Our ancestors developed a uniquely nature-focused society, centred on esteemed poets, seers, monks, healers and wise women who were immersed in the land. They used this deep connection to the cycles of the natural world – from which we are increasingly dissociated – as an animating force in their lives.
In this illuminating new book, roaming through bogs, rivers, mountains and shorelines, Manchán Magan sets out on a journey in their footsteps to uncover the ancient myths and stories that have shaped our national identity, as revealed by the gnarled, layered strata of land that have endured through millennia – from ice ages through to famines and floods.
Here the River Shannon is a goddess, and trees and their life-sustaining root systems are hallowed. See the world in a new light in this magical exploration into the life-sustaining wisdom of what lies beneath us.
Manchán Magan is a writer and documentary-maker. He has written books in Irish and English on his travels in Africa, India and South America. His most recent books are Thirty-Two Words for Field, which explores the insights the Irish language offers into the landscape, psyche and heritage of Ireland; and Tree Dogs, Banshee Fingers and Other Irish Words for Nature, an illustrated book that delves into Irish words for nature. He writes occasionally for the Irish Times and presents The Almanac of Ireland podcast about the heritage and culture of Ireland for RTÉ Radio 1. He has presented scores of television documentaries on history and culture.
Having been brought up in Dublin, with long periods spent in the West Kerry Gaeltacht of Corca Dhuibhne, Manchán now lives near Lough Lene, Co. Westmeath, surrounded by oak trees.
He is named after a seventh-century saint whose monastery and meditation path still survive in Lemanaghan, Co. Offaly. The saint was a descendant of Rudraige mac Sithrigi, a high king of Ireland who is associated with the great supernatural wave Tonn Rudraige and who is said to be buried on the shore beside it. The name Manchán is thought to derive from manach-án (‘little monk’), or to be a Christianisation of the pagan deity Mongán, son of the sea god Manannán. Mongán was the father of Sinand, the goddess who manifests in physical form as the River Shannon. Mongán was able to manifest himself as a seal, salmon, deer, wolf or man.