Monday, March 30, 2009


Welcome to Bismarck, the Blizzard Capital of the World. We have received 17 inches of snow since last evening, and it's not over yet. It is now the second snowiest winter on record in Bismarck since record keeping began. We need only a couple of more inches to top the record and I'm betting we will. It's not uncommon for us to have heavy, wet snows way into April. Since we are so close, I do hope we break the record. What's a couple more inches to us?
The mall, most businesses and offices are closed and the Interstate is shut down between Dickinson and Bismarck - again. The plows haven't even come down our street today. They are busy plowing the emergency snow routes. Do I sound like a broken record?
I know, I had promised not to write another post about snow this season. But really -- really --this is getting out of hand. Just 13 until Easter? You've got to be kidding. Somehow we are just not in the mood for cute bunnies and chicks and colored eggs. Ever tried to have an Easter egg hunt in a snow or water filled yard??
March is going out like a lion on crack. All of us here are sick to death of winter, sick to death, I tell you. We are going stark, raving crazy. We can't take it any more. Not even the poor snowmen and women can take it anymore.
As I heard a newscaster say today, We're ready to put Mother Nature on a flight to Vegas. She's not welcome here anymore.
Seriously though, this is bad news. There's about .85 inches of water in this snow. It may start to melt again as early as this weekend. If there is a rapid snow melt there will be a rapid runoff and again we will have to deal with flooding. It isn't just the Missouri and Red Rivers engulfing North Dakota. The Knife, the Cannonball, the Sheyenne, the Heart, the Souris, the Little Missouri - I could go on and on - will again go on the rampage.
The Double Ditch ice jam north of Bismarck is five miles long. The dikes and levees at Fargo-Moorhead are groaning under the stress and strain and may have to endure the pressure for WEEKS yet. Worse yet, roiling waves created by the blizzard's winds are washing against the fortifications. Rivers can have a second crest and the misery starts all over again. Bismarck residents have been warned not to remove their sandbag barriers yet.
There are such sad stories to tell. The cattle that are starving. The 70-ish couple in the Red River Valley who saved their farmyard with sandbags only to have their home burn down. The 99-year old nursing home resident who was so worried about her family's farm.
People have had to part with their "four-legged babies". Hundreds of pets have had to go to shelters and zoos. They include dogs, cats, guinea pigs, birds, rabbits, horses, a potbellied pig, a goat and a mule.
Hundreds of nursing home and assisted living residents have been evacuated to Bismarck and 10 were placed in the nursing home my sister, an RN, works at. Glori told me about this one elderly lady, terminally ill and in hospice care, who had to be flown here. "Here you are, at the end of your life, and all you're doing is just trying to die," my sister said, "and then you have to go through this." That just broke my heart.
So have scenes like the ones I've been witnessing: Cattle bunched together on a tiny, newly created island, cold, wet and miserable. Homeowners surveying their sodden, ruined belongings. Sandbaggers weeping with weariness. Rescue workers who have had only a couple of hours sleep each night for a week or more. The National Guard member who lost his own home.
So please forgive me if I use a little gallows humor today. That's what beleaguered and embattled people do.

Friday, March 27, 2009


by Jennifer Ohlhauser
(See the people in the tractor's scoop?)

by Judy Bakken


by Sadie B, Mandan

by Brenda Ferebee, Halliday

by Sue Erickson of Mandan

by Darlene Froelich, Solen

by Cordell J. Brooke of Mandan

by Paula from Linton

by Miranda H. from Beulah, ND

by Corie from Hettinger, ND
(All photos courtesty of Sky Sky Photos, KFYR-TV)

After our blizzard here Wednesday, and some lighter snowfall yesterday, Bismarck's winter of 2008-2009 has the dubious honor of being moved into fourth place for the most snowfall ever in one season. And, we are expecting another "significant" winter storm on Monday. Where did spring go?
Several people have asked me why we wanted to blow up the south ice jam here and didn't want the north jam to break up. Ice jams back up water behind them, and the Missouri flows from north to south here, so the south jam was causing water to pour into SW Bismarck. The north jam, as long as it holds, is keeping the water to north of it. That situation is good for Bismarck, as unfeeling as this attitude is for the poor folks who live along the Missouri's banks to the north.
Also, since the Garrison Dam water release has been cut back to zero, to help Bismarck, the town of Washburn upstream is now short of water because the water level is below the city water intake valve.

The river level has dropped quite a bit here and all evacuated Bismarck residents have now been allowed back in to inspect their homes. However, that does not mean that they will be able to move back in right away, even for those who had no significant water damage. They will have to wait for heat and electricity to be restored. Lots of propane tanks tore loose and floated away.

All attention now turns toward the twin cities of Fargo, ND-Moorhead, MN, where it is said, the residents are entering "uncharted territory", where the river will be "behaving in ways never previously observed." A new forecast has the Red River cresting this weekend at 43 feet - up from the previous prediction of 41 feet. This new prediction has shaken F-M residents' spirits. Their mood has gone from one of "let's beat this thing" to one of near despair that their hard work will be for naught.
"We do not want to give up yet. We want to go down swinging if we go down," Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said Thursday, just hours after the disheartening news that forecasters had — yet again — increased the projected crest.

Contrary to the situation in Bismarck, ice jams have not been the big problem in the Red River Valley. So why is flooding there such a major issue? One reason is that the river channel is much, much narrower than that of the Missouri and the land is much flatter. The water has no choice but to spread out over hundreds of miles - be it farmland or city.
Several unusual factors sent the Red River surging to historic heights. The winter was unusually cold and snowy, which left a large snow pack sitting on top of frozen ground that couldn't absorb it. Then a warm snap and heavy rain quickly melted the snow and sent it toward the river.

And it all happened to a river that flows north. (Yes, the Red River of the North is one of the few rivers that flows from south to north, just in case you're ever asked that question in Trivial Pursuit or Jeopardy.)
When most rivers in the United States melt, they send the extra water south toward warmer, open water. When the Red breaks up, it sends hunks of ice north into colder water that is often still frozen.
I won't be writing any more posts about the flood in Fargo - I am sure that FOX and CNN will be providing steady coverage.

Thursday, March 26, 2009



I want to thank everyone for their comments and e-mails of concern regarding the flooding in Bismarck. Dan and I and Gracie are fine.

I had promised an updated post last night and I'm sorry I didn't get to it. I watched the 5 p.m. news, the 6 p.m. news and the 10 p.m. news but felt too exhausted by then to write a post.
But I have good news. The flood threat here in Bismarck has lessened, for several reasons:

1. The water level has dropped by 2 feet.

2. The dynamiting of the south ice jam has been successful. They set off one round at 4:30 p.m. yesterday and one late last night. They will set off a third and final round this morning. It has gotten the water moving. Also, helicopters are dumping massive amounts of salt on the ice to dissolve it. (The ice chunks are 3 feet thick and each is about the size of a small car.)

3. The report that the north ice jam at the Double Ditch Historic Site and Recreation Area had broken yesterday morning proved to be erroneous. The news media later reported that water was running over and around the jam, but that it was holding firm for the time being. However, the updated report was too late to prevent a mini panic in Bismarck, with people rushing home to protect the property.

4. The Tuesday blizzard has left very cold air in its wake, which is a good thing! It has helped with the runoff problem. Oh, didn't I tell you that we had a blizzard? We got 8 inches of heavy wet snow with wind gusting up to 45 miles per hour.

I couldn't make it up the hill from work on Tuesday. I ended up sliding off the road and getting stuck. I was going to write a post about my awful day, but decided that a great many people around here were having way worse problems than I was.

FLOODING AT MOFFIT, ND (Photo by Angie Benz)

I have been focusing on the flooding in Bismarck because I live here, but I have to tell you that a number of smaller towns in North Dakota have been deeply affected by flooding. Among the hardest hit are Hazen, Beulah, Linton, Carson and Mott. Also, farmers are suffering. A number of families had to be airlifted from their water-surrounded farms by the National Guard in Black Hawk helicopters.

Farmsteads have been turned into islands and cattle have been left stranded. It is calving season and it couldn't have happened at a worse time. One area farmer lost 50 cows and calves.

The national NBC News last night focused on Fargo, rightly so. The Red River of the North is predicted to crest in Fargo tomorrow at its highest level ever, at 41 feet. This beats the 1997 crest of 39.51 feet and the all-time record crest of 40.1 feet in 1897.

It was 1997 when the Raging Red devastated my beloved former hometown of Grand Forks, when it experienced the Flood of the Millennium. The flood changed the face of Grand Forks forever. Since then the city of Grand Forks has spent a half billion dollars to build an elaborate, state-of-the art dike system. Fargo did not. Now they are going to have their Flood of the Millennium. Thousands of volunteers are racing against time to fill sandbags and the city is scurrying to raise the dikes to 43 feet.

Please pray for the residents of Fargo and all North Dakotans. Almost every inch of the state is under a flood warning.

I had plans to show a bunch of KFYR-TV flood photos but the site is getting so many hits it is taking forever to download the photos. Instead, I will give you links to a slide show and a couple of videos.

This slideshow is from the Bismarck Tribune: . It includes a great shot of a guy rescuing his two dogs from the flood. I hope you have the patience to watch the slideshow all the way to the end so you can see what an ugly, nasty thing an ice jam is.

Here is a link to a video of some people near Fargo trying to save their home. (You will recognize it from the still photo I showed yesterday of the dog surveying her flooded farmestead.) Notice how much the water has risen since the photo was taken:

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


National attention has been focused on the imminent flooding in Fargo, but for the first time since Garrison Dam was built in the 1950s, the southwest part of the city of Bismarck is being flooded by the Missouri River. People living in the Southport and Fox Island areas were evacuated yesterday.
Also for the first time ever, the US Army Corps of Engineers has completely cut the flow of water from the Garrison Dam, upstream from Bismarck. However, the results will not be noticed in Bismarck for another two days.
About an hour ago this morning, a huge ice jam at Double Ditch north of Bismarck broke, which is not good news. Authorities had hoped that the jam would not break until they could blast another jam further south with dynamite. Conditions were not good for inspecting the situation by air earlier this morning, but now a Black Hawk helicopter is patrolling the river. (We can see the river from our office building.)
Don't worry about me - both my work and my home are high and dry and safe. I'll keep you informed with another post and more photos this evening.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


I consider William Butler Yeats to be the greatest Irish poets who ever lived, and one of the finest poets of all time.
Yeats was born in Dublin on June 13, 1865. A leader of the Irish Renaissance, he was also a dramatist. He is widely known as one of the foremost writers of the 20th century.
In 1923, he was awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature for what was described as "inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation." He was the first Irishman so honored. Interestingly, he is among the few Nobel recipients to do his or her best work after receiving the prize.
Yeats wrote lyrical, symbolic poems on pagan Irish themes, such as "The Wanderings of Oisin" in the romantic melancholy tone he believed characteristic of the ancient Celts. He also wrote "The Celtic Twilight" and "The Secret Rose", which deal with Irish legends.



In 1889 Yeats met the beautiful Irish patriot Maud Gonne. He developed an obsessive infatuation with her beauty and outspoken manner, and she was to have a significant and lasting effect on his poetry. He loved her unrequitedly for the rest of his life. As well as inspiring much of his early work, she drew him into the Irish nationalist movement.
Yeats was 51 in 1916 when he proposed to Gonne for the last time. Realizing he was not to have a future with her, he proposed to George (Georgie) Hyde-Lees a few months later. They married and had a son and daughter. He died on Jan. 28, 1939.
Following are some of his most famous poems.

"LADY OF SHALOTT" by William Holman Hunt



Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

"LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI" by William Hughes

I whispered, 'I am too young,'
And then, 'I am old enough';
Wherefore I threw a penny
To find out if I might love.
'Go and love, go and love, young man,
If the lady be young and fair.'
Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,
I am looped in the loops of her hair.

O love is the crooked thing,
There is nobody wise enough
To find out all that is in it,
For he would be thinking of love
Till the stars had run away
And the shadows eaten the moon.
Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,
One cannot begin it too soon.

"LADY LILITH" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti


When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim Soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

"BEACH WALK" by Pino Daeani


Dance there upon the shore;
What need have you to care
For wind or water's roar?
And tumble out your hair
That the salt drops have wet;
Being young you have not known
The fool's triumph, nor yet
Love lost as soon as won,
Nor the best labourer dead
And all the sheaves to bind.
What need have you to dread
The monstrous crying of wind!



The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine and fifty swans.

The nineteenth Autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold,
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes, when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?

(This is a photograph of the actual Isle of Innisfree)




I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings,
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


I couldn't believe the dozens and dozens of people who landed on my blog Tuesday, looking for the phrase "Beannachtai La Fheile Padraic Duit", which is Gaelic for "Happy St. Patrick's Day to You." They found it on a post I wrote on St. Patrick's Day two years ago.

Since then, however, I have become ambivalent about devoting a day to the man who drove the Druids out of Ireland. That's right, the Druids - not snakes, which never existed in Ireland. No, snakes are a mere symbol for the Druids and their heathen Celtic goddesses. Therefore, there was no St. Patrick's Day post from me this year. But I will say a belated but heartfelt "Slainte" to all my Irish brothers and sisters.

"OSTARA" by Karen Bagnard

And, today I'm taking a break from "All Things Irish" to discuss a day sacred to ancient peoples, including the Celts. It was one of their eight holidays of the solar wheel of the year. I'm talking about the vernal - or spring - equinox, which begins at 6:44 a.m. my time tomorrow.

The Druids called this first day of spring Alban Eiler, which means, "Light of the Earth. " They considered it a rare and magical time, being one of the two days in the year that night and day are in balance. Equinoxes and solstices alike were holy times of transition for the ancient Celts, a celebration of the miraculous balance of nature and life cycles of renewal.

This is the time when the young sun god celebrates a sacred marriage with the young maiden goddess. We celebrate the return of the spring goddess from her long season of dormant sleep.

"OSTARA" by Goddess Cards

The spring equinox is the mid-point of the waxing year. The spark of light that was born at the winter solstice has reached maturity. Tomorrow the light and dark are equal; from tomorrow forward, the days grow longer than the nights. We have survived another winter and are once more surrounded by the delights of spring.
Well, some of you are. Here in North Dakota, we are just barely entering spring. Finally, the massive snowdrifts are receding, we catch glimpses of lawn here and there and the geese are honking away as they fly North (what a beautiful sound). It will be in the 50s today and over the weekend, but a storm with heavy wet snow is forecast for early next week.

I have no photos of beautiful spring flowers or budding leaves to show you. What I do have to share are these words and the accompanying artists' interpretations of Eostre or Ostara.

"OSTARA" by Rebecca Guay
Equinox means equal night and vernal comes from the Latin word for bloom. The earth awakens, new life emerges, sap rises, buds shoot and spring flowers are celebrated as gifts from nature. Spring returns and rejuvenates our own life force.
It is a time for celebrating the greening of the earth, and crops are typically sown at this time. For the ancients, it was the time of the festivals of the pagan goddess Ostara (Germanic) or Eostre (Saxon). She was the goddess of fertility and spring, and also the goddess of dawn.

"OSTARA BLESSINGS" by Jennifer Galasso

Some believe that this is where we get the word "Easter". Although they sometimes occur at about the same time, Ostara and Easter usually don't coincide, because Ostara is calculated by the sun, and Easter is calculated by the moon. Easter occurs on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal eqinox.

Since the spring equinox is a time to celebrate fertility, and many cultures see eggs as a symbol of new life or the home of the soul, decorated eggs have been part of spring celebrations for centuries.

The egg symbolized the goddess Eostre's wholeness and fertility. (The female hormone estrogen is named after her.) The golden yolk represents the sun god; its white shell is seen as the white goddess. Eggs were offered to the earth to ensure a fecund future harvest.
"EOSTRE" by Hrana Janto

Now, the decorated egg, egg rolling and egg hunts that originated from pagan fertility rites are ubiquitous symbols of Christian Easter celebrations. Once again - as with Yule - a pagan celebration has been "stolen" and Christianized.
In addition to eggs, the hare is also a powerful symbol of Eostre. The hare was regarded as the sacred animal of the goddess, because of its fertility and activity at this time. Goddesses were once believed to shape-shift into hares. But nowadays the once powerful and magical hare has been reduced to the fluffy, cute Easter bunny.

"OSTARA'S MAIDEN" by Michele Lee Phelan

One delightful legend associated with Eostre was that she found an injured bird on the ground one winter. To save its life, she transformed it into a hare. But "the transformation was not a complete one. The bird took the appearance of a hare but retained the ability to lay eggs. The hare would decorate these eggs and leave them as gifts to Eostre."

Ostara or Eostre is most often seen as an older maiden or young mother figure, clothed all in white.


Bonfires were a frequent marker of the spring equinox. Jumping the fire sometimes occurred although more often this was seen during Beltane (May 1). An old custom was to light a sun-wheel or Catherine Wheel. A wooden wheel was rolled to the top of a high hill, lit on fire and then rolled down into the village and to the fields. This symbolized bringing the warmth and energy of the Sun to the fields for first spring plowing and planting.

"OSTARA" by Mickie Mueller

The vernal equinox is known as the day of equilibrium. Now is a good time to consider the balance of our lives - work, play and relationships. Perhaps for you it will be a day of quiet reflection and contemplation. Or, if you prefer, you could conduct an equinox ritual.

The following is a spring equinox ritual that is appropriate for Christians and Pagans alike. Stand outdoors at sunrise, forming a circle with those you love. Put a small tree (representing "the tree of life") or a shrub in the center of your circle, or stand around a living tree. Meditate silently together with a sense of awe and wonder about the teeming abundance of life God has created.
Tie festive ribbons or attach brightly colored pieces of paper onto the tree. As you do so, state your intention for yourself or a loved one with respect to personal growth or spiritual renewal. End with a prayer of thanksgiving for the miracle that is the Continuity of Life, and ask that everyone around you might have a Bright and Blessed Spring.

"ARTHA" by Caroline Gully-Lir

Sunday, March 15, 2009


(All paintings in this post by Martin Driscoll)
The painting above could be of my great-great-grandparents, John and Bridget Cody, making "The Decision" to immigrate to the United States. I know little about John and Bridget, except that they were both born in the 1830s in southern Ireland (county unknown), and that their son, my great-grandfather Joseph Cody, was born in the United States.
There, the trail ends. The genealogist of my father's family - the Codys/Rockneys - has traced our Norwegian ancestors back to the 1600s, but has been stymied regarding the Irish side. And no wonder. How many John and Bridget Codys might have lived in any county in Ireland? But I am convinced that I, a Norwegian/Scottish/Irish American, have Irish peasant blood in my veins, and that I owe my existence in part due to the Great Irish Potato Famine. The time frame fits. John and Bridget would have been in their 20s around that time, young enough to start over in a foreign country, and young enough to still have children after coming to America.


The Great Famine - An Gorta Mór or An Drochshaol (The Bad Life) - was a period of starvation, disease and mass emigration between 1845 and 1852 during which the population of Ireland was reduced by 20 to 25 percent. Approximately one million of the population died and a million more emigrated from Ireland's shores.

The proximate cause of the famine was a potato disease commonly known as late blight. Although blight ravaged potato crops throughout Europe during the 1840s, the impact and human cost in Ireland—where a third of the population was entirely dependent on the potato for food—was exacerbated by a host of political, social and economic factors which continue to be debated today.

But there is no debate over the fact that the famine was a watershed in the history of Ireland. Its effects permanently changed the island's demographic, political and cultural landscape. For both the native Irish and those in the resulting diaspora, the famine entered folk memory and became a rallying point for various nationalist movements. Modern historians regard it as a dividing line in the Irish historical narrative, referring to the preceding period of Irish history as "pre-Famine."


I am also thoroughly convinced that the great famine was caused by greed, by stupidity and possibly even by a wish to entirely eradicate the Irish race. As I stated above, one third - ONE THIRD - of the population of Ireland was entirely dependent on the potato for food. This did not happen by accident.
It is impossible to tell this story in a few paragraphs, but I am going to attempt an overview. In the forty years after 1801, when Ireland came under the governance of the United Kingdom, the British grappled with the problems of governing a country which had, as Benjamin Disraeli put it in 1844, "a starving population, an absentee aristocracy, and an alien Church (Catholic)".

Several hundred commissions and special committes inquired into the state of Ireland. Without exception their findings prophesied disaster; Ireland was on the verge of starvation, her population rapidly increasing, three-quarters of her laborers unemployed, housing conditions appalling and the standard of living unbelievably low. This was a contrast to Britain, which was beginning to enjoy the modern prosperity of the Victorian and Industrial Ages.


The bulk of the Irish population lived in conditions of poverty and insecurity. At the top of the social pyramid was the ascendancy class, the English and Anglo-Irish families who owned most of the land, and who had more or less limitless power over their tenants. Many of these landlords lived in England and were called absentee landlords. They used agents to administer their property for them, with the profits being sent to England. A number of the absentee landlords never set foot in Ireland.

One commission report in 1845 stated that "It would be impossible adequately to describe the privations which they [Irish laborer and his family] habitually and silently endure . . . in many districts their only food is the potato, their only beverage water . . . their cabins are seldom a protection against the weather... a bed or a blanket is a rare luxury . . . and nearly in all their pig and a manure heap constitute their only property." The commissioners noted the "patient endurance which the labouring classes have exhibited under sufferings greater, we believe, than the people of any other country in Europe have to sustain."

Agents for the landlords could sublet the land as they saw fit. They split the holding into smaller and smaller parcels to increase the amounts of rents they could then obtain. Tenants could be evicted for reasons such as non-payment of rents (which were very high), or if the landlord decided to raise sheep instead of grain crops. The tenants had no security of tenure on the land; being tenants "at will" they could be turned out whenever the landlord chose.

Holdings became so small that ONLY potatoes—no other crop—would suffice to feed a family. Shortly before the Great Hunger, poverty was so widespread that one third of all Irish small holdings could not support their families after paying their rent, except by doing seasonal migrant labor in England and Scotland.

Ironically, the potato had been introduced to Ireland as a garden crop of the gentry. But by the first two decades of the eighteenth century, it had become a base food of the poor, especially in winter. When the blight came, in 1845, starvation came not far behind. That year, half the crop was lost. In 1846 three-quarters of the harvest was lost. The first deaths from starvation were recorded in autumn 1846.


Once the famine began, the English government was severely blamed for not responding to the crisis. Many suggestions were made to Parliament, including providing employment on public works, keeping the abundant Irish crops in Ireland to feed its people, opening ports to imports but shutting off exports, stopping distillation of grain, and introducing Tenant Rights as practiced in Ulster (the northern counties of Ireland).

John Mitchel, one of the leading political writers of Ireland, raised the issue of the "Potato Disease" in Ireland as early as 1844, noting how powerful an agent hunger had been in certain revolutions. In February 1846, he commented on "the wretched way in which the famine was being trifled with", and asked if the British Government even yet had any conception that there might be soon "millions of human beings in Ireland having nothing to eat."

The British reaction was to tell Irish people not to be alarmed, that learned men had been sent from England to enquire into all those matters; and that there was no "immediate pressure on the market". Sniffed The British, there was "always a tendency to exaggeration in Irish news".

In Ireland, it was widely believed that "if Yorkshire and Lancashire had sustained a like calamity in England, there is no doubt such measures would have been taken, promptly and liberally."
In an article on "English Rule" in March, 1846, Mitchel wrote that the Irish People were "expecting famine day by day" and they attributed it collectively, not to "the rule of heaven (but) to the greedy and cruel policy of England." The people, he said, believed that their starving children "cannot sit down to their scanty meal but they see the harpy claw of England in their dish."
The people, Mitchel wrote,, watched their "food melting in rottenness off the face of the earth," all the while watching "heavy-laden ships, freighted with the yellow corn (wheat) their own hands have sown and reaped, spreading all sail for England."

Mitchel later wrote one of the first widely-circulated tracts on the famine, "The Last Conquest of Ireland (Perhaps)". It established the widespread view that the treatment of the famine by the British was a deliberate murder of the Irish, and contained the famous phrase: “The Almighty, indeed, sent the potato blight, but the English created the Famine."

(Mitchel was later convicted of treason and deported to the Bahamas.)
The feeble response of the British government to the famine came too little, too late. A million Irish men, women and children died; a million others felt their only solution was to emigrate, resulting in the great Irish presence in the United States, Canada and many other nations.
It is my firm belief that the dissatisfaction with how the British government handled the crisis led to greater and greater demand for Irish Home Rule, resulting eventually in rebellions like the Easter 1916 uprising, and the partition of the island and the creation of two separate countries: The northern 16 counties that became Northern Ireland, still under British rule today, and the Irish Free State of the southern Ireland, later called the Republic of Ireland.
While researching Irish history, I ran across the paintings of American artist Martin Driscoll. I think he has done a splendid job of depicting the lives of the Irish peasanty in the 19th Century. Some of these works have been sold and others are for sale. To view these and more, go to

Thursday, March 12, 2009


(Often pixies are only visible as points of light)
I originally conceived of this post being part of my month-long celebration of all things Irish/Celtic. Since then I have discovered that - with the exception of modern times - the legend of the pixie is unique to Britain. However, I'm going to include them in this month's celebration anyway, because although they may not be Irish - at least in origin - they are definitely Celtic.

Pixies (also piskies, pisgies, pigsies and west country fairies) are mythical creatures of folklore, considered to be particularly concentrated in the areas of Devon, Somerset and Cornwall in southern England, suggesting a Celtic origin for the belief and the name.


Though pixies and faeries seem to have much in common, and are often viewed as interchangeable, they are two distinct species. In folklore pixies and fairies are antagonists and fought a huge battle at Buckland St. Mary, Somerset. The pixies were victorious and still visit the area. The fairies are said to have left after their loss.

Some adherents find pixies to have a human origin or to “partake of human nature” in distinction to fairies whose mythology is traced to immaterial spirit forces.


Pixies are said to be nearly ageless and uncommonly beautiful, though there are some called pixie who have a distorted and strange appearance. There is a debate as to whether or not pixies have wings.

Pixies are usually described as having green eyes, pointed ears and slanted eyes. In art they are often depicted wearing a green outfit and pointed hat. These are Victorian Era conventions and not part of the older mythology.


In fact, legend has it that pixies generally go unclothed, though they are sensitive to human need for covering. They do have a weakness for bits of finery, and a piece of ribbon appears to be highly prized by them.

In Devon, pixies are said to be “invisibly small, and harmless or friendly to man.” Others say they are no larger than a human hand but can change their size at will. In yet other legends and accounts they are presented as having near human stature.


There are as many discrepancies as to the origin of pixies as there are conflicting descriptions.

Some believe them to be the earliest inhabitants of England. One British scholar took pixie myth seriously enough to state his belief that “pixies were evidently a smaller race, and, from the greater obscurity of the … tales about them, I believe them to have been an earlier race.”


The pixies of Dartmoor in Devon are fond of music and dancing. They dance in the shadows of the standing stones, or gambol on the edges of tumbling stream. Their bells can be heard deep in the heart of the many tors on the moor.

Those who believe that pixies are benign in nature say they are helpful to humans, sometimes helping needy widows and others with housework (which links them with other household elves such as brownies.) Pixies are said to reward consideration and punish neglect. By their presence they bring blessings to those who are fond of them.

Pixies bless the land. They are forest creatures whom other wild creatures find alluring and nonthreatening. They love humans, taking some for mates.

However, pixies are also seen as being malicious tricksters who enjoy playing pranks on people.
They may steal humans' belongings, or throw pots and pans after kitchen girls. Pixies are drawn to horses and love to ride them across the moor for pleasure, twisting their manes to spur them on. They steal the horses or Dartmoor ponies at night and bring them back before dawn, leaving only the tangled ringlets in the manes as evidence.

Some pixies are said to steal children or to play their favorite trick - leading humans astray. Sometimes pixies may confuse mortals so thoroughly that they never recover and wander aimlessly through the countryside singing or talking a mysterious language. This condition is known as being "pixie-led". If one felt the onset of a pixie spell, one could foil a pixie by turning their coat inside-out.


The term "pixie-led" has been transformed into the modern word pixilated, which has nothing to do with computer images at all but instead means: behaving as if mentally unbalanced, very eccentric, whimsical, prankish, bemused, intoxicated or drunk.

Those who deliberately follow pixies often vanish without a trace. For example, a farmhand at Rowbrook, along the River Dart, is said to have been lured down towards the river by mysterious voices, calling his name: ‘Jan Coo.’ He was never seen again.

"OLI" by Liselotte Ericksson

Pixies are “great explorers familiar with the caves of the ocean, the hidden sources of the streams and the recesses of the land.” Some are said to exude pixie dust, which is left in their footprints.

Pixies can be repelled by objects made from silver as contact with the metal can harm them, another trait they share in common with the fairies of the British Isles.

"AN EVENING EXCURSION" by Liselotte Ericksson

Farmers can stay in good terms with pixies by leaving buckets of water out at night for pixie mothers to wash their babies, leaving out a pitcher of milk for them to drink, and keeping the hearth swept clean for pixies to dance on at midnight.

Before the mid 19th Century pixies and fairies were taken seriously in much of Cornwall and Devon. Books devoted to the homely beliefs of the peasantry are filled with incidents of pixie manifestations.
Even within living memory, some rural families left small gifts, such as bowls of food or saucers of milk, for the pixies in order to placate them. But according to one Cornish author by the name of Drew, the pixies' contact with “normal humans” had diminished by the early 19th Century. “The age of Pixies, like that of Chivalry, is gone. There is, perhaps, at present hardly a house they are reputed to visit. Even the fields and lanes which they formerly frequented seem to be nearly forsaken. Their music is rarely heard.”

"ACORN PIXIE" by Anne Stokes

However, in some regions, belief in pixies has endured into contemporary times. During the construction of Hinkley Point nuclear power station, anything that went wrong was blamed on "the Pixy," with the station being built near Wick's Barrow, an Iron Age burial mound called "Pixies Mound" by the locals.

There were reports in 2001 of pixie sightings in the UK in the Woodham area of County Durham. All of these sightings were from residents of houses in a small street near a meadow. In 2007 there was another pixie sighting in Sandy, Bedfordshire.

As for me, I hope there are still pixies around, just not the mischievous ones!




By Samuel Minturn Peck

Tis said their forms are tiny,
yet all human ills they can subdue,
Or with a wand or amulet
Can win a maiden’s heart for you;

And many a blessing know to stew
To make to wedlock bright;
Give honour to the dainty crew,
The Pixies are abroad tonight."



By Nora Chesson

Have e’er you seen the Pixies, the folk not blest or banned?
They walk upon the waters; they sail upon the land,
They make the green grass greener where’er their footsteps fall,
The wildest hind in the forest comes at their call.
The steal from bolted linneys, they milk the key at grass,
The maids are kissed a-milking, and no one hears them pass.
They flit from byre to stable and ride unbroken foals,
They seek out human lovers to win them souls.
The Pixies know no sorrow, the Pixies feel no fear,
They take no care for harvest or seed time of the year;
Age lays no finger on them, the reaper time goes by
The Pixies, they who change not, grow old or die.
The Pixies though they love us, behold us pass away,
And are not sad for flowers they gathered yesterday,
To-day has crimson foxglove; if purple hose-in-hose
Withered last night, tomorrow will have its rose."

NOTE: All of the paintings which do not carry attribution may be found at