Daily Archives: January 25, 2015

Celtic Festival of Imbolg

Harbinger of Spring Snowdrops in the snow. (Image Wikimedia Commons)

Harbingers of Spring Snowdrops in the snow.
(Image Wikimedia Commons)

At this time of year a very common greeting in rural parts of Ireland  is ‘There’s a grand stretch in the evenings, thank God‘. Not that winter is over by any means as February and March can be wicked months weather-wise, with snow, ice, fierce winds and rain. We are still perished with the cold and fires still blaze in hearths,but the nights are getting shorter and we are enjoying about 8 hours 45 minutes of daylight, with an extra three minutes or so added each day between now and June. Lambs are being born, snowdrops are pushing up through the snow. Hardly surprising then that our Celtic forebears marked this time as the beginning of Spring with  one of their great fire festivals, Imbolg or Imbolc – the others being Samhain, marking the beginning of the year in Winter, Beltane or Bealtaine marking the arrival of Summer and Lughnasa the great festival to herald Autumn. Imbolg, like the other Celtic fire festivals, marks a ‘cross quarter day’, meaning that it falls half way between an Equinox and a Solstice, so Imbolg occurs mid way between the Midwinter Solstice in December and the Spring Equinox in March. The precise date of each of these events varies by a few days from year to year.

A Ewe and her lambs in the snow (Image Wikimedia Commons)

A Ewe and her lambs in the snow (Image Wikimedia Commons)

Not a lot is known about Imbolg, but it  may well be derived from ‘i mbolg’ which means ‘in the belly’ as Imbolg  is associated with lactation in ewes, which happens in the lambing season.

These cross quarter days are celebrated in many forms in different countries. Christians have superimposed religious feasts on these ancient festival dates, so in Ireland we have St Brigid’s Day on February 1st and Candlemas or the Feast of the Purification and Presentation on February 2nd.  In the USA there is no such religious imposition as February 2nd is celebrated as Groundhog Day!

St Brigid’s Day is marked in Ireland by weaving of  St Brigid’s Crosses from rushes and these are then kept in houses for protection until the following year. This is a lovely simple tradition that  has been passed down through generations of school children and families. It hardly matters that St Brigid may be more than likely a Christianized reincarnation of a Celtic Goddess, which may well be one of the reasons why we adopted a foreigner (St Patrick) as our national saint, unless of course there was misogyny at play way back when these things were decreed!

Making a St Brigid's Cross  (Image Wikimedia Commons)

Making a St Brigid’s Cross (Image Wikimedia Commons)

Much has been written about Brigid – there are so many great aspects to her story that deserve telling.  My own earlier posts are

Irish Tradition – The St Brigid’s Cross

St Brigid and Imbolg 

See also

A mysterious festival in the Celtic Calendar from Rubicon Heritage 

Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland has an excellent post on  The modern pilgrimages at Faughert on the feast day of St Brigit.

Whichever version of this time of the turning of the seasons appeals to you,  may you have a Happy Imbolg, a Happy Ground Hog Day or Happy St Brigid’s Day, wherever you are!

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Postcards of Serpentine National Park, Western Australia

You don’t have to travel far in Western Australia to find an Irish connection!  The Darling  Scarp lies to the east of Perth. It was originally named  the General Darling Range in 1827  in honour of General Ralph Darling who was Governor of New South Wales.  Ralph Darling  (1772 – 1858) was born in Ireland, the eldest son of  Sergeant Christopher Darling and has had several geographic features named after him. (For detailed biography  of this remarkable and controversial man see here.)

Serpentine National Park is a recreational area set  in the foothills of the Darling Scarp, that centres around a river of the same name. The upper reaches of the river flow into Serpentine Reservoir on the Darling Plateau, which is retained  by a 55 metre high dam, with a crest of 424 metres. This is one of the sources of drinking water for the metropolitan area of Perth

Water from the Serpentine Reservoir is released into the Serpentine Pipehead catchment some 5 kilometers downstream.The Pipehead Dam is 15 metres high and  142 metres across. From here, the water is piped away to the water mains.

The river  then  flows off  the Scarp at Serpentine Falls as it makes its way to the sea. Being mid-summer the Falls were not as dramatic as in winter when fuelled by rains. At their base is a deep, natural pool that has been hewn out of the rock by the force of the river

The area is heavily forested , most commonly by Eucalyptus marginata that has the Aboriginal name of Jarrah,  a dark wood that  resembles Mahogany. There are wonderful amenities in the very scenic park ranging from picnic sites complete with gas barbecues, cycle trails, bushwalks, campsites. and there is a very nice café at the top of the dam, with the original name of the Cafe on the Dam!

The area is beloved of birdwatchers and just from my table, I snapped these!

Just 40 kilometers from the hustle and bustle  of the city, Serpentine National Park is well worth a visit!

 

References

http://www.water.wa.gov.au/

Biography of Ralph Darling at Australian \dictionary of \biography

Governor Ralph darling’s Iron Collar  by Marcus Clarke

 

 

 

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Filed under Ireland and the World, Irish Australian, Irish diaspora in Australia, Travels in Australia