Saturday, March 17, 2012


Artist Unknown

The Children of Lir is a story which has been ingrained in Irish folklore and legend for centuries. It has also inspired many painters, from the pre-Raphaelites to modern artists. Here's one version, accompanied by my favorite images from the web:

Long ago there was a king in Ireland called Lir. He had four beautiful children, a son, a daughter and twin sons. Their mother died and King Lir wanted them to have a new mother. So it came to pass that he married his wife’s sister, Aoife (Oifa). Then suddenly Aoife became jealous of the king’s children because she saw their great happiness with the him. So she decided to get rid of the children.

On a beautiful summer day she took the children out to a lake for a swim. As soon as the children went into the water, she cast a spell on them turning them into swans. She herself was taken away by a dark cloud from the north and was never seen again. King Lir was in deep grief because of what had happened to his children. However, Aoife’s spell had not taken away the children’s human voices and they were to be set free from the spell in 900 years' time when St. Patrick would come to Ireland and they would hear the sound of the first Christian bells.

For 900 years the swans experienced great hardships but it never kept them from singing with their beautiful voices. People came from near and far to see the swans who could talk and sing. Then one day, when 900 years had passed, some people came and laid their hands on the birds to steal them but the swans became humans again, although 900 years old. They were quickly baptized and their souls were taken straight up to heaven. They were The Children of Lir.

Illustration from a collection of myths
published in 1915

Irish postage stamp designed by P. J. Lynch

by John Duncan

As with all legends, there are many variations - contrasting versions of events, names, and places. Here's another version of The Children of Lir, accompanied by more beautiful paintings:

There once was a man called Lir, who was happily married with three children. The eldest a girl and the two youngest boys. He loved his family with all his heart until one day, his wife passed away. Horrified at the thought of his children living without a mother, Lir married a beautiful woman named Aoife.

Aoife was terribly jealous of her new husband’s love for his children as he adored them far more than he did her. Consumed by jealousy, she ordered one of the servants to kill the children. When he refused, she used her magic instead to turn them into swans.

The children were doomed to wander until the spell could be broken if they were blessed by a monk. To stay together, their father fashioned a gold chain to fit around all three of their necks so they would not be tossed apart on the raging waters. They spent 300 years on Lough Derravaragh, 300 years in the Sea of Moyle and 300 years in Irrus Domnann Erris.

Eventually, the swans were found by monks belonging to a monastery on an island. They blessed the swans and they changed back into humans, but being 900 years old, they were withered and ancient. The three were buried together, the gold chain still linking their necks.

by P. J. Lynch

by Matt Doyle

Artist Unknown

And here's yet another version which combines elements of the first two:

Long ago there was a king in Ireland called Lir who was the father of four beautiful children, a son, a daughter and twin sons. Their mother (daughter of the High King of Ireland) died when they were still young and needing loving care. And so it came about that King Lir, who dearly loved his four children and wanted them to have a new mother, married his wife's sister, Aoife, and gave them into her charge.

But Aoife, seeing King Lir playing with the children and giving them so much of his time, became jealous of them and thought how she might have her king all to herself and the children out of the way. One night she secretly bargained with a Druid for the use of his magic wand and made her plans while the children were asleep.

Next morning,when they woke to a beautiful summer's day, Aoife had perfected her plan. "Come with me," she said to the children, "Today I am going to take you to the lake and when the sun gets hot you can all go into the cool water for a swim." When noonday came and the sun was at its height in the sky Aoife saw a dark cloud coming from the north and, fearing her plan would be spoiled, shouted "Quickly now, into the water with you all!" Then using the Druid's magic wand Aoife cast a spell on the four children, turning them one by one into swans.

The dark cloud from the north turned black, shut out the sun and burst into thunder. With a scream Aoife disappeared into the cloud and was never seen again. But Aoife, with her Druid's wand, had not taken away the children's human voices; she had told them they would be set free again from the spell in 900 years' time when St. Patrick would come to Ireland and they would hear the sound of the first Christian bells.

And so at the end of 300 years on lake Davra, 300 years on the sea of Moyle and another 300 years on the lake isle of Glora in Mayo, the day came when they heard the distant sound of one of the first Christian bells to ring in Ireland. They immediately followed the sound until they came to the house of a Christian called Caomhog and told him what had happened to them so long ago.

They were lovingly cared for by the people of the house and people came from far and near to see the swans who could talk and sing. Then one day a princess sent her servants to try and steal the swans. But just as the servants laid hands on them the time had come for the swans to become humans again and the servants ran away terrified.

Now that the swans were again human, although 900 years old, Caomhog had them baptized and the bells rang out at their christening. Soon afterwards, when the siblings had died of old age, Caomhog dreamed that he saw four beautiful children - a boy, his sister and two twin brothers - flying out over the land, then straight up to heaven, and he knew they really were The Children of Lir.

"The Enchantment" by Jim FitzPatrick

Artist Unknown

by Ed Org

There are many  more variations upon this legend, most of which are way longer. I chose these three variations because of their length and their child-like simplicity. To find other variations, just Google "The Children of Lir".

The  illustration by P. J. Lynch (after the second version), comes from the book "The Names Upon the Harp: Irish Myth and Legend," by Marie Heaney. He illustrated the eight stories and one poem contained in this marvelous book, which I wrote about in greater depth last year at

"The Names Upon the Harp", a great
read for this St. Patrick's Day!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Francis S. Walker

Painting as described by Frank Mathew, 1907: "Along the north coast . . . the absence of men is remarkable. It is the women who carry the turf and dig the potatoes, which to those poor cottars {cottagers} are 'breakfast, dinner, and supper all the year round.'"

Several years ago I wrote a post entitled "An Gorta Mor", which means "The Great Hunger" in Gaelic. In that post, I outlined the tragic history of the great potato blight in Ireland, including background information on how the Irish - thanks to their absentee English landlords - came to be so dependent on the potato, and ending with a discussion of how the famine resulted in the massive Irish diaspora throughout the world, but especially to the United States.

This year I also wanted to talk about the Irish and the potato, but I wanted it to be on a happier note. The post will include links to different Irish potato recipes, but I will only print one recipe, for the potatoes I will be making on Saturday night. They are actually French bistro potatoes, but I love them and can't have enough of them so they will be my St. Patrick's Day potatoes.

"SORTING SEED POTATOES" by Martin Driscoll

The histories of the Irish and the potato are forever intertwined. Spanish Conquistadors found the Incas cultivating potatoes and soon discovered that these tubers - long-lasting and nutritious - were an ideal food. They brought the potato back to Europe and it soon became all the rage across the continent. The English, however, were resistant to the potato, bitter when uncooked. The pious rejected potatoes since they grew underground, "Satan's realm"! So, they tested them in their "colony" of Ireland.

Fortunately for the Irish tenant farmer, with barely an acre to cultivate, the potato produced larger - up to 12 tons per acre - and more reliable yields than grains. The typical Irish peasant ate from 8-12 pounds of potatoes a day, providing 80 percent of his caloric intake!

Notice that this book uses a black and white version
of the painting from the top of the post.

It was often said that Irish children thrived on nothing more than potatoes and milk, although that of course is an exaggeration. However, the potato is loaded with protein, vitamins and complex carbohydrates.

It's no wonder that the Irish, consuming all those potatoes, felt like they needed to come up with a variety of tasty dishes featuring the potato. Here are just a few:


Pictured above is a sample of "Boxty", Irish potato pancakes (bacstaí or arán bocht tí means "poor house bread" in Irish).

"Boxty on the griddle,
boxty on the pan,
If you can't bake boxty
sure you'll never get a man."

Here is a link from Mr. Food's website for a recipe that purports to be authentic Boxty:


Colcannon is the traditional Irish dish of potatoes and cabbage. From The Food Network, here is an easy colcannon recipe: Kale is used instead of cabbage in some colcannon recipes.


Another simple and easy to produce recipe similar to colcannon is champ, which uses scallions instead of cabbage. They are combined with mashed potatoes, butter and milk, and occasionally salt and pepper. In some areas this dish is also called "poundies".


The Irish are well known for their consumption of alcohol, so for an Irish potato soup I chose the Daily Green's recipe which contains pale ale! This also has cheese in it, which is another reason it attracted me. I love beer cheese soup, so potato/cheese/ale soup can't be far off! Here's the recipe:


Irish stew (stobhach Gaelach) is a celebrated Irish dish, yet its composition is a matter of dispute. Purists maintain that the only acceptable and traditional ingredients are mutton, potatoes, onions, and water. Others would substitute lamb and add such items as carrots, turnips, and pearl barley, but the purists maintain they spoil the true flavor of the dish.

Irish stew is the product of a culinary tradition that relied almost exclusively on cooking over an open fire. Back in olden days, it made sense to use mutton over lamb in Irish stew. The economic importance of sheep lay in their wool and milk. This ensured that only old or economically non-viable animals ended up in the cooking pot, where the meet needed hours of slow boiling.

The following recipe appeals to me, even though it flouts tradition by using lamb over mutton, in addition to beef stock, carrots, bacon, thyme, garlic, bay leaves and wine:


Even though corned beef and cabbage and colcannon are probably the most famous Irish dishes, Shepherd's Pie is close to the top of the list. Although the following recipe is billed as Irish Shepherd's Pie, it caters more to American tastes by using ground beef:


Now for my potato dish, which is the easiest of them all to make. When I make this for company I use a 9x13 pan. When I make this for Dan and me I use a pan half the size.

Recipe for large casserole: Peel about five cloves of garlic. Crush them with your fingers or a knife and rub on the bottom and sides of the pan. Then finely chop the garlic and reserve.

Peel and slice approximately 6 large or 8 small potatoes. Layer half of them in the pan. Top with enough slices of deli- (thick-) sliced Swiss cheese to cover the potatoes. Top this with heavy gourmet cream (I like lots!). Scatter half the garlic over the top and salt if you wish. Repeat this procedure.

Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for an hour, or until potatoes are golden brown, then cover with tin foil and bake for another half hour.

To read my post from March 2009 about An Gorta Mor, with more paintings by Martin Driscoll, go here:

Thursday, March 8, 2012


Double white narcissus Bridal Crown
"The departing gunnysack skirt tail of winter's final days."

~ Nina Bagley

Isn't that a wonderful quote to describe the ragtag end of winter? It was written by Nina Bagley (Nina with an 'I'), a fabulous blogger and jewelry artist who lives in a rural area in the mountains outside of Asheville, NC.  If only I could write like she does, I would be an extremely happy blogger.

NIna's blog is called "Ornamental" and it is listed (with a direct link) on my sidebar under Friends and Kindred Spirits. The quote above is taken from her March 2 post called "Grey Day Inspiration". In it, she describes how a simple walk by the river inspired her to create a piece of her beautiful jewelry. I urge anyone who is interested in the creative process or emotion-tinged writing to read this post and peruse other posts on Nina's blog.


My indoor bulb garden, which I mentioned in my last post, is coming along famously. I still have a lot of mini yellow daffodils, plus the blue hyacinth. I also now have some beautiful red tulips (in the blued-red tone that I prefer) and a pink hyacinth, and grape hyacinths (muscari) are peeking up through the soil. The mysterious bulbs I mentioned in the last post turned out to be precious double white narcissi with golden centers, very much like the Bridal Crown variety shown in the above photo.

I can't remember when I've enjoyed an inexpensive purchase so much. This bulb garden has given me a great deal of pleasure during this "departing gunnysack skirt tail of winter". With these visual, scented wonders, I can wait for the emergence of the bulbs I planted outdoors last fall.

I only hope that all the bulbs I planted come up. The one downside of having a mild, virtually snowless winter is that there is no moisture in the ground. Not being an experienced bulb grower, I don't know if that means my bulbs won't come up - or will they flower because they have what they need stored in the bulb? Any bulb gardeners out there, please let me know.

If they do come up I will have yellow jumbo daffodils; pink, yellow and purple single tulips; and pink, white and purple double tulips. Only time will tell, but with the winter being so mild, we may just have an early spring.

The temps are forecast to be in the 50s today and tomorrow, in the 60s Saturday and Sunday and pushing 70 by Monday. The little bit of snow remaining will soon be history. For once in my life I may see tulips and daffodils blooming in March!


Tonight is the March full moon. I hope you are able to see it - we should here because it promises to be clear tonight.

Native Americans called this the Full Worm Moon, because as the temperatures begin to warm and the ground begins to thaw, earthworm casts appear, heralding the return of the robins. The more northern tribes knew this moon as the Full Crow Moon, when the cawing of crows signaled the end of winter, or the Full Crust Moon, because the snow cover becomes crusted from thawing by day and freezing at night.

Early settlers knew it as the Full Sap Moon, or Sugar Moon, marking the time of tapping maple trees. They also knew it as the Lenten Moon, and it was considered to be the last full moon of winter. Other names for the March full moon are Fish Moon (Colonial America), Big Famine Moon (Choctaw), Sleepy Moon (China), Windy Moon (Cherokee), Chaste Moon (English Medieval) and Moon of Winds (Celtic).

The Dakota, or Sioux, who roamed the prairies of North Dakota, called the March full moon the Moon When Eyes Are Sore From Bright Snow (but they wouldn't call it that this March!).

But the moon isn't the only skywatching show on offer tonight. Jupiter and Venus, for example, are drawing closer and closer together in the sky, on their way toward a rare conjunction on March 15. For the next few days, Mercury will join them, visible a bit lower in the sky.
Skywatchers with binoculars may even be able to see Uranus just below Mercury, and the dwarf planet Ceres — the largest object in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter — nearby.

AND, if you live in a rural area where you can see the unobstructed night sky, look to the north tonight and see if you can see the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis. Because of the storm taking place on the sun, they may be spectacular right now. Yes, sun storm. An intense solar storm erupted Tuesday, sending billions of tons of solar plasma streaking into space. These particles have begun hitting Earth's atmosphere already, and they should cause supercharged auroras close to our planet's poles - both North and South.
For more information on these celestial events, plus photos and maps, go to:

Thursday, March 1, 2012


Because my computer has been so painfully slow, I have dreaded posting anything to this blog lately. But I figured I had better come around and update it, especially to let you know about Dan's condition. His latest CAT scan provided very good news. The lymph node involvement is now almost non-existent, and the original tumor is even shrinking. (A diffuse tumor, it is inoperable.)

There was a lot of rejoicing when he called me from Fargo to deliver that news! He is feeling well this week, which unfortunately means he is almost ready to go back for another round of chemo.

Already, I can see how each three-week cycle goes: 1: Almost euphoric the day of the chemo treatment (probably from the steroid IV he gets first), 2: somewhat nauseated the next few days (but the pills help a lot with that), 3: then being really crabby and feeling like he has been hit by a truck, along with getting a cold or flu if there are germs ready to attack his weakened immune system, 4: feeling somewhat better, and 5: finally feeling quite good. Which means it's time for chemo again. 

I can actually feel your good vibes, well wishes, prayers and positive thoughts winging toward us. And I don't care if you worship Jesus, Buddha, Mohamed, Celtic gods, the Great Spirit or the Universe. I feel that all prayers go to the same place and I thank you so much for praying on Dan's behalf. I know for sure that Kristen and I have guardian angels (Kristen's has been especially active over the course of her life!), and I am hoping that Dan has one too, to stand by him like a fierce warrior as he faces more chemo treatments (next one is March 7).

More Updates:

March came in pretty much like a lamb, with temperatures in the high 30s, sun and melting this afternoon. I have to qualify it though, because February was the real lamb. Almost all month, we had bare ground and mild temperatures into the 40s and 50s. Then, late in the month, we had three "snow events" (I can't call them snow storms - those were reserved for other areas of the state.)

March is generally the month when I write about "All Things Irish or Celtic", in honor of St. Patrick's Day and my Irish heritage.  I haven't written any this year, but since I am feeling better about Dan I might write a couple if I thought you were interested. Anything you want to see? Let me know!

Speaking of feeling better about Dan and trying to feel better about winter in general, I have been trying to have one blooming plant in the house at all times, ever since Dan told me how much he enjoyed them. Over the months I've had deep pink, purple and red cyclamens; pink and yellow begonias; orange and pink kalanchoes; an Africa violet; a few orchids; and yellow and purple primroses (which did not last nearly long enough).

Last week I bought what was dubbed an "indoor bulb garden" -  no blooms, just greenery and buds. A lot like the one shown in the photo at the top of this post, it now has three mini-daffodils with more to come, one blue hyacinth and one in bud, and something very mysterious in bud that I can't wait to see. It may not be spring outdoors, but it is indoors!