The Myth of the Civil War: Causes and Consequence
The arrival of Amhairghin and the Sons of Mil was the arrival of the Celts to Ireland. What we dealt with in the 2020 Summer School was the stories of what subsequently unfolded in the country, especially under the Kingship of Conn CedCathach. What is particularly significant is that the Celts brought a different culture to Ireland. One of the differences was to do with the “succession to the monarchy of Erinn” and in a sense when something as significant as the appointment of the High King changes, everything changes.
We reminded ourselves (much covered in the Nine Waves Immersion recently finished!) of some of the core structures of organisation of society and the associated ideology of Kingship, what was prevalent in the pre Celtic Ireland and, as we learn from historians and others, continued in various forms until the demise of Celtic Ireland in the 17th Century. What we did was set the context within which the events we covered in the Summer School unfolded.
Wisdom, Poet, Seer and a Warrior
The Connections and insights from Participants
Here are some of the most significant connections and insight from participants and collected by the Bard team:
Connection 1 – Triple Fosterage – 3 mothers
The remarkable mothering of the young boy, Demne, could be seen as triple mothers: Muirne, Bodhmall and Liath Luachra was a great start for any child. It was also a reminder of the Triple Goddess, so important in the Mythological Cycle. This start, it was felt, would build a wise, courageous, soulful and nature loving child.
Connection 2 – The Natural World – Animal Symbolism
There was considerable imagery taken from the natural world and this was clearly a ‘source of wisdom’. Salmon of Knowledge, deer and speed of foot and mind, crane/oxter bag as a source of needs met and insight. What also seemed to be evident was nature as a source of abundance. And the naming of the young man as deer (Demne) is a clear natural world direct association.
Connection 3 – The Context of Fear
It felt as if the atmosphere of brutality was evident following the Battle of Cnoca – the first Civil War. A climate of fear, revenge and slaughter was evident and was the world into which Demne/Fionn was born. His early life was absolutely one of great danger.
Connection 4 – The Importance of Generosity
The recurring theme of generosity was evident in Fionn’s natural and immediate response to the woman who has lost her own son. This provided a cyclical linkage to his father, Cumhail and the battle at which the oxter/crane bag was lost. It also enabled Fionn to recover the ‘bag’ – a reward which was connected to the generosity, but was not his motivation. He didn’t know. Also Finneagas’s generosity to Fionn when he has clearly lost what he most desired – the salmon’s great knowledge.
Connection 5 – The Consequence of Reflex
Finn’s tasting of the salmon had life altering consequences. But it was a reflex reaction and indeed had to be for it wouldn’t have worked if he had tasted the salmon deliberately. It was also a reflex reaction to help the mother of the murdered child. Echoes here of Parsifal who asks the question of the Grail King in an innocent reflexive way.
Connection 6 – Wisdom and Thumb sucking
The access to the wisdom of the world is through Fionn ‘sucking his thumb’. This seems to represent the natural wisdom of the child that is suppressed and lost in adulthood. Is this why parents admonish it? Fearing their children will become wiser than them? This is the ‘emperor’s new clothes’ story.
Connection 7 – The Values of the Fianna
The three core values of the Fianna were strength of limb, purity of heart and actions to match their words. The focus on body and heart (emotion) as well as consistency between ‘say’ and ‘do’. Not evident among so many leaders.
Connection 8 – The Fionn HeritageThe link with Fintan MacBochra with Fionn was clear. This makes the centrality and consistency of ‘wisdom’ within this tradition. It also comes across from one cycle (Mythological) to another (Fenian).
Connection 9 – A Lesbian connection
What exactly is the nature of the relationship between Bodhmall and Liath Luachra– two warrior women who live together. Just a (modern) reflection.
When the Celts first arrived in Ireland, it was Amhairghin and the Sons of Mil who after a brief encounter with the goddess people’s, the Tuatha de Danann withdrew over nine waves before crossing the waves again in a battle of druids which presaged their second arrival. We chose that image to describe our Nine Waves Immersion, only the thought is that it is a journey through nine waves and each wave being an initiation, as it were, into the Myths of Ireland. Together the collection of chosen myth can constitute what Moriarty would call a ‘safari of stories’.
The ‘Through Nine Waves’ immersion offers an opportunity to experience the Irish encounter with the divine, the gift of a way of seeing the world, silver branch perception, to learn of the first people to arrive in Ireland, after an epic journey that makes the great Homeric Odyssey look tame, to experience the three wisdoms of the Irish, to meet a mighty shamanic figure able to shapeshift and who lives or 5500 years so has seen it all, and to learn of the first great political thinking of the Irish, distributed power and the fifth province.
The ‘Through Nine Waves’ immersion gives an encounter with the cultural hero for the Irish, a great warrior figure, who must ask, is this a romance or a tragedy, even a comedy or perhaps to an iconic tale; it introduces us to the arrival of the Celts (Ireland had great cultures before the Celts arrived!); and finally introduces us to two of the powerful high kings and a body of stories long forgotten because colonised people do not tend to tell king tales, the revel or trickster is more their thing.
The “Through Nine Waves” immersion also introduces some important thinkers in the evenings led by Barre Fitzpatrick on Edmund Burke, Ireland’s great political thinker and practitioner whose ‘great melody’ as Yeats and Conor Cruise O’Brien pointed out was to confront abuses of power; it introduced a writer, Ian Hughes whose book “Disordered Minds” spells out how the most important political leaders of 20th and 21st century suffered from one, two or three important personality disorders; and finally a Professor of Psychology, Michael Fitzgerald, talks about the important of Myth and Psychology.
We also include some previous Bard Participants whose work as artist or writer is a particular but important form of retelling. Karina Tynan and Paul Joyce feature in this series. And finally, and importantly, we ask the participants to engage in their own retelling of the myths they have heard in the Nine Waves Immersion.
Every Bard Mythologies Event or Program always begins with a Mythic Story. It is told in the time honoured oral tradition by one of the Bard team or indeed a guest Bard. In doing so we are honouring the practice of Oral Myth Telling as a way in which a culture’s wisdom and traditions can be passed on from generation to generation. In doing so we are remembering that Ireland came to writing some thousand years later than the rest of Europe. And in doing so we are reminded by the insights of anthropologists that an oral story is invariably heard in terms of what it means to today.
Myth telling then is less a history lesson and more an excellent way in which a society can be reflective, individually and collectively reflective. Why this is such an important activity is embodied in an insight of that great scholar of media and modernity, Marshall McLuhan – “the one thing about which the fish knows nothing, is water”. And so it is that we become so embedded in a culture (the water) that we are unaware. Until, that is, we hear our cultures myths. What this does, so powerfully, is to give us a familiar yet different imaginary world from which we can reflect on our own.
Given that a culture’s myth stories are a capturing in a narrative form of the deepest longings, wishes and hopes of the people along with their deepest fears, antipathies, and shame this encounter is important, really important. Rather than being lived by a mythology which is what happens when these myths are latent and unconscious this holds out the possibility of an individual/culture choosing the myths (and associated archetypes) that they live by.
The blogs and articles offered here are largely a collection of the reflections, insights, analysis of the participants in the Bard Mythologies events. They are captured by the Bard team at the events. These are often discussions in small break out groups or comments shared in the larger group. The blog posts should subsequently give an opportunity for participants and others who have heard the mythic telling to share their own reflections etc. by posting in the comments section of the Blog.
Other blogs, posts and articles may be about one of the Guest Talks from our Bard friends who we have asked to share their work. We will share their retellings be it through art, poetry, story or inputs on ‘thinkers’ whose work seems in tune with the core values, principles, or ‘geasa’ of the world of stories.
Below is a list of the upcoming events for the Bard Civic Quest, which will be held at the Civic Theatre, Tallaght.
Mythic Voices – Artists, writers and thinkers working with Irish Myth
#1 – Featuring Aron & Socha Hegarty
Sorcha Hegarty, a writer and researcher, and her brother Aron, an actor and director, are both story tellers in their own right. They hold an Irish Story Telling night on the 3rd Monday of every month in the Stag’s Head, Dublin.
Mythology frequently tells of great battles between huge giants. These epic contests at their core, are battles to determine who it is that runs things, whose power dominates. In Irish myth, it is the battle at the ford between two exemplary warriors, Cú Chulainn and Ferdia that is at the centre of the story, the Táin Bó Cúailnge. In Greek myth, the battle between Cronus and Uranus established the reign of the Titans when under Cronus’s leadership, the father Uranus is hurled into Tartarus.
Reading extracts from Matt Cooper’s newly released book, “The Maximalist: The Rise and Fall of Tony O’Reilly”, it seems like a similar epic battle has been going on between two modern day god-like Tycoons, Tony O’Reilly and Denis O’Brien. Such was the place of these men in Irish culture, that it would be no surprise if thunder and lightening were to be in the air at any time they met, especially when in dispute.
What insight does myth shine on such modern day battles? It seems first of all that what goes with the territory of the super (hyper competitive) high achieving warrior is that success is achieved at the same time as making many enemies. So it was that Cú Chulainn, who by his late teens, finds Queen Maeve to be his chief enemy among many. And often the animosity that exists is over a humiliation, whether that be real or perceived.
What is also learned from the great battle between Ferdia and Cú Chulainn is that the warrior is bound by a “code of behaviour”. This code is all about honour and pride. Ferdia and Cú Chulainn were foster brothers, soul mates who trained together on the Isle of Skye with the Warrior Queen Scatcach. But with the heroic code, honour will always win out over friendship. And the forces of trickery and deception hover all round. And so it is that when, on the fourth day of fighting, Cú Chulainn calls for the deadly Gae Bolga, there is no other outcome than the horrible death of his much loved foster brother.
What is clear is that for three days the fight seemed more like a sport. Not unlike a game of rugby, with much bashing against each other, with good humour and shared food at the end of each the day. But on the fourth day something happened and it became a fight with a different ethos, different rules, a fight to the death.
And so, going back to Matt Cooper’s book and his account of the O’Reilly vs. O’Brien ‘battle’ we can ask, what was it that took two fellow super warriors and achievers from a state of mutual admiration to one where they moved from potential friendship and respect to that Cú Chulainn Ferdia fateful fourth day?. What was obvious was that any respect and possible friendship had turned to bitter animosity. What was it then that turned what could have been a competitive contest fought within the codes of business and the framework of law, that had O’Brien telling O’Reilly’s son, Gavin, that “I will destroy you and your father, and I will go after everything”. And it seems even though both were wounded, O’Brien had his equivalent of the Gae Bolga, more money!
But when we step back from these great mythic contests, and one so brilliantly portrayed in the Tain, we are surely left with a feeling of the tragedy of victory. Cú Chulainn has won the brother battle but he has lost a soul mate. Warrior honour has won over friendship. Cú Chulainn’s life feels much more tragic than heroic!
And if we look again at another mythology, we see that while Cronus has overthrown his ruthless father, Uranus, fate has it that he, in time, will be overthrown by his son, Zeus no matter what he does to swallow (and silence) them? So it is that Zeus, in time, defeats his father and so removes the Titans and establishes the reign of the Olympians.
No matter how much worldly power a man has, there are other far more powerful forces at play that remind us of ‘mans precarious place in the order of things’. Mythology spells out these unconscious forces so poetically, so beautifully in a narrative format if we care to listen and pay heed!
If this note connects with you, you might choose to listen to the story in the Irish Myth Telling of the Battle at the Ford on the Bard Mythologies Site