Bealtaine and the Fire of Summer


Bealtaine the ancient marker that welcomes the arrival of summer comes to us in or around the 1st of May; the celestial fire and energy of the sun empowering all of life into the fullness of the year. Bealtaine, for our ancient relatives, was a celebration, a welcome of nature's provision, and a reward for their expectations and hopes for a good outcome in the year. Their world, like our own, had its fair share of uncertainty, yet the cycle of the natural and celestial had a certainty of its own.

Bealtaine flowed from what came before. It lived in the cycle of nature and cosmic activity. That cycle included Samhain. Though Samhain sat in the grey of winter it was welcomed and celebrated. It was a marking of the latency of the winter held onto, beneath their feet there was a dance of stored energy making ready for new beginnings. Known  'thin places' in the landscape were marked, celebrated and honoured in Samhain too, as points in the realm of nature, where eternal time and mortal time embrace. 

Imbolg rose up out of latency of Samhain and Spring made her entrance. Where the old year closed behind you, your feet stood facing into a new beginning, a threshold to step over. Thresholds need a ritual as a crossing point, something that is mostly lost to us in our time.

One such early ritual was taking the old Brigid's cross from the rafter of the house, pray, burn it, and replace it with a new one. This ritual act of burning the old symbolically placed all that had been the year past in that present moment. The ashes also marked a  standing place to step on into the near future, as it were. Placing the new Brigids cross in its place welcomed the new year, and also gave a place in the cycle of time to start afresh without regret. Thus Spring and a new start were welcomed, and more importantly, celebrated.

And so Imbolg yields to Bealtaine. Fires lit to help the sun, to gather, dance, recite, remember, sing and prepare for hopes to be fulfilled and listen for the turn in the season.


The Fires of Bealtaine called to mind a sense of mystery, of cosmic order or even disorder. The bonfires sometimes symbolised the 'clash' of light and darkness or perhaps good and evil. The fires had the energy to cleanse, clear the ground and prepare for a good outcome. They were a release or freedom to lay hold of what was ahead. The ritual and celebrations you could say energised hope.


We see such hope in some of the larger narratives that fed the hearts of our Celtic relatives. One such story tells of the lighting of a Pascal fire by Patrick and Fiacc on the hill of Slane, whiile the fire of sacrifice on the hill of Tara by the Druids burned. A Pascal fire that celebrated the Immanent presence and brightness of 'Son of Man' as the fires of Bealtaine flamed brightly.


               .     .   

Our ancient Celtic relations had a strong intuitive and lyrical sense of their own soul's journey, not just later after death, but in the 'here and now'. Indeed more particularly in the journey of life here. The shelter of our own soul was clearly mirrored in the haven of the natural world for the heart of the Celts. There was always that ancient sense that maybe it was your soul that had the map of your future. Along with which the Celtic mind had a wonderful sense of the depth and mystery of soul. Though its presence could easily be missed as its place within felt something like the low flame of candlelight, and its voice very often could only be noticed in silence.




Not so much, 'Who am I ?' but more 'Who I am'The ancient Irish word for the coat over our soul was 'Dán'. 'Your Dán', your Poetry, the voice of your time and gift, your place in the world, your destiny lived out in the ordinary space of our Presence in the here and now. The 'fire in our belly' so to speak. The transcendent already within, a flame to start a fire.


Finally, Catherine of Sienna says it well.  "Become who you are meant to be and you will set the whole world on fire"


 Go well as we turn into the middle of the year


Teach Bhride Ancient Spaces 2022







Samhain, Halloween, Oiche Shamhna

Samhain, the dark half of the year begins, marking a sacred and luminal point in the Ancient Celtic Calendar.


Set around mid-way between the summer solistice and the winter equinox, it is a natural time-threshold which allows us to ease into the winter, with its darker shorter days, as the activity and gathering of summer and its season ends.




The awareness of the light and life force of the sun, its place in the heavens, its presence over all the natural world is part of the celebration of Samhain, with bonfires lit to help the sun's light stay a little longer around us.

The bounty of the year, its provision and purpose fulfilled, is marked, remembered and celebrated with gratitude. The stores are full to sustain and the ground holds latent energy, poised in winter for the sun's new journey over the low horizon into spring, and the new.

This is the start of the Ancient New Year. We turn into winter without regret for the year that's been, watching for new thresholds, for renewal and presence. Allowing ourselves to become aware of the immanent presence of persistent goodness and love around us and in each one of us. 



Time evident in us and in the dwindling light of winter moves towards the thin places of sacred and eternal time ... we are more than our mortality. And the world is latent beyond the senses.

Our ancient selves celebrated in gathering, song and words, in games, fun and an expectant awareness of life and living beyond this present time. Tribe, family name, ancestors and agents of good and evil were all in the sight of the soul. So too was the awareness of God's vanquishing goodness and presence. New beginnings and life were something to reach for, as Samhain turned into winter.


Teach Bhride Ancient Spaces-Ullard

Ullard not very far from the water's edge of the river Barrow as it meanders South into Graiguenamanagh, to its tidal point at St Mullin's in South County Carlow. A few miles outside Graiguenamanagh in the townland of Ullard or Erard as it was known in ancient times. The site and church at Ullard present are mostly a 12-century structure, will a beautiful original Romanesque style constructed just before the  Gothic period. This doorway echoes similar doorways at Killeshin and indeed Myshal. We find here above our heads a couple of original carvings above the arch of the doorway said to represent St Fiachra and St Moling. However, as always this structure has for example in some of its East and South facing walls remains of the late 6th-century church. The 6th century time of great learning, and cultural connection in Ireland when the names of dynamic and charismatic leaders such as Comgall of Bangor, Edna of Aran, Finian of Clonard, Ita of Limerick, Ciaran of Clonmacnoise, Brendan of Clonfert, Kevin of Glendalough, to name just a few men and women who helped reveal the character of the Celtic Irish, their story, their literal prowess, and deep creative hearts.

Placing the Christ story as one of grace and blessing beside the story of the lives of the ordinary lives encountered Gods presence was a little like the voice and beauty of Nature, He was nearby, attentive, knowable. A God paradoxically present Immanently and transcendentally. In a sense a lived understanding that the gentle light of Celtic Spirituality gave  the variety of human hearts somewhere to retreat as a place of sanctuary and acceptance, as the ordinary and sacred living  intertwined.

Here too the oral records of the ancients were written by the early Christians to preserve it. Story, poetry, myth, folklore. The monastic settlements and communities that were established served and nurtured,  the creative, and practical needs of the communities formed around them.

Their names then did'nt carry the prefix of 'St..... that came to us from the later medieval period..they were Ita of... Brendan of........  The stronger institutional religious sensibilities and all that these gave us arrived much later in the Medieval period in Ireland. Maybe too because so much of the records were destroyed after the Anglo Normans arrived we tend to know more of the cult of the saint, and the relics associated because these find a stronger connection in the Church of the medieval period and onward in non-celtic religious belief; maybe.


The name associated here from the Churches earliest period is St Fiachra. Fiachra was the son of St Fiacc of Sleaty near Carlow. St Fiacc it is said was a cohort with St Patrick when Patrick lit the Pascal fires at Slane as the Druids lit their fires on the Hill of Tara. Fiachra came to prominence under Comgall of Bangor, and it is said worked closely with Moling, down the river at St Mullins. It is very possible that there is a record of Fiachra finding his way into Europe following the 'music of what happens' in his soul's journey establishing a monastery of hermitage somewhere in Normandy France.

REFLECTION: The mystery of Myself. Not so much Who am I ?   as  Who I AM.

         Do you and I have faith in ourselves, the greatness of our giftedness, our Dán within?

What might be your horizons just now, the boundaries you set when viewing yourself, your world, God, or the reality you perceive?


Keith Dowling at Teach Bhride Ancient Spaces 2019


Tullow Tulach

Tullow sits on the gentle River Slaney in some of the richest arable farmland in Ireland. In our more ancient history, Tullow was capital of the North Leinster kingdom of 'Uí Felmeda Tuaid'. We see in the broken annals of early history, that Tullow also sat on a main national route, 'An Slige Chualainn', one of the five ancient national roads emanating from the Hill of Tara. Tara was the place of the High seat, of gathering, Brehon Law, poetry, prophesy and celebration. One of the last men to sit in Tara was Diarmaid as High King of 'most of' Ireland. After him the land gave way to many small kingdoms, some say as many as 100, where Brehon laws were adopted as local laws, and local Rí's (or tioseach) either fought or negotiated with their neighbours to secure name, land and heritage. That was before the Normans came.

However long before the Normans arrived, Tullow was also an important place of spiritual and secular learning. St Forthchern founded a community house here in the late fifth century. A scholar and skilled craftsman and a disciple of Patrick, Forthchern had already headed up a large community in Killoughternane in the south of County Carlow. This early site, though now non-existent, was probably where the 18th century church of St Columba stands, as it, in turn, replaced an earlier 11th-century church bearing the same name just off the town centre. To this day Tullow still nurtures such learning and cohesion within its communities. It's as if an ancient path still sits under the ordinary comings and goings in the market square.

It seems that at one point in antiquity, Carlow had something like 148 castles and 'piles', however by about 1435 only two remained, one in Carlow and one in Tullow, although it's rumoured that Tullow had two castles at two different points in its early history. One was possibly sited at Mount Aaron in the townland of what we know today as Crosslow. The other around the 11th century was sited near Castle Lane, very near what now is St Columbas Church just up the street from Market Square.

With the arrival of the Normans came upheaval, unrest, battles and indeed new taxes. Ireland's bigger story was acted out both in Tullow and its surrounding hinterland. West Wicklow rebels in the Clans of O Byrne and O Toole, to name a few, fought to push the Norman presence out, and initially failed to do so with 400 of their own heads put on display in Dublin. However, they persisted and in around 1430 the Castle at Tullow was overrun and ruined. A victory of sorts.

As with the larger picture in Ireland then, names with power and wealth emerged, such as Henry, William Marshall, John Earl (son of King Henry), Hugh De Lacy, Theobold Walter 1st, Eleanor Countess of Ormond. They retained power, wealth, law and say-so as they brought rule of law, taxes, rent of lands and property along with their family names. However some also rebuilt bridges and mills at weirs to allow milling, food production and craftsmen to ply their trade, even in such times of occupation. And of course, their position allowed their family name to retain land wealth and gentry. Yet never quite gaining an all-powerful presence everywhere,  because rebellion could always appear over the next hill, or crossroads. Of course, the late Medival period in Ireland brought a shadow over Irelands Culture, Law, and Race identity that would slowly go quiet. Much worse to come later in our history with Cromwell, Famine and Penal laws.

For now though through the turmoil of Medieval times and on through the 13th and 14th centuries Tullows Settlement as a small market town somehow had a mixed population who farmed,  weaved, carved, and crafted into a resilient community who built up some tolerance of their differences in name and origins, some local, others not so much. This was partly due to the fact that by 1285 or thereabouts Tullow had been granted the status of a borough, and its inhabitants had the rights and privileges of burgesses. In general, burgesses owned plots ina town or village and also had a set amount of land in surrounding fields, along with some trading privileges for all of which they paid an annual rent. Like many rural settlements in Ireland at the time 'Borough' status was granted by their lords as a means of attracting settlers from England Wales.


By the early 14th century, Tullow was a thriving market town, church, castle, houses of the burgesses, tofts and small cottages with their holdings of small gardens and crofts. Historical documents testify to a list of surnames that reveal a significant degree of occupational specialisation and include carpenters, masons, tailors, dyers, and possibly a goldsmith. At this time in Tullow's history (about 1314) an Augustinian friary was founded across the river Slaney in the townland known as St John's or Templeowen. The founders of the friary at Tullow were Simon Lumbard and Hugh Talin who gave a house and three acres of land to the new house. Nothing remains of the fiary's presence now save a cross headstone embedded in a graveyard wall on the original site. Some photos here to indicate.

In the post-Medieval period, the castle at Tullow persisted. Suffering rebel attacks of Silken Thomas, and even disputes within the Ormond family. However, the town survived and remained a center of local trade. Such a rhythm still persists in Tullow local trade is quietly still in place, indeed the fields that oxen ploughed in the 13/14th centuries are still being ploughed in the townland of Tulloephelim (Tullow). At some point the castle was taken by Confederate Irish forces in the 1640s, only to be taken again by Cromwellian forces later. Later in the 1670s, it is said the castle was occupied by a William Cruchley a justice of the peace who is said to have greatly beautified the building.

In a detailed census of the Catholic parish of Tullow around 1795 suggest Tullow was a market town of importance. It also reveals the range of non-agricultural occupations among both Catholic and Protestant inhabitants as very striking, showing workers in cloth, leather, iron, as well as food processing, and retail. A quiet persistent history of local resilience and community still rings a bell here in Tullow County Carlow.

While Tullow has a long history reaching back to Medieval times and even to the early settlement in the 6th century, its town origin lies squarely in the Anglo-Norman period. Documents reveal too that Tullow and its region over time has been characterized by ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity. it seems the people who came to settle here in the 13th century and the indigenous population somehow were incorporated into the manor and borough and shared many traits, not least of which was their resilence. It seems that it was this resilience that saw Tullow survive through the centuries and enabled its transition from medieval manor to market town.



Keith Dowling,  Teach Bhride Ancient Spaces                                                                                                                                March 2019.









Imbolg in Teach Bhride Ancient Spaces

We are so sorry our Blog space to celebrate the arrival of Imbolg, has been delayed by server and platform problems. Nevertheless, we celebrate here a little late the unnoticed beauty and energy emerging all around us.


Febuary 1st, Brigid's day, an Ancient marker for this new season comes full of possibilities to place energy at our feet for a whole new year.

Imbolg asks us to notice the footing we have had in Samhain, yes, our winter. It was not always all about, grey, dark, cold and 'not summer' complaints around winter. Let's get past it! Samhain retained an ancient awareness of winter's latency, its store of energy and its anticipation of spring. The reaching forward to new possibilities, new beginnings, the energy for small new starts when required, had its standing place on the edge of Samhain. The latency of Samhain becomes a provider for the glow of fresh awakenings in Imbolg.



People who know a thing or two about trees tell us that as we look in the dead of winter at trees, they seem empty, dark, leafless, stark. But underneath within the roots system, there is the loudest party of new life, new activity, communication and celebration. Nature and the 'knowing' of the trees anticipate new beginnings for themselves, soon. They are 'getting spruced up',  getting their 'glad rags' on.

Imbolg asks us to recognize that our world in its natural beauty, in its shape, sound and presence holds for us shelter, luminal places, thresholds of presence and insight, places to experience warmth, goodness and grace.

However, the standing, looking and asking is up to us. The gentle art of becoming a listener is all we need to hear, experience and enter.


Grooming in the Park.  20x16  OR  10x8Grooming in the Park. 20x16 OR 10x8Pictorial/Local interest/Editorial/Social


Ancient and wise voices recognized that there is friendship in creation for the journey of our souls. Creation assists our ability to live, love, to flourish. Yet again we see that in the process of seeking to reach toward 'the other', our gaze is lifted beyond ourselves, placing us in our meaning, rooting us and paradoxically meeting our own needs.


Imbolg marks Brigid's day. The symbol of a Brigid's Cross still holds strong meaning and indeed, presence. The fire of Brigid's own presence in the world, her poetry in destiny and voice has long been celebrated as a call to grow where you're planted. The story of her persistent holding, loving and serving the oppressed and impoverished, along with her prophetic sense to speak truth to power has served to model a life full of meaning while gazing on the other, be that God in spirit, or need in the frame of a friend or stranger in front of you. We don't realize sometimes that her name is among many others who, out of their experience of divine love, presence, and voice, became risk takers, rebels, and vanquishers on behalf of others around them. Brigid marks the call, as it were, to our own poetry and gifting in the world, for the world.


Early Christian site at Killeshin.  20x16  OR  10x8Early Christian site at Killeshin. 20x16 OR 10x8keithdowlingphotography


So maybe there's a little symbolic burning to do, but remember Imbolg is a footing that gently offers new beginnings without regret as we slowly turn our gaze from the old toward the new. Remember too, in the Celtic sense, to be filled with compassion and tenderness toward the face in the mirror, then share that a little  :)

Keith at Teach Bhride Ancient Spaces 2019



"Your soul alone has the map of your future"  J O Donoghue,  Anam Cara

Clasganney lockgates on the Barrow.  20x16  OR  10x8"Your soul alone has the map of your future"  J O Donoghue,  Anam Cara

Teach Bhride Ancient Spaces - Killoughternane

Killeshin early morning looking toward the  Black stairs.  20x16  OR  10x8Killeshin early morning looking toward the Black stairs. 20x16 OR 10x8Irish Landscapes,Leinster Province.The East.

Only the skyline and associated weather tells me we are approaching yet again another Winter Solistice.

Otherwise my head says we should be in or around Mid-August.

It feels like our modern posture of everything having some sort of urgency, real or imagined, little or large, has cloaked the seasons of a year into blocks of time. Time marked by commercial protocol and digital helpers that keep us 'posted'.

Sorry about the rant, back to more important things.

Winter Solstice is nearly here, that bit of winter in the three days around the 21st of December when, in celestial terms, the sun all but stands still. For the observer it looks like it simply rises and sets a the same point on our horizon. A time in the earth's cycle when light is pressed on by the sullen darkness all around. The sun, of course persists, and in small steps eventually begins its long journey south again. The Solstice in Celtic times was a celebration to encourage or partner with the celestial light and celebrate its persistence. Feasting, dance, song, and above all, light and fire marked the human connection with Winter Solstice. Life depended on Light.

Such was the power of these celebrations and of the symbolic language, that the Incarnation story (God's choice of coming into our world just like one of us) took on the fire of celebration in the dark of winter. I am reminded here of that special Jewish word, 'Shekina'  that describes the brightness and glory of God's presence immanent among people sometimes in particular locations. Here we move beyond the symbolic to the experiential.

In Irish culture, Christmas and the Nollag Mór to the Nollag Beag was a time when the special mystery of both human and divine love was celebrated. A particular time too when people were a bit more devout towards one another, generous to neighbour and indeed stranger ... Christmas gifts.

Kiloughterane Ancient site near Garryhill.  20x16  OR  10x8Kiloughterane Ancient site near Garryhill. 20x16 OR 10x8Pictorial/Local interest/Editorial/Landscape


Killoghternane church site sits near the beginning of the Black Stairs mountain range in southern County Carlow. Its original Irish name was Cill Uachtar Fhionnan, The Upper Church of St Finnian. Founded by St Forchern, a bishop said to be one of the three smiths of St Patrick, it is said that St Finnian was a native of Myshall village in Co Carlow, nearby. He was a disciple of St Forchern and became an instructor to many of the early church names across Ireland. Along with this, he was a spiritual father to over 3000 monks. Killoghternane become known as a major centre of learning, literature and virtue, resourcing many as it were 'light bearers' to journey into many parts of the world locally, nationally and indeed internationally.

The physical remains today portray just one church ruin from about the late 12th century, where in fact the mapping of the site indicates about 20 structures large and small including a round tower, spanning a time period from the mid 5th century AD for about 1000 years when this place at Kiloughternane was a major learning and literary centre, known far and wide.

Reflection:   In early Celtic Literature 'Dán' was a word or phrase which helped describe "Being Yourself'. It pointed to a deep seated wisdom in the human heart that asked us to practice our 'poetry'.  A Poetry of living a life of our own that embodied our gifts and our skill that in turn put us in touch with our destiny from within. Would that be something like an anchor, an inside anchor, meaning, 'being myself' ?

Finally, John O Donohue in his book Anam Cara tells us,  "Your soul alone has the map of your future."       (p83)

Peace and Joy this Christmas.                                                                                                     

Keith Dowling, Teach Bhride Ancient Spaces 



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