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The earliest Western Madonna and Child, from t...

Each day a page is turned

in the illuminated history of mankind:

Kells-like,[i] curlicue, curvilinear.

Celts searched for immortality,

transcending time.

They defined the indefinable and

ordered chaos.

Spiralling through the centuries

their stories came to us –

blown as Etain.[ii]

or handed down orally by bards

lying on their backs on badger skins.

stones on their bellies.

Their recitatives were not repeated.

Horse and jewelled scabbards were their reward

for panegyric and piercing keening,[iii]

paradigms of the perplexity of life.

These chisel-edged instruments[iv]

with minds like multi-faceted diamonds,

brutal, yet aesthetic.

preserved bodies in barrels of honey,

burnt bairns in wicker men.[v]

Macabre votives, devoted to Death,

were buried in shafts.

Their ground was rocked by godly couplings,

whose progeny metamorphosed in the manner of Maeve.[vi]

shimmering, iridescent and intangible.

Finn McCool Cuchulainn[vii]

became Christ of the Cross –

Ex Oriente Lux.[viii]

Each high cross an amended menhir,

the face of Lugh surrounding the Son of God.

Driven to extremities, they sat in Keltoid desolation

on Skellig Michael,

the raven of doom perched on their shoulders,

or passed to Hy-Brasil, like Brendan, in a golden boat.

sailing towards the afterworld

through unfathomable Time, towards their Quest.


[i] The Book of Kells in Trinity College, Dublin.

[ii] Etain was a princess, the fairest in Ireland, who was changed into a butterfly and blown across the land for seven years.

[iii] From caoine – part-prepared, part-extempore, plaintive verse and choral cry.

[iv] Selt – a pre-historic blunt instrument, from which the Celts are thought to derive their name.

[v] Wicker men – huge hollow constructions of reeds in the shape of a human figure. Packed with human sacrifices, the Druids set alight.

[vi] Maeve, Queen of Connaught. She promised to outwit Cuchulainn by assuming various forms.

[vii] Finn McCool and Cuchulainn – heroes of Celtic legend.

[viii] Out of the East came light.

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