Lia Fáil: The Screaming Stone of Tara

Dear Readers,

This is a day late, I know, and I apologize. However, I do have something really cool (and slightly terrifying) to share with you today. It’s come from the readings I have for this week on Tara, a site that is both historically and pseudo-historically royal/sacred.

One of the monuments on the site is called Lia Fáil. It’s a stone that has the capacity to cry or weep, and in one story (Baile in Scáil) a king, Conn, stands upon the stone.

And the stone cries out. But it cries out loud enough that it’s heard not just throughout Tara, but also throughout the plain on which Tara sits. And it screams once for every king that will reign in Conn’s line, and let me tell you, that’s a lot of times.

Neat, right?

But imagine you’re in that plain. You’re minding your own business, smithing or baking or weaving or farming or whatever it is you do, and out of nowhere, you hear screaming. It sounds like it’s coming from nearby, but you look and see no one, and the screaming doesn’t stop.

You see others, and they can hear it, too, but nobody knows what’s causing it. And it keeps going. And you stay in a group, looking around nervously, but the screaming starts to grate on your nerves.

Some people get angry. Some people cry. Others go out searching for the source, but they never find it. You cover your ears, hoping not to hear it, but it doesn’t help at all.

And suddenly, it stops. You theorize with others about what might have caused it and discuss the supernatural beings that might be at work. You hope something traveling by will be able to tell you the truth of what happened.

But you never run into the king or his druids, and you never learn what caused the screaming.

And from then on, whenever someone screams, you brace yourself in case it doesn’t stop.

Or….

Imagine you’re Conn. You’re walking along, minding your own business, and stop on a stone.

And from beneath your feet, screaming starts.

Lucky for you, there are druids with you that might be able to explain why the stone is screaming, but that doesn’t make you feel any better about the noise grating on your nerves. Or your inability to leave the stone until it’s done.

Okay, so I exaggerated and fictionalized much of that. I don’t have that much detail about the story. But I do stand by the fact that as interesting as a screaming stone is, it’s also very, very terrifying.

Your Bonnie Celtophile,

Dani

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The Desborough Mirror

Desborough Mirror back
Image from the British Museum and protected under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.

The design is the most interesting part of the Desborough mirror.

The Desborough mirror is estimated to be from about 50 BC – 50 AD. It’s made of bronze polished on one side and engraved on the other. It was found in Desborough, Northamptonshire, England near Desborough valley in 1908 and was acquisitioned for the British Museum  in 1924. It’s not currently on display.

In Rethinking Celtic Art, edited by Duncan Garrow, Chris Gosden, and J.D. Hill, Jody Joy wrote about mirror design. According to Joy, the designs on mirrors were created by trying to fill as much space as possible with both positive and negative motifs, usually starting with bigger designs and filling them in from there.

That can be hard to see with everything happening on the mirror, so in the book, Joy uses other mirrors, the Portesham and Birdlip, to demonstrate the process. I took the liberty of marking some of the designs and motifs in the Desborough mirror below as best I could.

  • Lyre-loop with Flanking Coils (largest red-design)
  • Lyre-loop (smaller red-design)
  • Trumpet Voids (blue-negative motifs)
Desborough Mirror Marked
Image taken from the British Museum and edited and protected under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.

Joy found that most of the mirrors available to her used the designs and motifs to create their decoration, which means if you were to get ahold of the motifs and designs she identified, you might be able to make something similar yourself with some patience.

Celtic Mirrors has more information on the Desborough mirror and has other mirrors available for your digital viewing pleasure.

What do you think of the design? Do you think you’ll learn more and make your own?

Your Bonnie Celtophile,

Dani

The Kirkburn Sword

Kirkburn Sword 2
Image from the British Museum and protected under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.

This summer, I read a few books about Iron Age Celts. These books touched on things from the fact that “Celts” is a broad and unspecific term, there isn’t enough evidence to really make a ton of claims about life back then, and Celtic art of the time is not what people tend to think of nowadays (such as Celtic knots-you can see some of the Kirkburn decoration in the image on the right).

I was reading the books mostly because it was the few remaining in my school’s library that had appeared in the search of the word “Celtic.” Iron Age information doesn’t help my studies in 6th-16th centuries, but I thought it might help give me a bit of a basis on the type of people that are some of the ancestors of those I will be studying.

One thing that appeared in multiple books is the Kirkburn sword. Some people were focused on how it was made, others on how it fit into the grand scheme of archaeological finds, and others on the art, because the sword is a lovely (albeit old and crusty) piece of work.

I’m not going to pretend to know a lot about how swords are made, but the sword and scabbard are made of copper alloy and iron with glass used in the decoration. The blade is almost two feet long with another 5+ inches for the handle. It’s estimated to have been made around 300-200 BC and was found in the 1980s in Kirkburn, East Yorkshire northern England buried with a young man in his 20s or 30s.

More information can be found from the British Museum, which is where the sword is displayed.

I think the most amazing thing about the Kirkburn sword is the artistry. It’s not something I can image being used in a battle, but more something I imagine used as a status symbol within a community.

Kirkburn Sword
Image from the British Museum and protected under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.

Try to picture it like one of those new, shiny swords and knives that can be found at craft fairs or Renaissance fairs or online. Imagine the power it would carry with it, the sense of victory within the curving decorations along the scabbard, the light glinting off the red glass in the handle, a very muscled young man strutting with it on his hip or swinging it in battle…

I imagine it could make anyone wielding it feel almost invincible. 

What do you think?

Your Bonnie Celtophile,

Dani