A chieftain’s name and the legends attached to it were of high political importance in 7th Century Ireland. Tribal poet-historians composed origin-legends in rhyme and verse for their patron chieftains. These origin legends were not mere pseudo-myths but were true reflections of how the chieftain and his kindred perceived and explained their rise to political prominence.
Following the Battle of Ainy (Samhain 667) the new Ui Ainy chieftain took the name-title “Ciar Ṁac” (Black Son) as his chieftain origin-legend name. It was through this name and the lore attached to it that the new chieftain, The Ciarṁac, and his kindred, Ui Ciarṁiac, were able to demonstrate how they perceived and explained their rise to the chieftaincy of the Eoghanacht Ainy (a position they would monopolize until Norman times some 600 years later).
Firstly the new Ui Ainy chieftain and his kindred perceived themselves to be the children of goddess Ainy (Ui Ainy) and as such were Knockainy’s original inhabitants and rightful occupiers in harmony with, Ainy, their ancestral mother goddess. Also the Hill of Knockainy was the Otherworld dwelling place of Ainy and their revered dead ancestors and as such it was their sacred center and source of chiefly sovereignty and wisdom. It was at Samhain that the Battle of Ainy took place and they became chieftains and it was also at Samhain that they acquired the chiefly wisdom, from the Otherworld, that qualified them to be chieftains. It was these perceptions which were the basis of and gave rise to the chiefly name-title “Ciarṁac.”
Ciarṁac literally means black (ciar) son (mac) and the color black and dark, in ancient Irish custom and belief, was associated with Samhain, the Otherworld and the dead ancestors. Samhain (October 31-November 2) ushered in the Celtic New Year and was considered to be the dark half of the year. Samhain was also the time of the dark moon (Festival of the Dead) and the veil between this world and the Otherworld was drawn aside. The Otherworld, according to Irish belief, was a community of the dead which inhabited the countryside side by side with but invisible and inaccessible to the human race (except at Samhain). The principal dwelling places of the dead were the hilltop mounds, sidh, and the burial cairns on these hilltops were considered gateways to the Otherworld for those who were prepared to go there and return.
Gaining access to the Otherworld and the wisdom possessed by the dead ancestors was accomplished at Samhain by means of ritual and trance. The place of access was the hilltop burial cairn. As far as the method of entry was concerned, usually the person making such a trip was lulled into a deep, profound, magical sleep by a wise seer poet. The wisdom acquired was considered inspirational and could be acquired during the night of the Otherworld trip.
Ciarṁac therefore means the “Black Son of Ainy” and the significance of black, in this context, refers to wisdom and sovereignty obtained from the Otherworld (black) at Samhain time (black) from Ainy and the dead ancestors (black).
The Lore of Find
The Gaelic people first arrived in Ireland circa 500 B. C. Upon settling they were impressed by the numerous ancient monuments found throughout the land left by earlier peoples. This newly arrived Gaelic culture rationalized these ancient monuments, especially mounds and burial chambers, by locating their own deities in them and thus created a spiritual environment throughout Ireland.
In the development of this culture of spiritual environment the seers played the leading role and so a figure who personalized the cult of the seers would have been of primary importance. The name given to this figure, who personified the cult of the seers, was “Find” which would signify “wisdom”.
Thus the “Lore of Find” was one and the same as the “Lore of Wisdom.” Find, by the ancients, was not imagined as a mystical divine being but instead he was imagined as a human person. He was a human person who manifested himself in a number of Avatars (bodily manifestation of Find) such as Find File, Fionn MacCumhaill and Ciarṁac.
A study of these avators suggests that certain ideas were basic to the image of Find and were expressed in a number of standard ways. Firstly knowledge was believed to be got from the dead ancestors, an idea which gave immediate relevance to grave mounds cairns and such places. When ritually understood this meant a great individual seer, seeking out a wise predecessor could obtain ancestral wisdom from his ancestors residing in their burial mounds.
A number of septs, as they came to be allied to the various Gaelic dynasties, superimposed their perception of themselves with the Lore of Find. This appropriation of the Lore of Find served as a justificated of their political successes in the political world of Gaelic-Dynastic Ireland. A leading Leinster sept, the Ui Gharrchon, associated the Lore of Find with their great center at Knockaulin, County Kildare calling him Find File. Another sept, the Ui Failghe, inhabited a large territory encompassing large parts of present day counties Kildare, Offaly and Laois. They also borrowed the Lore of Find and centered it on a sacred hill in the heart of their territory called Almhu. They called their personification of Find, Fionn MaCumhaill. Yet another sept, the Ui Ainy, in like fashion associated the Lore of Find with their sacred center at Knockainy calling their personification of Find and wisdom Ciarṁac.
(Four Directions and Five Zones)
Ancient Ireland was symbolically divided into Four provinces with a unifying or central fifth: The pattern of the Bardic and Druidic universe. Nationally the whole of Ireland was divided into the four provinces of Ulster, Leinster, Connaught and Munster and all of these provinces were unified by the sacred center at Meath. Provincially the Munster province was divided into five divisions: Tuadh Mumhan (North Munster), Des Mumhan (South Munster), Oir Mumhan (East Munster), Iar Mumhan (West Munster) and Meodhan Mumhan (Middle Munster). The sacred Hill of Knockainy, where goddess Ainy dwelt was not only the sacred center of Middle Munster but also the sacred center of the entire Munster province. It was from goddess Ainy that the Eoghanachts received the sovereignty of Munster.
(Sacred Provincial Capital)
Furthermore significant solar sunrise and sunset alignments link sacred sites in the four provinces to the fifth province (Meath) at the sacred hill at Uisneach. It is from Uisneach that a web of relationships is seen to run from every part of the island making a “mythical web” spun by the deities. This “mystical web” of sunrise and sunset alignments was further reinforced by the Gaelic poet-historians who sanctified the whole island of Ireland with their legends and sagas. According to these solar alignments Knockainy was considered the sacred provincial capital of Munster.
The Chieftain's Poet
The Chieftain’s poet (Ollaṁ) often entertained at royal banquets. Their traditional accounts of ancient Goddesses (Ainy) and deeds of heroes (The Ciarṁac) were woven around actual settlements and landmarks (Sacred Hill of Knockainy) and the names of prominent local families (Ui Ciarṁaic). Story tellers repeated them as heritage from time immemorial and their themes were indeed ancient. A web of stories and legends was laid upon the Irish landscape binding together its rocks, rivers and other natural features with the families who lived there, thus placing the whole country under the spell of mythology.
On a more political level one of the principal functions of the poet at banquets, fairs and inaugurations was to recite the chieftain’s genealogy and sing his praises as part of the ceremony. The royal genealogy and the story of how the king or chieftain came to prominence (story of Ciarṁac) was the equivalent of a charter of right and was proof of the chieftain’s title to rule.
The Three Manifest Words
Ancient Ireland was divided into three interconnected worlds. The Upper World contained the sun, moon and stars. The Middle World contained humans and animals. The Underworld contained sacred springs, wells, lakes, caves, burial mounds and chambers. But in adition to these “manifest” worlds there was the Otherworld. This Otherworld, in Gaelic mythology, is an inscape of or an overlay upon the land. It is not conceived of as being “up, down or out there.” Rather it is contiguous with every part of life and the Gaels perceived themselves as being potentially existent in all “Four” worlds.
Perhaps more than any other people the Gaels have always cherished the country of their true home – the Otherworld. It is the source of their wisdom, the place of their gods and the dimension in which poets and heores are most at home. To the Gael the Otherworld is a dimension where everything is possible and where great deeds can be accomplished.
It is in this context that “The Ciarṁac” went to the Otherworld and back and became endowed with ancestral wisdom necessary for his chieftaincy.
The Twelve Winds and Their Colors
The ancient Irish people believed god made four chief winds and eight subordinate winds so that there were twelve winds in all. A specific color was ascribed to each of these winds so that all the colors of all the winds were different from each other. The wind of the north was given the color black and the wind of the northwest was given the color dark brown. In Irish “Ciar” can mean either black or dark brown.
The Druidic – Bardic Circle of the Year
On the Druidic-Bardic circle of the year black and dark brown (Ciar) is the color(s) of that portion of the year called Samhain and the Winter Solstice. Samhain (October 31-November 2) was the time of death, old age, the ancestors and the “dark” moon. It was at Samhain that wisdom could be acquired from the dead ancestors. The Winter Solstice (December 21) was a time of death and rebirth, a time when the sun appeared to be giving way to the “darkest” night.
The concept of “darkness” was an important aspect pertaining to the acquisition of wisdom and knowledge. The goddess who ruled Samhain was given the name “Cailleach”, the “Dark woman of knowledge.” Poets of old practiced a form of sensory deprivation by seeking inspiration in total “darkness.” The Druids place of learning was usually located to the north (ascribed the color black) of a settlement, that being the preferred sacred direction.