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Want to know how to keep your livestock healthy? Learn plant lore? Or bury your leader? The spirit world has the answers. So, join Martin Bradley on a visit to sites that were sacred in Bronze and Iron Age Ireland; to the tombs and standing stones, the quaking bogs, the healing wells and other places of powerful magic.
Fairy trees, for instance. Usually whitethorns, their blossom heralds the arrival of summer.
Were celebrated at the Celtic festival of ‘Bealtaine’ or May Day. These trees were imbued with sacred significance and performed a central role in various rituals. Pilgrims would leave small offerings - a strip of cloth tied to a branch was a typical one - and make a wish. If you see a piece of ribbon on the tree Martin shows you, you’ll know that local people are still putting their faith in these trees.
You’ll visit sacred wells with Martin too. It was believed that drinking from them would protect you from harm and ill health. Some had the power to bestow wisdom and poetic inspiration. Such beliefs about Northern Ireland’s sacred wells have survived to the present day. They are places where the veil between our world and the otherworld is at its thinnest. You will learn, in fact, that at certain times of the Celtic year, the division between the two worlds disappears...
Martin will also tell you about bog bodies. These are human bodies which have been mummified by the habitats that they have lain in - sometimes for thousands of years. The ecology and chemistry found in Northern Ireland’s peat bogs provide a perfect medium for preservation, in effect pickling human remains and other organic material for hundreds of generations.
The preservation of these bodies happened naturally. But the way in which these people met their death was not. Hearing Martin relate their stories - of deliberate injury and ritual human sacrifice - may make you shiver, even on a hot summer’s day. Bog bodies like these provided Seamus Heaney with the subject for some of his most famous and imaginative poems. Just like this series of landscape experiences, they are sure to exert a powerful force on your own imagination too.