Tag Archives: archaeology

Autumn Sadness

I don’t like to write downbeat articles but Autumn is always somewhat tinged with sadness. Maybe poignancy is a more accurate term. Summer has ended, yet another summer, and lying ahead of us are days getting progressively shorter and colder, and the usual barrage of head colds and flu viruses. This year in Wicklow it’s a little bit sadder than usual because we have lost Robert Jennings, a champion of local heritage.

Canon Jennings at a showcasing event in Newcastle Community Centre in March 2011.

Canon Robert Jennings, to be exact, was a Church of Ireland clergyman with a profound interest in history, archaeology and the world in which we live. He died almost one month ago but his funeral only took place two weeks ago. He was a very nice man. The reason I’m slow writing about it is I wanted to dig out some photos I had of him, albeit from an event in 2011.

Canon Jennings discussing archaeology remains with my brother in 2011.

Often, over the years, when I would be out walking in the middle of nowhere, looking for wildlife, I would encounter Canon Jennings. He would amble out along a path as if by magic, and he would frequently point out some remarkable artefact which had escaped my notice, or have some profound point of interest to relate. He was always doing something, searching for something from far back in our past – sometimes the remains of a church, sometimes evidence of a Bronze Age site. He also surprised quite a few people a few years ago, including me, by revealing he was a veteran of the Korean War. Remarkably, he died at the ripe old age of 93 most people under the illusion he was far younger than he really was. By all accounts he was still out walking and exploring, although not quite so much as he used to do. He was author of quite a few books and they are worth getting if you can find them:

Two of Robert Jennings extremely interesting guide books.

He also really knew how to showcase archaeology and heritage to maximum effect, as you can see in the following photos:

Canon Jennings will definitely be missed, being not only a respected scholar and clergyman, but I will miss him as a character, as a person who was very much himself part of the landscape.

Easter and the Fertility Goddess

A lot of people wonder what the word ‘Easter’ means, and if you don’t already know the answer then you’re in for a surprise. Easter is actually Eostre, an ancient German fertility goddess associated with the springtime. Eostre is almost certainly a version of the ancient Babylonian goddess, Ishtar, and therefore the same as the Phoenician goddess Astarte, who was also known (in different time periods and places) as Ashtarot. According to one very reliable ancient source (preserved by the early Christian bishop, Eusebius of Caesaria):

“… Astarte set the head of a bull upon her own head as the mark of royalty, and in travelling about the world she found a star that had fallen from the sky, which she took up and consecrated in the holy island Tyre [modern day Lebanon]. And the Phoenicians say that Astarte is Aphrodite.”

My reconstruction of the so-called Burney Relief, an item of pottery, dating from 19th or 18th century BC, which is believed to show the Babylonian goddess, Ishtar. She also seems to have been associated with birds, and here is depicted as a bird-woman. Film fans will probably recognise the inspiration for the mechanical owl in Ray Harryhausen’s blockbuster 1980s movie Clash of the Titans.

This is very interesting because Aphrodite was known to the Romans as Venus and identified with the planet of the same name, which is Earth’s nearest neighbour, and which is also the brightest star in the night sky.

So, I hope you all had a happy Ishtar!

Anyhow, it is the perfect time to acknowledge both fertility and birds, and here is a little video about birds which you will see pairing off and building nests right now all around Wicklow, and further afield.

Welcome to Wicklow, Michelle Obama!

A nice surprise for us this week was the sudden announcement of the visit of the vivacious US First Lady, Michelle Obama. Today she’s getting a tour of Glendalough, a very ancient site which should have been included on the World Heritage List decades ago, but has been ignored continually by successive Irish governments, despite the importance of tourism to Ireland. Anyhow, I leave you with some photos of Glendalough I took last week, featuring my brother Owen, an archaeologist by training, and his wife, Alla.

The monastic city of Glendalough, which might actually be pre-Christian in origin despite its association with Christianity.
The monastic city of Glendalough, which might actually be pre-Christian in origin despite its association with Christianity.
Ruined church dating to 11th century.
Ruined cathedral dating from the 11th century.
The famous round tower of Glendalough. Even when you are standing near one it is extremely difficult to judge the scale of what you are looking at, but there are some people standing at the base of it, and they look absolutely tiny.
The famous round tower of Glendalough. Even when you are standing near one it is extremely difficult to judge the scale of what you are looking at, but there are some people standing at the base of it, and they look absolutely tiny. These were among the tallest structures in Europe for almost a thousand years. This one is dated to the 9th or 10th century AD, but the Glendalough complex is far older.