04 August 2012

(At London 2012, yesterday 3 August, a 56 year old shot-put record fell held by Parry O'Brien since 1956. On the list of 100 memorial U.S. Olympians, O'Brien was positioned at #48.)

Parry O’Brien, Pioneer in Shot-Putting Technique, Dies at 75

Published: April 23, 2007: New York Times

 Correction Appended

Parry O’Brien, who revolutionized shot-putting technique, won three Olympic medals (two gold) and became the first man to reach 59, 60, 61, 62 and 63 feet, died Saturday during a masters swimming race in Santa Clarita, Calif. He was 75 and lived in Rancho Belago, Calif., west of Palm Springs.
O’Brien’s death was announced by his wife, Terri, who said he had a heart attack midway through a 500-yard freestyle race. She said he took up swimming in the 1990s when shot-putting became too painful for his joints.
     When O’Brien’s shot-putting career began, athletes would stand at the rear inside the seven-foot-ring. Then they would hop, turn 90 degrees and propel the 16-pound iron ball.
     At the University of Southern California, O’Brien could not surpass 55 feet. In 1951, after losing to Otis Chandler in the Fresno Relays, he returned home to Santa Monica, Calif.
     At 3 the next morning, by street lights on a vacant lot next door, he experimented with a 180-degree turn.

     The theory, he said later, was that “the longer you are pushing, the farther the shot will go.”
     Now, shot-putters push even longer, spinning like discus throwers before releasing the shot.
     O’Brien’s success with his new style was stunning. In 1954, two days after Roger Bannister was the first to run the mile in less than four minutes, O’Brien became the first to put the shot 60 feet. That came in the middle of a victory streak of 116 meets.
     From 1953 to 1959, he broke the world record 17 times, starting with 59 feet ¾ inch and raising it to 63-4. He won 17 American titles in the shot-put and one in the discus.
     In the Olympics, he won gold medals in 1952 and 1956 and a silver medal in 1960. In 1964, after he carried the American flag in the opening ceremony, he finished fourth.
     In 1959, he won the Sullivan Award as the United States’ outstanding amateur athlete. He was elected to the United States Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1974 and the United States Olympic Hall of Fame in 1984.
He took 150 practice puts a day and said, “I don’t quit until my hands bleed, and that’s the God’s truth.” He studied physics, aerodynamics, religions and yoga, anything he thought might help him put the shot farther.
     William Parry O’Brien Jr. was born Jan. 19, 1932, in Santa Monica. As a pudgy high school freshman, he sustained an injury in a football scrimmage, ending his career. But he grew to 6-3 and 240 pounds and became one of the best shot-putters ever.
     In 1966, after retiring from competition, he worked in commercial banking, real estate and civil engineering.
     In addition to his wife, he is survived by two daughters, Shauna, of Corona, Calif., and Erin, of Pacific Palisades, Calif.; two stepsons, Erik Skorge of Seattle and Norman Skorge of Honolulu; and seven grandchildren.
Correction: April 26, 2007
An obituary on Monday about Parry O’Brien, the shot-putting champion, misstated the year he last broke the world record, and the distance. It was 1959, not 1966, and the record distance was 63 feet 4 inches, not 63-3.

01 July 2012

Magh Adhair : Dál gCais Inauguration site

By Garaidh Eóghan Ó Briain

     Throughout the Emerald Isle one can find sites that were once sacred to the various clans of the Gaels to this day. These sites were where the various tribes would gather for assemblies or inauguration of a king or chief.
     These sites were different than those of continental Europe for they were all held outside instead of in buildings, chapels, or cathedrals. Most of these gathering sites were usually had some type of mound that had a view of the surrounding area such as the Mount of Cashel in Munster where the kings of Munster Province were inaugurated.  Others such as where the chiefs of the Ó Dowd where held at Carn inghine Bhriain , was on a cairn-mound of an ancestral chief. Some inaugurations took place under a sacred tree, or standing on a sacred stone. Some stones had a carved footprint, or a stone chair as at Leac-na-Righ where The Ó Neill was inaugurated.
     The sacred gathering place for the Dál gCais of Thomond was at the ancient cairn mound called Magh Adhair (phonetically Moy Eir), a well preserved place of ancient ceremonial rites. Legend mentions Adhar son of Huamor and brother of Aengus of Dun Aengus in Aran, whose tribe came into Ireland in the first century. Here Adhar is said to have been buried. [1]  
     The mound stands in a small plain, in a natural amphitheatre, formed by a low crag called 'the Beetle's Crag' or Cragnakeeroge, beside the strangely named 'Hell Bridge' and 'Hell River', where not too far away is a singular standing stone about 6’ 4” tall, and some 3’ wide. There are traces of a semi-circular fence, between which and the mound lies a large block of conglomerate of dull purple, with red and pink pebbles of porphyry and quartz; two basins are ground in it. [2]

Magh Adhair is a rising mound, once with a large tree.
Magh Adhair on road that leads from Quin to Tulla.
     To tamper with an inauguration or assembly site was a great insult, pure sacrilege. At least three such events are recorded to have happened at Magh Adhair.  The first insult was committed by  the High-King, Flann Sionna in 877, when he marched into Thomond 'to the green of Magh Adhair and played chess to insult the l gCais, at the very place of inauguration.'  So offensive was this act that the surrounding inhabitants and the local chiefs were on him before he'd even finished his game. They were too polite to kill him though, and in a Celtic fashion just stole his best bard. [3]
      Another insult to the Dál gCais especially directed at the new Munster Province king Brian Boru: [4]
  •           A.D. 981. - Maelseachlainn, the son of Domhnall plundered l gCais and prostrated the Bilé (tree in Gaelic) of Magh Adhair, having dug it with its roots out of the ground.
  •           A.D. 1051. - The Tree (Bilé) of Magh Adhair was prostrated by Hugh O’Conor. (Hoping for a similar result for another O’Brien king.)
     An inauguration ceremony took place at Magh Adhair around 1200 which was (it seems) documented: The cairn or mound had a palisade, with a gate, guarded by three chiefs; a fourth alone ascended the cairn with Cathal Craoibhdhearg and gave him the white rod. The other chiefs and the comharbs (stewards) stood below, holding the Prince's arms, clothes and horse. He faced the north, and on stepping down from the inauguration stone on the mound, turned round thrice (to view all that he ruled), as is still the custom in County Clare on seeing a new moon. He then descended from the mound and was helped to robe and remount.
Layout of Magh Adhair.
     The work called the Caithreim Thoirdhealbhaigh or Wars of Torlogh (Thomond king Turlogh O’Brien), has the following references to Magh Adhair (Moy-Eyre): 
  •      A.D. 1242. After Donogh Cairbeach O’Brien had exchanged this mortal life for the happiness of angels with the victory of Unction and Penance, a chieftain of (from) every tribe, a leader of every people, and a commander from every sept assembled around his son Conor at Moy-Eyre to inaugurate him King in the place of his good father. It was the noble pillar of numerous hosts Sioda (Sheedy Mac Namara) who first proclaimed him (Chief or King of his people) and the rest of the Chiefs expressed their consent immediately after.

  •          A.D. 1267. After the death of Conor, the broad eyed Brien Roe, his puissant stately son, summoned all the nobles of his people from every quarter to Moy-Eyre to ordain (i.e., inaugurate) him King over the tribes in the place of his father. When they had met together, the cheerful sharp-eyed Sheedy (Mac Namara) proclaimed aloud his regal title, and none of the other Chiefs opposed him.
  •           A.D. 1277. After the execution of Brian Roe, De Clare sent messengers to Turlogh to communicate to him that he would make peace with him for giving up (i.e., if he would cease from) his hostilities and dreadful incursions; and as a confirmation of the peace, the messengers told him how the King, Brian Roe, his mortal enemy, had been hanged. But without regarding De Clare’s deceitful treaty the expeditious Torlogh, crowned with conquest, proceeded with all his numerous forces to Moy-Eyre where he was inaugurated supreme King of North Munster by Sheedy Mac Namara in the year of our Lord 1277, and the numerous hosts of North Munster rejoiced at seeing the true branch in chief command over them.
  •           A.D. 1311. His chiefs assembled around Dermot, the son of Donogh, who was son of Brian Roe O’Brien at Moy-Eyre to invest him with the chieftainship, and the tower-like hero was solemnly inaugurated. It was Loughlin, the son of Cumee, who first installed him and the states (tribes) unanimously consented. As the Bard of Dermot said on the occasion: 

Coronation Stone of Munster on Mount Cashel.
      Let us give the title of King, 
Stone & St. Patrick's Cross mounted on top moved inside.
(     Which will be of much fame
To the land which has chosen him)
To the valorous griffin (i.e., warrior)
The son of the fair-formed Donogh
Of the sealed secrets
Generous heir of generous Blood (Blód)  
The puissant Dermot of fortresses.
He is kind to the Church,
He is head over all,
The heart (centre) of the territories,
A tree under blossom.
Dermot of Dun M
The mild, lively, fierce,
Received the hostages
Through his wisdom and sword
His gracious smile and pomp (pride)
He exhibits with grace
And since he has commenced his career 
His fame has spread afar
Momonia of Bards
Is his principality
Proclaim we him King
           Of his tribes with great joy. .D. 1311. Murtagh O’Brien, the son of Turlogh, was inaugurated at Magh-Adhair by Loughlin Mac Namara, in opposition to Dermot O’Brien.
     Notices of the inaugurations are numerous in various annals from 1275 to 1311, and occur sporadically from 877 onwards. Other and less famous gatherings were at Creganenagh (‘Fair or Assembly Crag’ on the bare hill over Termon in the Burren, and at a field in Caherminaun near Kilfenora. The latter probably gave the name Ballykinvarga, (Baile-cinn-mharghaidh in 1380), i.e. ‘head of the market,’ to the adjacent townland, and may have been connected with the remarkable ring wall, girt with a wide abattis of pillar stones, not far distant. Some forgotten assembly is commemorated at Eanty (‘Fairs’ or ‘gatherings’) in the east of Burren. [5]
     A long succession of Kings of Thomond were inaugurated at Magh Adhair down to the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and 'Iraghts'  (gatherings or assemblies) of considerable local importance were held, down to 1838 just before the great famine, and were remembered even about 1890.

Following is the ceremony described in the ancient annals for the installation of a chief or king.[6]
  1.      Be of the blood of the original acquirer of the territory; free from all personal defects or deformities. Of the age able to lead the clan into battle.
  2.           Majority of the sub-chiefs and freeholders must declare in his favor.
  3.          Inauguration must be celebrated at a designated place in the clan territory appointed for this purpose; the Brehons and Bards must attend and explain duties of a chief to his clan and give the oath to uphold the rights of the clan duly taken. [Some inauguration sites were on hills; under certain tree; at a certain Cairn or rath; a footmarked stone/rock; or a stone seat.]
  4.         Upon taking the oath of chief, the new chief must put aside his weapons, and a straight white wand must be handed to him as a sceptre and emblem of a symbol of authority, and also an emblem of what his conduct and judicial decisions should be--straight and without stain, thus indicating to his subjects that as long as they are obedient to him he requires no other weapon to command them.
  5.          After the Chief receives the wand, the principal sub-chief must tie the chiefs brogues, or sandals, on his feet in token of obedience, and throw another over his head in token of good luck and prosperity.
  6. Known inauguration places.
  7.      Lastly, the proper official must call aloud his surname, which must be repeated in turn by the sub-chiefs and freeholders, after which the Chieftain must turn round thrice forwards and thrice backwards in honor of the Holy Trinity, so as to view his people and territory; which being done, he became the legitimate Chief of his name. Then one of the sub-chiefs appointed for this purpose pronounced in a loud voice his surname--the surname only, without the Christian name--which was afterwards pronounced aloud by each of the clergy, one after another, according to dignity, and then by the sub-chiefs. He was then the lawful chief; and ever after, when spoken to, he was addressed "Obrien” &c.; and when spoken of in English, he was designated "The O’Brien" &c., a custom existing to this day.[At this same time a “tanist” (Gaelic - meaning second) was chosen, who must be of the derbhfine (true family) of the chiefly line. The tanist could be a son of the chief, or a cousin. The tanist was the chosen person to succeed the chief upon his death. In actual practice this rarely was peaceful. Usually any rebellious rival, be it brother or cousin, was not put to death but blinded, making him ineligible to be chosen as tanist or chief/king because of deformity.] [7]
Book of Lecan; TJ Westropp's 1916 'Antiquities of Limerick and its neighbourhood.'
4   Annals of the Four Masters.
6  Lord Walter Fitzgerald, “The Ancient Territories Out Of Which The Present County Kildare Was Formed, And Their Septs,” Journal of the County Kildare Archæological Society, Volume I, #3 (1893), p. 161. (FHL-BRITISH 941.85 H25j)]
7P. W. Joyce, A SMALLER SOCIAL HISTORY OF ANCIENT IRELAND, 1906; http://www.libraryireland.com/SocialHistoryAncientIreland/Contents.php.

16 June 2012

Banshees & the O'Briens

By Garaidh Eóghan Ó Briain

Many of the great Irish families in Ireland have attached to them their own personal Banshee. Banshee is Gaelic meaning ‘fairy woman,’ bean: woman, and sídhe: fairy. A Banshee’s job is to foretell of impending death either natural or tragic.

Hollywood’s version is usually an old woman with dirty grey hair, long fingernails and rotten teeth, whose blood red eyes are filled with such sorrow and hatred to look into them one would go instantly insane and die. She would stalk her victims wailing and screaming, and if confronted can rip a brave man to death with her claw like hands. Such is Hollywood’s Banshee.

The Banshee of Ireland is much less evil and gory. The Irish Banshee attaches herself to families usually with the O’ or Mac/Mc preceding the surname and the courts of Irish kings, and does foretell of death in the family to come. Understand that the Banshee does not bring death, but warns that death is imminent in the family, and to prepare for a funeral. The Banshee also serves as an escort to ensure that the loved one passes safely to the other side.
Sometimes a Banshee is only heard keening (wailing) at night whose cry can be so piercing that it shatters glass. In some parts of Leinster, she is referred to as the bean chaointe (keening woman). In Kerry, the keen is experienced as a "low, pleasant singing;” in Tyrone as "the sound of two boards being struck together;” and on Rathlin Island as "a thin, screeching sound somewhere between the wail of a woman and the moan of an owl."  When she decides to appear it is usually in one of the aspects of the Celtic goddess of war and death known as Radhbh (young woman), Macha (stately matron), and Mor-Rioghain (raddled old hag), appearing in one of the following forms: 
·          An old woman dressed in black with long grey hair and covering her face with a veil. 
·      An old woman with long white hair, red eyes and dressed in a green dress.
·        A deathly pale woman with long red hair dressed in a white dress sometimes a shroud.
·        A beautiful woman wearing a shroud.
·         A beautiful woman with silver-white hair wearing a long shimmering silver dress.
·         A headless woman naked from the waist up and carrying a bowl of blood.

The Banshee may also appear washing the blood stained clothes of those who are about to die and is known as the bean-nighe/washing woman, or in one of the animals associated with witchcraft in Ireland such as a hooded crow, stoat (short haired weasel), hare or weasel.

There is a tale titled the Banshee’s Three, that tells almost the same story of the O’Neill Banshee, the O’Donnell Banshee and the O’Brien Banshee being wailing women of great beauty, who act as harbingers of death in the said families.1
The O’Brien Clan’s personal Banshee was named Aibhill/Aibhinn. She lived about one and a quarter mile from Tralee (gray shore) near Killaloe, in a cave called ‘Crage-liath.’ The cave is above the earthworks and mound of stones that mark the 9th century fort of Prince Lachtna who’s rough lane leads to the cave and on the way to the east is a low rock amid ferns where water runs out into a small well called Tobereevul, and on the west to a lonely valley that was the location of a long-forgotten early battle of Brian against the Norsemen. Author Thomas W. Westropp (Count Clare historian at turn of 20th century), is of the opinion that Aibhinn (Gaelic for ‘the lovely one’), may once have been the goddess of the House of Cass, for whom the well and Craganeevul commemorate her spirit.2

Before the baptism of King Cairthinn, (first Christian Prince of his House, about A.D. 430), the ancestors of the Dalcassians may have worshipped Aibhinn on her holy hill, and her equally lovely sister Aine, crowned with meadowsweet, on the tamer mound of Knockaney. Whether, if so, they found her already enthroned at Craglea on their conquest of the district, or whether the conqueror Lugad consecrated the mountains to his patroness, it is now impossible to guess. Aibhill, as Banshee, held her own. She is found usurping the place of the ‘Sybil’ in a translation of the Dies Iræ, in unwonted companionship with King David, and she was a commonplace of local threnodies during the eighteenth, and even the nineteenth, century. In the lake below Rathblamaic in Inchiquin she has been seen in recent years (late as 1943), with the twenty-five other banshees of Clare that call her their queen, washing clothes before any impending disaster.3

King Brian Boru’s son, Murrough, consulted Aibhill before the battle of Clontarf, and Aibhill appeared to King Brian during the night of 22 April 1014, and informed him that he would never come away from the battle at Clontarf on the morrow. Of this we are told by Westropp that “News came that his brave son’s standard had fallen, and his page entreated him to ride back to the camp. ‘Oh, God! thou boy,’ cried Brian, ‘retreat becomes us not, and I myself know that I shall not depart alive, for Aibhill of Crag-Liath came to me last night, and she told me that I should be killed today.”4 

Irish are not the only people the Banshee foretells doom for. In May, 1318, Richard de Clare, leader of the Normans, was marching to what he supposed would be an easy victory over the O’Brien-O’Deas at Dysert. The English came to the ‘glittering, running water of fish-containing Fergus,’ when they saw a horrible bedlam washing armour and rich robes till the red gore churned and splashed through her hands. Calling an Irish ally to question her, de Clare heard that ‘the armour and clothes were of the English, and few would escape immolation.’ ‘I am the Water Doleful One. I lodge in the green fairy mounds (sidh) of the land, but I am of the Tribes of Hell. Thither I invite you. Soon we shall be dwellers in one country.’ Next day de Clare, his son, and nearly all his English troops lay dead upon the fields near the ford of Dysert and for miles over the countryside laid they’re lifeless bodies as they fled.5
For nearly 300 years there is no other Clare Banshee tale, till the famous one of 1642 in the Memoires of Lady Fanshawe, (published in 1665): The Lady Anne Fanshawe was visiting from Scotland the Lady Honora O’Brien who was daughter of the Earl of Thomond, She woke up one night, disturbed by the sound of a voice. She was in a four-poster bed. Drawing aside its curtains she found she was looking straight at the window. There she saw a woman’s face, pale and with huge sad eyes, looking in at her.6 

 Surrounding the face was a mass of red-gold hair, clearly visible in the moonlight. For some moments the woman in the bed and the phantom at the window simply gazed at each other; then the apparition spoke. 
Three times it spoke loud and in a tone that the woman has never heard off. “Ahone”, and then with a sigh more like a wind than a breath she vanished. Her body looked more like a thick of cloud than a substance the Scottish woman thought. 

Lady Fanshawe woke her husband she had slept through all of it and then told him on what she had witness. He did not mock her story and told her that such apparitions were well known in Ireland. In the morning, Lady Honora informed her guests that a cousin of hers had died that night in the castle, at about two o’clock in the morning. 
She herself had been up all night, but hoped that nothing had disturbed her visitors. Her reasons for concern was that whenever a member of the O’ Brien family was at the point of death, the shape of a woman appeared. She appears in the very room where she had inadvertently lodged her guests. According to Lady Honora, the banshee was the phantom of a woman who had been seduced and then murdered long ago by the castle’s lord. The body had been buried in the grounds beneath the window. 

Other stories

In 1437, King James I of Scotland was approached by an Irish Banshee who foretold his murder at the instigation of the Earl of Atholl.

In 1776, one Harrison R. Lewin went to Dublin on business and was gone a week. In his absence the ‘young people’ went to a friend’s house for the evening. The road passed an old church (Kilchrist), which was unenclosed, standing in an open field. As the party returned under bright moonlight, they were startled by loud keening and wailing from the direction of the ruin. Coming in sight, all clearly saw a little old woman with long white hair and a black cloak running to and fro on the top of the side wall, clapping her hands and wailing. The young men, leaving the girls together on the road, sent some of their number to watch each end of the building, and the remainder entered and climbed up on the wall. The apparition vanished as they approached the church, and, after a careful search, could not be found. The party, thoroughly frightened, hurried home, and found their mother in even greater terror. She had been sitting in the window when a great raven flapped three times at the glass, and, while she told them, the bird again flew against the window. Some days later, news arrived from Dublin that Ross Lewin had died suddenly on the very evening of the apparition and omen.7

Not only the Scot’s king and marauding Normans were visited by Banshees, but the Stamers and Westropp families of English origin as well. 

Near Quin, there were numerous ‘authentic instances’ recorded. The Corofin Banshees, however, did not lag behind the age by maintaining aristocratic prejudices, for one, at least, used to sit near the cross road leading to the workhouse and foretell the deaths of the poor.8

The popular belief in Clare, writes Westropp, is that each leading Irish race had a Banshee, Eevul (Aibhill/Aibhinn), the Banshee of the royal O’Briens, ruling over twenty-five other banshees always attendant on her progresses. The stream from Caherminaun to Dough, (the Daelach), was called the ‘Banshee’s Brook,’ and when, as sometimes happens after an unusually dry summer, the water gets red from iron scum, everyone is on the alert to hear the rustling flight of the banshee, (not apparently Eevul), and her attendants through the air. In the prevailing suspense someone generally succeeds, and then there is unrest and fear until a death removes the uncertainty.9

No-one wishes a visit from a Banshee no matter how alluring she is but she does serve a purpose to the family by letting them know that they should start making preparations for a funeral.


2      2   http://www.clarelibrary.ie/eolas/coclare/folklore/folklore_survey/chapter2.htm ; A Folklore Survey of    County Clare, byThomas Johnson Westropp. Hereafter noted as Westropp.
3      3  Westropp.
4      4  True Irish Ghost Stories, by St. John D. Seymour and Harry L. Neligan, [1914], at sacred-texts.com
5      5  Westropp.
7      7  Westropp.
8      8  Westropp.
9       9  Westropp.

13 March 2012

Soledad’s S. Buffalo relatives

Updated: February 16, 2012, 8:19 AM : Buffalo News.com

When Soledad O’Brien speaks today at the University at Buffalo’s 36th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration, plenty of cousins could be in the audience at Kleinhans Music Hall.
Soledad O'Brien
     Kevin O’Brien of Orchard Park, who has traced his family’s history back to County Clare, says Soledad O’Brien’s great-grandfather, Patrick O’- Brien, was born in 1843 in Dunsallagh East, Mullagh, County Clare— “the same parish on the west coast of Ireland where many of the Irish in South Buffalo have their roots.”
     Patrick O’Brien was born in 1843, went to Australia in 1871, married a woman from Ireland and had 10 children. One of those offspring was Soledad O’Brien’s grandfather, Thomas, who was the father of her father, Edward.
      Soledad O’Brien’s father met her Cuban-born mother, Estella, in the 1950s when both were working at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
     Kevin O’Brien, who was born in South Buffalo, says, “My O’Brien family is from a neighboring farm in Ireland and probably related,” although few records documented the lives of Catholics in Ireland before the early 1800s. Certainly, says Kevin O’Brien, “Our ancestors went to the same church and are buried near each other in the same graveyard.”
     Kevin O’Brien says that many South Buffalo families also can trace their roots back to that part of County Clare. “One person would come over and send back money to bring more of the family here,” he says.
“I had always heard that we had cousins in Australia and New Zealand,” says Kevin O’- Brien, but it wasn’t until he shared records online with a first cousin of Soledad O’Brien that he made the connection with her family.
     In an email, Soledad O’Brien replied to the news of her newly discovered Buffalo relatives.
“This is so great!” she wrote. “My dad said County Cork! But clearly, [Kevin O’Brien is] all over it.”
Both Kevin O’Brien and Soledad O’Brien mentioned the extensive research done by an aunt on Soledad’s father’s side, who traced the family roots back as far as they could go.
     Kevin O’Brien noted another interesting family trait. Soledad O’Brien is the mother of twin sons, age 7, and Kevin O’Brien says his research—both historical and current — has found eight other sets of twin boys in the O’Brien family. His niece, Brighid O’Brien Rosputni, who has twin brothers, made the news in January when she gave birth to son Ronan at 11:37 p.m. on Dec. 31, 2011, and son Rory a few minutes after midnight on Jan. 1, 2012.
     Kevin O’Brien will not be able to attend tonight’s talk, because he has made plans to go skiing with his wife. But, he says, “Someday I would love to see her. She’s beautiful and she seems so genuine.”