“Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.”Max Ehrmann
Máire De Bhál is a Druid and wise woman through and through. She is a mother, teacher and librarian. The moment I came across her blog and her words, I was immediately captivated and felt she was someone I absolutely needed in my life. It is so rare that happens and it was only an honor to learn more about her, her life and what brought her to Druidry as a spiritual practice and framework in this interview. At times reading her words, I’ve been misty eyed out of gratitude someone had put words to an idealism that was up to that point, not entirely brought to life. I’ve just as often laughed, smiled, or felt a genuine glow in my heart; falling into her words and genuine nature. One of her recent quips from her blog Druid Scribe…
‘I thought about giving him a shove off the pier and flinging the camera in after him, but sure it wasn’t in me to do that and sure wasn’t it in peace that I had begun. Then I had an urge to relieve myself of my clothes and dunk in her waters but the sign about Algae blooms made a different anger entirely rise up inside of me. Sewage and excessive fertilizers are clogging the Shannon’s gills and I’m here seeking a favour. The Dagda’s quirked eyebrow began to make sense. Is it any wonder this pathogen is taking hold, dividing, mutating, conquering?’
What is your background?
This question is a tough one for an old soul to answer. It is true to say that I identify as being a very old soul, that I am on a journey, that I have been here before and will be again. I am not sure if that is ‘infinatium’, though perhaps it is, just that I have a mission to complete.
I was blessed to be raised amongst my father’s people, in a stunningly scenic valley deep within the Comeragh Mountains; it’s an ancient landscape, filled with legends and lore. My summers were spent overlooking the ancient plain attributed to Eabha and Moy Turra in Co Sligo, beneath the Caves of Kesh amongst my mother’s people.
These were the places that I played where I made daisy and dandelion chains to adorn me, where I picked blackberries, damsons and whortle berries, all before Michelmas. It was the place where I gathered hazels and conkers and rosehips too.
The house I grew up in was a rambling house and every night I listened to their stories. They spoke of the Druids of Aine of Shanballyanne, a hospitable woman who made everyone welcome on their way to Knockabhainne, Milkhill the milking place. I learned of Cian of Kilkeany who had a church there and where the unbaptised children were laid to rest. They spoke of Brendan of Knockanbrendaun, a giant of a man who flung boulders at his detractors and they showed me where those stones still lay, Clog an Earla, Clog an Sionnach and Clog an Breac. I learned of Bennet of Bennetschurch and the grave of the hangman and of how when he was interred the graveyard moved itself across the road overnight.
My mother told me of her place, Carrickbanagher is Carraig Uí Bheannacháin – the Rock of the Points from where all of Sligo could be seen and Fionn sat too on Drumfin and Eabha made her plain and her stone of oaths and her burial place that was aligned to the Autumn Equinox and Crum Dubh himself and from where you could see Lough Súil where Balor finally met his fate. And such was the genesis of a Druid Scribe. Bottom line, there was no other path I could follow essentially.
My working life has been all community based, roles that fostered inclusivity and equality and respecting nature. These days I surround myself with books and honour my call to write.
What is your favorite mythical tale and character and why?
I love myths. There are so many myths and each have something to tell us, a kernel of wisdom for us to extract. The most stunning thing about myth that I continually find, no matter the origin, from Iceland to Peru, they all have veins of similarity, threads that bind them. It is endlessly fascinating. So, it is nearly impossible for me to alight on one as a favourite, they are a treasure throve and I believe that we come to them when we are supposed to.
I am writing about Aengus Óg and the woman he fell in love with Cáer Ibormeith and I am totally engrossed. Aengus is the son of the Daghda and his lover Boanne and was both conceived and born on the same day. He is the penultimate love God in Celtic myth. It was said that he was circled at all times by four small birds, said to symbolize his kisses and he could woo any maiden he set his mind too, or invoke love among others. Aengus had many women, but Caer had a mystery all of her own and in spite of Aengus being unable to woo her, she caused him to choose her. It is as if the guy who could have any woman only wanted the woman he couldn’t get. What I love about Irish goddesses the most is that they were their own women, they can’t be forced into anything and rule their own lives. What I like most about it is the balance of it, the equality essential in the myth. Caer took two forms, that of a swan and that of a human, alternating every year at Samhain and she offered him back her love on the proviso that he accepted her as she was and let her be herself. It is a real message of live and let live.
Where have you found most inspiration in the living Irish landscape?
I find inspiration in landscape no matter where I am. There is a language in landscape. It speaks to us, it is in the swish of the trees, the rise of the sun, in the flow of the stream, the call of the bird, the wax and wane of the moon, the ebb of the tide, in the volcanic formed peaks and glens and valleys. It is in the relationship between the summit of the hill and the setting sun.
Ireland had got heaps of ancient archaeology. Literally heaps, mounds, barrows, stone circles, dolmens, standing stones, humps, hallows, caves, cairns etc. Each has an associated legend, an ancient myth or tale that has been passed down through the generations orally from the ancestors. So much of it is unexcavated. I am so blessed to live in Ireland.
I live beneath the cairn of Slievenamon a mountain named after women, where Fionn allowed Grainne to win the race for his hand and on the plain of Femen where Brigid grazed her cows. There are Fullacht Fia and ancient wells, Barrows, Standing Stones, Kyles, Stone Rows, even a Bronze Age Stone Circle and to its borders, Ogham inscribed stones. I am especially lucky and get ‘imbas’ from all of this.
What concepts or lessons do you find most inspiring that are found in Irish myths?
History by and large records the deeds of men and the female narrative is side-lined, sub plotted and often times written out altogether. This does not happen in Irish myth; the female voice rings out across the ages. It celebrates the importance of female divinities and powerful ancestors. The primal and ancestral goddesses are connected to the land, the waters, and sovereignty, and are often seen as the oldest ancestors of the people in the region or nation. They are maternal figures caring for the earth itself as well as their descendants, but also fierce defenders, teachers, and warriors.
These women cause rivers to rise, plains to be formed, they are the seers of the tribe, the connection to the other world, the nurturers the life givers, ever the warrior women are fierce and required in a way that is above and beyond the heroic. They are well rounded humans with specialists’ skills that ultimately keep the tribe alive and healthy and well. The notion of the divine feminine is stitched through Celtic myth. It embraces the notion that the female represents the cosmos – eternal and cyclical.
Being of Ireland an island of mysticism and Goddess energy, it is no surprise that I’d be drawn to a female deity or at least the concept of one. I could never fully reconcile in myself, even after studying the Humanities, the notion of a threesome of maleness in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I always found myself searching for a Goddess energy in there for balance and symmetry. We are all born of a woman are we not?
I do not claim to understand the nature of divinity, nor do I even claim to be fully sold on the notion of divinity either, or of one supreme being, but I do leave the door open for it to be a possibility, for even science cannot rule out God. That said I do believe there is within each of us, a guiding force, a superintendent energy that causes us to live the way we do. Traditionally that would be known as conscience and traditionally and historically, in our modern patriarchal society, God and divinity has displayed itself as a masculine force. For me it is not exclusively male, there also exists a divine feminine.
Goddess and female powerhouses are very prevalent in our collective psyche. There are in our myths, several examples of strong, powerhouses of women who formed us, created our landscape, named our country, formed our laws, deigned our unions, married our High Kings, control our seasons, and visit us annually in blessing and benevolence. In Celtic Myth there is equality, and balance and a respect for nature I like this.
What do you hope the future is for Draoi or Draoicht?
Druidry has survived and evolved even in times when it was outlawed and is thriving and will continue to thrive and evolve. Druidry respects and honours Mother Earth it has made sense from time immemorial and will continue to. Druidry is breathing if that makes sense.
I believe that we need to know where we are coming from to know where we are going. And this is why we need to protect our myths and legends and ancient landscapes. There is no doubt but that we live in unprecedented times. We must protect the earth, we must live in reverence and honour nature. We must trust ourselves more, our inner and ancient wisdoms and stop being led by the nose. We must be the cry in the dark that pleads protect mother earth. I am mostly a solitary druid and I have come to appreciate the power of one, one person can make a difference in their practice. This is akin to the streams that become rivers and on to the sea, the power of one feeds into the collective. I love the simple message in the Paidir an Draoi – The Druid’s Prayer…and the part that calls on us to love all things…’an grá do na beathaí ar fad – the love of all existences’. We are all part of one great whole, within as without, above as below, sacred as is secular, weare nothing without Mother earth and we can’t be nothing.
I think too that the chosen chief of the druids Eimear O Brien, being a woman of Ireland is a wholly fitting and positive thing. There are many who have picked up the mantel though and Druidry is in good hands.
What are the biggest obstacles or challenges to rejuvenating or maintaining Irish traditions, practices, and crafts today?
Now that is a big question. Only the other day I read an article about the production of the Hurley. (A stick used in an ancient game played by Setanta/Cú Chulainn traditionally made from the sacred Ash Tree.) Seemingly about 75% of the timber used to make them is imported. The Druid in me wants every Hurl to be handcrafted in Ireland using natively grown timber, a romantic notion perhaps. That said, Hurling is thriving, and this pleases me. If my children played the game, would they be using sticks made in this way, I’d like to think so, but I wouldn’t want to be the Mammy dealing with the tears when the clash of the ash has smashed the stick and the only available one to me is in the local sport shop with a ‘Made in China’ stamp because I’d probably resort to buying it. Now I would plant an Ash Tree to make amends and the beat would go on.
There are a myriad of obstacles in our paths that wreak havoc with traditions, practices and crafts, some seen some unseen, capitalism, monoculture, CO2 emissions, Brexit, Covid 19 to name but a few. I guess it is about being mindful, recognising your own personal responsibility to be the power of one. We have such privileges in this life and that comes with great responsibilities. There is too an eternal drum, the music of the cosmos, myths and legends have survived because they speak to the primal in us, we bask in their retelling because we glean wisdom there. Ultimately, I believe they will survive and thrive.
What would I consider the most important book in Irish Mythology?
Oh my gosh, there are so many sources and all have something, some nugget of inspiration. I wish I could land on one book, the holy grail of Irish myth and legend and I can’t.
The three main manuscript sources for Irish mythology are;
- The Lebor na hUidre (Book of the Dun Cow).
- The Book of Leinster.
- The Bodleian Library, MS Rawlinson B 502 (Rawl.)
They are not primary sources and have been tweaked and edited to fit a biblical narrative by the Celtic monks who transcribed them.
Other important sources include;
The Yellow Book of Lecan.
The Great Book of Lecan. The Book of Ballymote. The Book of Fermoy.
Geoffrey Keating’s Foras Feasa ar Éirinn (The History of Ireland) (ca. 1640.)
The Celtic Literature Collective is a good online resource, and a good one stop shop and this can be found here;
I am also enjoying the work of Anthony Murphy who is wading through reams of myth & legend and interpreting it sensibly and lucidly and uniquely. What I especially enjoy about his work is his grasp on the Irish language and how he makes sense of the rogue word or symbol. Here is that link;
And this too is something your readers might find of interest from 1894 so of its time and digitised;
If there were critical steps for a more authentic Irish or Celtic Pagan path what would you suggest they be to a newcomer?
Hmmm, that is another deep question, and I will answer it the best way I can. I do not believe there is a one, true way. In fact, I would implore anyone to steer well clear of one true ways. I think druids find their own path. If you feel drawn to follow a Druid’s Path that is a path you design for yourself. Take the road less travelled by maybe. I can only define it for myself and share what I do.
So I enquire, enquire and enquire some more. I endeavour to live in the passion of my enquiry, if something chimes with me, I research it, read about it, go visit it, walk on it, smell it, taste it. I do my best to live ethically, to care for the earth, to be mindful and go placidly and to be peaceful and authentic. I speak my truth and go in peace. I try to understand my native tongue, the Irish language, the craft the lore and the song of my place, and to think deeply and meditate. Enough is plenty. I honour the seasons, the liminal places, and spaces, and follow the Celtic Wheel and protect nature. I remember my ancestors, for I stand on the shoulders of a lot of giants, and I am very respectful of the otherworlds.
OBOD do offer a course of instruction and it is lovely, takes you through the three strands of Bard, Ovate and Druid.
Is there a personal experience with the Sidhe or Irish Goddess/Gods you’d like to share?
Ask any Irish person about the Sidhe and in general they will give them a wide berth. As the rulers of the otherworld I have the height of respect for them. I never interfere with them if I can help it, they have a different nature to us and are known to be mischievous when crossed even malevolent. I am very reverent to them actually and never intentionally set foot in their spaces if I can help it. And if I do I go through a load of rituals and permissions first and leave appropriate offerings. We live in harmony side by side and that is the pact, and it is not for me to break that pact. I did hear the Banshee once as a teenager when my aunt left this world.
I have a great affinity with the Goddess Brigid and Epona and I feel them as a presence that graces. Lugh has been a very protective presence in my world also. I feel the Goddess Eabha in Sligo when I visit and the Morrigan, she is much maligned and a lot misunderstood and quiet a powerful energy when experienced.
What are your feelings on how Ogham was used?
So for me Ogham has many associations. Firstly there is this notion that is was invented by the half brother of Lugh and brother of the Dagda called Ogma. He was said to be a man skilled in speech and poetry who invented the Ogham as proof of his ingenuity and to create a speech that belongs to all learned people. Secondly there is the notion that Ogham was brought to Ireland by A Pharaoh’s daughter called Scota and her husband the Goidel Glas after the Tower of Babel fell. Thirdly that it was invented by Gaulish Druids as a secret language of instruction and indeed that the word Druid itself comes from the Ogham inscription for Oak Wisdom.
Lastly that it was the language of the Deise Tribe – The term Déise derives from the word ‘déis’, which meant ‘vassal’, or ‘subject-people’ in Old Irish. It has been suggested that the Déise were the descendants of some of the earliest settlers in Ireland and were as a result, excluded from the major kingships, and thus broke away and formed their own republic, what we know now as the Celtic Nations ie, Munster and Wales and Scotland and the Isle of Man and Cornwall and Brittany and Galicia.
It is a beautiful script, easily understood when you know how and centred around trees. I grew up in Waterford, known also as the Deise County and as such was immersed in Ogham, so many standing stones in the region are inscribed in Ogham. There is a whole argument that suggests that if you map the inscriptions and draw a line around them you have your ancient territory.
I think that it is no accident that most of what survives can be dated back to the Christianisation of this part of the world in the 4th century. Declan of Ardmore is a pre Patrician saint of Waterford as is his cousin David of Wales, both have Druid associations.
My sense is that there is a little bit of truth in all the myths, the challenge is in deciphering it. My Grove is of Ash and Rowan and beyond that is hawthorn, hazel oak and holly. I do not have all of the Sacred Druid Grove Trees in my grove as yet, but I do have Ogham Inscribed Staves of them there. The Beech I got from a fallen branch at Tobar Geall near me…an ancient well associated with clarity and clairvoyance.
Was there a person, moment or experience that really exceptionally shaped you for the better?
I have been so lucky in life to have exceptional friends and people who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. I think I would have to cite my mother first, and not just because she has recently passed over, simply because she had a mighty character and resilience and I’ve gleaned all of my strength from her.
What overall message do you hope to share the most through your writing?
It is not so much a singular tenant of thinking or being, rather the search for truth and meaning. Mostly when I write, I sense that I am a conduit between two realms, that is all, and that in the translation I do it justice.
What is one thing you think people would find surprising about you?
I am always surprised when anyone seeks me out and that is lovely. I have a real genuine interest and passion for people. My shadow side though, will cut you off deftly and decisively if my boundaries get breached …and that sometimes surprises people.
What makes you angry or sad that’s happening in the world? What makes you happy and hopeful that’s happening in the world?
The answer to both these questions is the same…the human condition…we are capable of such awfulness and capable of such wonder…I have to believe that the wonder wins out.