Grange Lios Stone Circle
County Limerick, Ireland
by Steward of the Wood
It was a beautiful, fall morning in County Limerick as we drove through the Irish countryside. We were celebrating the second anniversary of our Handfasting. The years had gone by quickly. Our happiness together was immense, yet each of us still harbored some inner anxiety that the “bubble” would burst. Occasionally, we shared with each other the fear that the joy we still felt together would be gone as had happened in previous relationships.
This trip together was also the fulfillment of a dream for each of us. For me, it was part of a continuing search for my ancestral roots in Ireland as well as my roots as a Celt and a Druid. For my partner, Firefly, it was a chance to feel the spirituality and close connection to the land that the Irish feel. For both of us, it would turn out to be a true spiritual journey.
We were on our way to the sacred area of Lough Gur and the Grange Lios Stone Circle. It is the largest and one of the best preserved stone circles in Ireland with a diameter of 150 feet and dating back 4000 years to the Bronze Age. Although built by the earlier Ancestors, the Celts actively used the Stone Circle and revered the entire Lough Gur area as archaeological evidence attests. The circle contains over 100 stones which are nestled into an earthen bank. The entrance way, between two large entry stones, faces to the east and the sacred lake of Lough Gur. Around the outside of the earthen bank are many, very large oak and ash trees as well as several, very large, ancient hawthorns.
Firefly and I walked the short distance to the Circle and approached in a deiseil manner offering praise to the Gods and Goddesses, Nature Spirits, and Ancestors. I told them that as a Druid I honored them and asked to be allowed to commune with them. As we walked to the east near the entrance, six small, black-and-white Holstein calves approached, obviously curious about us. They were grazing on the lush green grass and both the calves and we tried to appear oblivious to each other although this was not true for any of us. Firefly and I were looking at a very large hawthorn and she stooped to walk underneath its spreading crown to be nearer the tree. At this point, one of the more curious calves walked up to her; and as I looked on, the calf stretched out its head as Firefly did the same and they appeared to kiss. Clearly the Nature Spirits accepted our presence and knew that we came in love and peace. Firefly spoke lovingly and softly to the calf; the scene was magical. We got goose bumps and the hairs stood up on our arms and the back of our necks to be part of such obvious welcoming by the Spirits. We expressed our gratitude by leaving an offering of corn meal at the base of the hawthorn.
From there we walked to the entry way of the circle which is lined with large stones. There is an ancient track to the east connecting the circle to Lough Gur. This track obviously served during rituals for the sacred processions from the Lough to the Circle. Walking through the entry stones, each six to seven feet tall, and into the circle filled me with a sense of joy as a smile crept across my face. To be in this ancient, sacred place was exhilarating to say the least. The bright sunlight filled the circle and the smell of earth, grass, cow dung, and all the other smells of agriculture wafted through the warm, fall day. The oak and ash trees surrounding the Circle gave me the impression of ancient guardians, the Watchers and Timekeepers. A smallish stone formation, flanked by much larger stones, on the northeast side of the circle drew my attention due to its shape and the many shining coins lying at its base. It had the appearance of a small (3 feet tall) human and consists of stones carefully stacked on each other. I thought that this must be the famed Crom Dubh or Crom Crúaich (early Milesian God; black or bloody crescent or head; Lord of the Mound; Irish) who is reported to be in the Circle. We greeted Crom Dubh and honored him, giving our magickal names and the fact that I was a Druid. Then we gave him a gift of two shining coins. As we kneeled to place the coins on the rock at the base, it glinted in the sun as Crom Dubh smiled and I felt a shift in time.
Standing up, I turned around to witness a procession approaching down the roadway from the Lough in the east. The summer sun had not yet risen but was close, yielding an ethereal aura. Wrens were singing sweetly and the air was filled with a mixture of musty earthiness and the smell of smoke from the torches being carried by the procession. Firefly and I were dressed in Celtic dress. She wore a long red and green plaid skirt and a beige blouse with a silver torc around her neck and silver buckle in her belt. The buckle had a beautiful Celtic design. I had a long, beige tunic covered by a red and green plaid overcoat and wore a silver torc with boar’s heads on the ends. I also wore a wide leather belt with a large, silver, Celtic buckle. We stood on the raised, earthen bank surrounding the Grange Lios Circle, which was a good vantage point. At least a hundred others also stood on the earthen bank as onlookers to the ritual. All were quiet as we watched and waited expectantly.
A torch bearer led the procession followed by a Druidess, an ancient woman, dressed in a white robe with a crown of intertwined vines and branches and adorned with bird feathers. An Ovate, dressed in a green robe with a similar crown, and a Bard, in a blue robe and holding a harp, were next in line and then four musicians playing a flute, a harp, a bodhrán, and bag pipes. Finally, another torch bearer ended the procession. The music being played was soft and had a haunting air about it. The procession entered the Circle and the torch bearer and musicians stood just inside the entrance while the others continued on into the Circle. The last torch bearer joined the first one at the entrance. The Druidess, Ovate and Bard moved toward the western side of the center of the Circle and the Ovate and Bard stood slightly behind the Druidess who moved up close to the central fire pit. Once they were in position, the musicians stopped playing.
Then we all waited patiently and expectantly for Lugh Lámhfhada (of the Long Arm), Radiant Brow, Sun God, to bless us with the first rays of his life-giving sun. This day was the annual ritual and festival of Lughnasadh, the festival created by Lugh in honor of Tailtiu, his foster mother. Just before the first rays peaked over the eastern horizon, the Bard called out in a clear, resonant voice and entreated all present to honor Lugh and Tailtiu and to call to them. At that moment, a panoply of voices and music rose up calling to the God and Goddess. As if answering the call, the first rays of sun rose over the horizon and streamed down the entry way and into the Circle striking the altar and the Druidesss beyond it. Simultaneously, the Druidess lit the sacred fire, fueled by the nine sacred woods in the fire ring. The flames rose into red, yellow, and orange fingers reaching to the sky and the Druidess raised her arms in honor to the God and Goddess. She held a bronze sickle in her right hand and a bough of ash in the other. The crowd and musicians were then silent and the Druidess called out to Lugh and Tailtiu to bless the bounty of the harvest and all in attendance. The fertility and bounty of the harvest were evident by the grain, vegetables, and game arrayed on the altar in front of the Druidess as she touched the sickle and ash over the altar. The Ovate was called forth to divine the final outcome of the harvest which he did with Ogham sticks. All waited with hushed breath while he worked. Finally he looked up from his sticks and pronounced in a loud, sonorous voice: “The harvest will be plentiful and the bounty of the land will be great this year. We are blessed.”
At that signal, the Bard called out in a clear, loud voice: “Then let us celebrate the harvest and honor the God and Goddess with games and feasting”. Everyone burst forth in cheers and musicians reveled in their loud, gay music. The crowd then streamed into the adjoining field for games and feasting. The excitement was palpable as they began to celebrate the Feast of the First Harvest. It is a joyous time especially if the harvest promises to be a good one and the starving time of winter will be forestalled.
Firefly and I stood on the earthen bank and watched and savored the joy of the crowd. I then heard a clear, strong voice call out: “Steward of the Wood and Firefly” and we turned to face the Druidess. She welcomed us to the ritual and said she had our answer. Firefly and I turned to face each other with quizzical looks on our faces while the Druidess broached a sly smile. We were directed to walk a short distance to the northeast of the Grange Lios Stone Circle to a smaller, but very magickal stone circle. The Druidess said that the largest stone held an answer for our question but she did not state either question nor answer. She then stepped up to the edge of the Circle as Firefly and I knelt down and she made the sign of Imbas on our foreheads and then bid us to go. Her touch was warm and filled with the power of the Earth Mother causing a tingling sensation on my forehead.
We were both speechless as we moved toward the smaller Circle. The Circle was quite visible but made with smaller stones and no earthen bank as compared with the Grange Lios Stone. What totally captured our attention was that one of the larger stones (about six feet tall), located on the northeast side, had split and from the split grew both an ash tree and a hawthorn. We approached it in reverence, circling in the deiseil manner and offering prayers to the Triad and introducing ourselves.
We could see that the tree crowns merged and their roots were entwined, penetrating the large fissures in the magickal stone. This stone which had been one solid, powerful, formidable force had split and instead nourished and provided a structure to hold the trees. Ash, or Nion, signals transformation and change but it also carries the possibilities of growth and maturing. There is a real strength in ash. Hawthorn, or Húath, with its numerous thorns indicates obstacles and challenges; and with its red berries and white blossoms, there is a strong presence of the magickal for this is the Faery tree. Hawthorn also carries the promise of protection, as it was used as protective hedges, and passion with its major role in adorning the pole in Beltane festivals.
As Firefly and I stood in wonder, we reached out to join hands. With our other hands, we gently touch the hawthorn. At that moment we knew the answer that the Druidess foresaw. It was the question we had about the duration of our relationship. The stone’s hard, strong nature was split to form a cradle for growth and development of the intertwining trees. They in turn signaled the transformation of thorny, difficult relationships into magickal protection of a strong, passionate love. Having lived full lives but ones marked with past failed relationships, we had met only a few years earlier. Our mutual love of nature and of Celtic spirituality had fused a bond that seemed eternal but the past scars haunted us. Now our eyes met as we formed a three-member circle with the magickal stone and we knew our bond was for eternity. We embraced and pledged our eternity together, reaffirming our bond that was formed two years past at our Handfasting in the Colorado Rocky Mountains.
Our eyes closed as we kissed; and when we opened them, our mundane world had returned. Gone were the revelers in the nearby pasture. Gone too was the lively Celtic music and the mixed smell of food and smoke from the fires. What was not gone was the tingling feeling of being alive, blessed by the Triad, and totally connected with each other, the earth, the hills, the Lough, birds flying over…Danu truly blessed us. This magical experience will be with us eternally and we held hands as we walked back through the lush, green grass knowing that our bond was truly blessed.