Ireland

a land of mythic and historic adventure.

Thousands of years ago the people who inhabited Ireland used sophisticated stone technology and ritual practices to carve their scientific and spiritual beliefs immortally on stone. These stones were the foundation for the retelling of heroic deeds that have been passed on through generations, imbuing the land of Ireland with prehistoric stories, myths, warriors and heroes.

What is Cuala?
In north county Wicklow, 20 km south of Dublin, there is a town named Bray, anciently known as Brí Chualann, roughly translated as the Rise or Hill of Cuala. Slí Chualann was a roadway that stretched from the residence of the High King at Tara to the lands of Cuala; today the area from South of Dublin to County Wicklow including the town of Bray. So Cuala, the magical name of our festival, reacalls one of the five ancient roads to the hill of Tara.

The Hill of Tara: The Soul of Ireland

The seat of the high kings of Celtic Ireland – people from the Stone Age, Bronze and Iron Age – was in Tara, including Saint Patrick, who according to legend asked permission of the High King to spread Christianity into Ireland. The Coronation Stone that is found on this hill is an archaeological treasure where all of the kings of Ireland were crowned, linking it directly to prehistoric, medieval and modern history. For five thousand years people have traditionally been travelling to Tara and still today people continue to do so.
From the top of the hill on a clear day, it is claimed that it is possible to see half the counties of Ireland. Half a mile to the south of Tara Hill there is another hill-fort called Rath Maeve named after the legendary Iron Age warrior and goddess Queen Maeve.
The epic Queen Maeve was depicted as two figures with the same character traits in both of her embodiments: Medb of Connacht and Medb of Leinster.
As Queen of Connacht she is presented as exceptionally sexual, she had several husbands; each of whom became king only after marrying her, she ruled to maintain her economic and thus social egalitarianism, she set terms of behaviour for her husbands in which she expected them to be “without stinginess, without jealousy, without fear”.

“[A man] will not be king over Ireland if the ale of
Cuala does not come to him.”

– Scéala Cano Meic Gartnáim (Book)

In the book of Leinster, Medb of Leinster is called ‘the daughter of Conan of Cuala’, so Queen Medb is the “ale of Cuala” and it is she who brings sovereignty over Ireland. She is such an important character of the mythology of pre-Christian Ireland that the Irish literature figure from the 20th century Williams Butler Yeats found inspiration in her and wrote a poem titled “The Old Age of Queen Maeve”.

“MAEVE the great queen was pacing to and fro,
Between the walls covered with beaten bronze,
In her high house at Cruachan; the long hearth,
Flickering with ash and hazel, but half showed
Where the tired horse-boys lay upon the rushes,
Or on the benches underneath the walls,
In comfortable sleep; all living slept
But that great queen, who more than half the night
Had paced from door to fire and fire to door.
Though now in her old age, in her young age
She had been beautiful in that old way
That’s all but gone; for the proud heart is gone”.

This was just a glance of the start of his poem, the rest is well worth reading.

His play “On Baile’s Strand” is a dramatization of Cúchulainn, a Celtic Warrior whose uncle was Queen Medb’s husband, his name was Conchobar Mac Nessa – King of Ulster. Yeats’ interest was not only to recount the legend of Cúchulainn but rather to immerse Cúchulainn in actions and interactions to state larger political issues and to utilise theatre as a vehicle to communicate the ancient Celtic myths and legends.

W. B Yeats was born in Dublin and he was the first Irishman honoured with a Nobel Prize for his “inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation”.

He spent much of his childhood in Sligo, a coastal seaport in the Province of Connacht. In 2013 his work was celebrated in this very place by performing his folkloric material in a play that was presented in the outdoors of a typical Irish summer’s day. This year, Blue Raincoat Theatre Company will inspire the audience of Rockaway and Coney Island through Yeats’ majestic tale about the hero Cúchulainn.

Newgrange

A setting sun monument

The history behind this colossal monument is almost tangible through its artistic features, it has decorated stones that account  for a quarter of the Megalithic Art in Europe and has gleaming white quartz as part of the roof design. It is meticulously built so that its passageway aligns with the angle of the sun’s rays, allowing the centre of the chamber to become illuminated at the Winter Solstice.

Undoubtedly, a fantastic understanding of astronomy 5,200 years ago was required for its construction; it is valuable to mention that it was built 500 years before the Great Pyramids of Giza and 1,000 before Stonehenge.

The Newgrange Winter Solstice is a global phenomenon that takes place at sunrise from the 18th to the 22nd of December at 8:58am, the visitors that gather in the monument have to wait 4 more minutes after sunrise to be able to experience the chamber lighting; this is because the angle of the Earth has changed since the construction of this setting sun monument.

Likewise, highlighting the summer in New York there is Manhattanhenge or the Manhattan Solstice, an incredible event where the sun perfectly aligns with the east-west streets of Manhattan. In 2016 this takes place on the 29th and 30th of May at 8:12pm, and also on July 11 and 12..

About Cuala

Cuala was one of five ancient roads to Tara, seat of the high kings of Ireland and home to the harp and the bardic tradition.

In 1908 Elizabeth (Lolly) Yeats and her brother William Butler Yeats, set up Cuala Press in Churchtown, Dublin, a printing press that published much of the literature of the Irish cultural revival in the early 1900s.

Ireland 1916-2016

In its centenary year, CualaNYC features a number of events related to the important role that New York played in Ireland’s 1916 Rising. A special strand of these events, jointly produced with Film Fleadh Foundation, has been funded by the Irish-American Caucus of New York City Council through the city’s cultural immigrant fund. In curating these events we have kept in mind Paolo Friere‘s definition of commemoration where men and women “transcend themselves” and “for whom looking at the past must only be a means of understanding more clearly what and who they are so that they can more wisely build the future…This…is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves.”

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