,” he said.

I tiptoed over. Two large, granite slabs lay horizontally on stands. The larger of the two is engraved with two crosses, the top being a large, encircled Celtic cross. A sign nearby explained that this stone was found buried nine feet beneath the ground at the site of St. Patrick’s Well. So, it appeared my information was wrong. The second carved stone was slightly smaller, and also was unearthed in the grounds. It is believed to have marked the grave of one of the earliest Irish Christians. Both stones were found in 1901, and in all there are six of these stones inside the cathedral. A total of thirty-two of these stones have been found in Dublin, and it’s believed that they were carved sometime between AD 800 and 1100.

Dublin Castle
Dublin Castle
Dublin Castle
A short walk from the cathedral is Dublin Castle, which actually sits on the site of the original prehistoric settlement of Dubh Linn. The River Poddle now flows underground. The junction of this and the River Liffey forms a natural boundary on two sides, and it’s believed that a Gaelic ringfort was originally here to defend the settlement. King Turgesius and his settlers were expelled by the local Irish, but seventeen years later a much larger force came led by King Olaf the White. He established a settlement on the site of Dublin Castle, and built a great fortress and palace. The area from here down to Merchants Quay became a huge Viking settlement, which they used as a base for raids and for trading their plunder. It was from this point on that the city began to grow significantly and became known as the Viking kingdom of Dyflinn, which stretched all along this coastline from present day north County Dublin through to County Wicklow. The Vikings were eventually defeated in The Battle of Clontarf on Good Friday 1014. They remained in the area until finally being driven out completely by the invasion of the Normans, who built a wooden Motte that was the predecessor of Dublin Castle.


Temple Bar
Temple Bar
The Temple Bar area of Dublin is loaded with great restaurants, music and nightlife of a more modern flavor.
This area of Dublin is by far the most interesting to walk around in. The tourist office has a leaflet that outlines three good walks around Medieval Dublin, taking in all of this. This area is also great for eating and drinking. There is a wealth of good pubs and restaurants. The most popular section, which is hailed as the cultural capitol of Dublin, is Temple Bar.

Nowadays it is mostly a haunt for stag parties, and much of the culture is now just a case of getting as drunk as possible. It is also extortionately expensive. However, there is a great little Spanish restaurant called La Paloma here where I ate with my girlfriend a couple of years back. After the meal though, we elected to get out of Temple Bar and go find a more traditional spot. We passed a little pub called The Celt Bar, and decided to pop in there for a drink. The beer was good and the place was quite lively. “Good enough,” I thought. And it was.


Trinity College
Trinity College
The magnificent façade of Regent House, which presides over the west entrance of the Trinity College campus.
Next to the National Museum and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Trinity College rounds out the trinity of “must-see” destinations in County Dublin. Trinity College lies south of the center of Dublin, just south of the Liffey and just west of the Pearce and Tara Street train stations. The college, besides being a major university of international renown, with over 13,000 faculty and staff, is also a major tourist attraction with over half a million visitors per year. And though it offers much to the visitor, including a special walking tour of Dublin and a major multimedia presentation known as “The Dublin Experience”, by far the most well-known and celebrated feature of the Trinity College experience is the famed Book of Kells.

The Book of Kells
The tiny island of Iona, which lies off the west coast of Scotland amongst the Inner Hebrides, is the birthplace of one of Christianity’s most famous artifacts: The Book of Kells. Now kept in the Trinity College library along with a host of other ancient manuscripts, The Book of Kells is a lavishly illustrated, illuminated manuscript containing the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John that was written around AD 800. However, this is not just any religious book — it is also an incredible example of Celtic art, and a truly stunning piece of work by any measure. It is written on vellum and contains a Latin text of the Gospels in insular majuscule script accompanied by numerous, full-page decorative panels with smaller painted decorations appearing throughout the text.

'The Four Evangelists' (folio 27v) from The Book of Kells. Image © Trinity College.
“The Four Evangelists” (folio 27v) from The Book of Kells. The book is on display year-round in the Old Library at Trinity College, though only two Gospels are available for viewing at any given time, and only one page of each is on display on any given month—one to display a major illuminated page, and the other to show two pages of script. Image courtesy Trinity College.

The Old Library is also home to an exhibition with The Book of Kells as its centerpiece, along with other ancient manuscripts obtained by the college over the years. I picked my way through all the students sitting on the large, green lawn outside the building and made my way to the entrance. Two large banners advertised the exhibition: “The Book of Kells: Turning Darkness into Light.” The reception area also has a souvenir shop with an interesting selection of books on ancient and Celtic Ireland. I joined the very long queue to the reception desk where you can buy your tickets. Then I was directed into the first room, where pictures and words charted the history of the various books owned by the library.

Nothing can prepare you for the spectacle of actually gazing down upon this masterpiece that is over 1,200 years old. The book was donated to Trinity College in the 17th century, and then was repaired and rebound into four volumes by Roger Powell in 1953 for easier display and maintenance, though it has been on display in the Old Library since the 19th century. In a cabinet there are always two Gospels on display, and the other two are kept elsewhere for safe keeping. When I was there, the book was open at the portrait of St. John. It shows him sitting on a throne, book in one hand and writing quill dipped in ink in the other. The other volume was open at a page of text, with distinctive rounded letters. The first letter of a paragraph is often interlaced with smaller illustrations. There are 340 pages in total, and all but two of the surviving pages contain elaborate illustrations. Thirty-one of these pages are fully illustrated in red, purple and emerald-green color. The exquisite rareness (and expense) of the inks used in the manuscript have, by their very existence in the text, proven that Ireland must have had trade links that spanned most of the known world at that time. It’s believed that several artists worked on these, and it was possibly completed over a long period of time.

Tradition says that the manuscript was begun on the Scottish isle of Iona, where St. Colmcille lived during his exile from Ireland in the 6th century. Historians date the book to the 8th century, but some believe that it was as early as the 7th. Some believe that St. Colmcille himself had a hand in producing the book, but it’s more likely that the monastery he set up in Iona and his tireless missionary work was the inspiration for the book.

In the 9th century Iona was subject to frequent Viking raids and so the book was moved to Colmcille’s monastery in Kells, and production was completed there. Given the incredible detail involved I could well believe that it might have taken two or three centuries to complete.

The Long Room
From the display room I ventured up a flight of stairs and emerged through a door to the breathtaking sight of the Long Room. This is the heart of the great library, and is like something out of an old movie. A narrow, polished wooden floor stretches out before you into the distance with recesses sectioned off either side. Each section contains bookshelves twice the height of the average person. There are two levels, and an arched, wood-beamed ceiling emphasizes the height of the room. As I walked, intimidated as my footsteps echoed throughout the cavernous hall, I half expected to see a huge letter “X” emblazoned on a tile in the center of the floor.

Brian Boru’s Harp
Access to the bookshelves is forbidden, but along the center is a display of some of the library’s best and most treasured books. Most prominently on display is Brian Boru’s Harp, a magnificent wooden harp given to the college in the 18th century. Legend has it that this harp belonged to the High King Brian Boru, who apparently died during The Battle of Clontarf in 1014. However, the harp has since been dated to the 15th century, some 400 years after the time of Brian Boru.

'Brian Boru'. Image © 1987 Jim Fitzpatrick
Brian Boru, “The Emperor of the Irish”, AD 942-1014. Brian Boru is considered to be the greatest king in Irish history. © 1987 Jim Fitzpatrick.

Since its creation, the harp is believed to have had quite an interesting history. It had traveled to Rome where it had been preserved by the Popes for a number of years, and then back again, passing through many hands until it was sold to one Lady Henley “for twenty lambs and as many ewes”. It then passed though more hands until it ended up under the care and protection of Trinity College around 1760. There it has been ever since, given the proper care and respect it deserves.

I had learned that Clontarf lies in the north of County Dublin, and planned to head up there to find out more about this man Brian Boru, whose name seemed to keep popping up. A plaque next to the harp claimed that there was no evidence linking this harp to the king, but that it was at least 500 years old. Wherever it came from, it certainly was a beautiful piece of woodwork, and I found it the most interesting exhibit in the room.

Back downstairs in the reception area I browsed through the bookshop before heading off on the next leg of my journey: North Dublin.Mysterious World bullet

Click here to join Ian in his continuing journey to rediscover mysterious Ireland!



The Beginning | The National Museum | Dublin Town | Temple Bar | Trinity College
Notes | Ireland Links | Ireland Books | Ireland Audio | Ireland Video




Editorial | Press Releases | Book Reviews | Fragments
Artifacts: The Exodus Revelation I
The Journey: Ireland I | Giants of Ireland | The Lord of the Rings Cipher I
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Notes
For a complete bibligraphy, visit http://ireland.mysteriousworld.com/Bibliography/.



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Ireland Books
Mysterious World: Ireland
Ian Middleton (Author), Douglas Elwell (Co-Author), Jim Fitzpatrick (Illustrator)
Rating:
Mysterious World: Ireland represents the next generation of travel guides. More than just a listing of names, numbers, and dates, Mysterious World: Ireland takes readers behind the scenes to help them understand the history and the mystery of this sacred isle. Mysterious World: Ireland delves deep into Ireland's legendary past, looking especially at the mysterious people who invaded Ireland time and time again in search of their destinies. MWI also covers Ireland's known history up to the present, providing a thorough understanding of what it is to be Irish. Take a journey with world traveler Ian Middleton on his quest to rediscover mysterious Ireland! (Review by Mysterious World)
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Ireland Audio
The Celtic Circle: Legendary Music from a Mystic World The Celtic Circle: Legendary Music from a Mystic World
Various Artists
Rating:
The Celtic Circle is probably the best compilation of contemporary Irish Celtic and related music available. I say "and related" as this two-album set covers a wide field of artists, from the cutting-edge sounds of the Corrs to the otherworldly ambience of Vangelis. And though the majority of the artists are Celtic (a broad term encompassing both Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and parts of England) in background, the sound and feel of this album reflects more the top branches of the Celtic tree of musical tradition, rather than the roots. That said, this is probably my favorite Irish/Celtic album because it is more modern and accessible, and the quality of the performances throughout are excellent, from a collection of many of my favorite contemporary artists. Moreover, though some of the tracks have little directly to do with the Celts (such as the tracks from Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter films), they still fit in fairly well as these soundtracks were largely inspired by Western/Celtic themes and musical traditions, being a fusion of Celtic and classical that resulted in a very satisfying sonic fusion of traditional and modern. Purists will (and have) written off this album as shallow and puerile, but the music speaks for itself. Followers of Mysterious World may notice that we have given very few albums five stars (or crosses, in this case), so our five-star rating of The Celtic Circle should speak for itself. This album evokes a strong, mystical feeling of Celtica in me, and since the evocation of the spirits of elder times is the purpose of all good music, this album is recommended as your primary listening when reading Mysterious World: Ireland. (Review by Mysterious World)
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The Celtic Circle II: More Legendary Music from a Mystic World The Celtic Circle II: More Legendary Music from a Mystic World
Various Artists
Rating:
The Celtic Circle 2 is a great followup to the first album, The Celtic Circle (see above, review). This album contains some more traditional songs, some sung in Gaelic, but it doesn't fail to nod to modern Celtic and related artists, with an endearing cut from Sting singing Mo Ghile Mear with The Chieftains. Another great album in a great series, hopefully they will create more like these as they are a great way to introduce a broad variety of Celtic artists and musical traditions to a broader audience. This album is also recommended as primary listening when reading Mysterious World: Ireland. (Review by Mysterious World)
Click here to buy this CD.


Music of Celtic Legends: The Bard & The Warrior Music of Celtic Legends: The Bard & The Warrior
Brian Dunning, Jeff Johnson
Rating:
Two of the most important figures of Celtic legend are Taliesin, the bard and Cu Chulainn, the warrior. Their deeds, remembered and recorded by the monks of Britain and Ireland, have been handed down to us as a legacy of a now-vanished world. Celtic Legends is a mesmerizing blend of musical magic from Jeff Johnson and Brian Dunning — a soundtrack inspired from two ancient tales of Celtic adventure written by best-selling fantasy author Stephen Lawhead. (From the back cover)
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Ireland Video
In Search of Ancient Ireland In Search of Ancient Ireland
Rating:
In Search of Ancient Ireland traces the history and legends of ancient Ireland. Beginning in 2000 B.C. — when Stone Age farmers built some of the largest and most spectacular Neolithic monuments in Europe — the series explores events and stories from millennia of history, to 1167 A.D., when the Norman invasion placed Ireland under control of England's king. (Review by Amazon.com)
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The Celts - Rich Traditions & Ancient Myths The Celts - Rich Traditions & Ancient Myths
Rating:
The Celts gave Enya her first popular showcase, but there's far more to this epic documentary series than lushly ethereal music. Produced by BBC Scotland in 1987, the six-part, six-hour series shows its age with simple graphics and visual design, but writer-narrator Frank Delaney compensates with thorough scholarship and engaging presentation. "The Man with the Golden Shoes" begins with the Celts' earliest origins in Austria, studying burial remains to reveal a fiercely independent people, driven to expansion and exploration but failing to unite against the dominant forces of Rome. Subsequent episodes follow a categorical approach to Celtic history: "The Rise of Nations" in the British Isles leads to Celtic strongholds in Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and Brittany; "A Pagan Trinity" surveys Celtic mythology and the transition (through cultural cross-pollination) from Druid priesthoods to Celtic-influenced Christian missionaries; "The Open-Ended Curve" illuminates the development of Celtic art, music, and literature; "The Final Conflict" explores the fading, and subsequent revival, of Celtic languages, and how this history is reflected in present-day (and often erroneous) definitions of "Celtic"; and "The Legacy" examines the tenacious efforts to preserve Celtic language and culture in modern society. (Review by Amazon.com)
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