Tommy Makem's Secret Ireland

Tommy Makem's Secret Ireland

by Tommy Makem

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There are few who could tell a tale or sing a tune with the joy and warmth of Tommy Makem. For more than half a century, Makem charmed audiences around the world with his tales of his homeland and his people.

Join him in Tommy Makem's Secret Ireland, as this beloved Irish folksinger takes you on a personal tour of his favorite sites and sounds of that "Many splendored" island that is his home--Ireland.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466878303
Publisher: St. Martin''s Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/19/2014
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 200
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Tommy Makem was an acclaimed singer, songwriter, actor, and storyteller. In his five decades of showmanship, he and his banjo traveled all over Ireland, the United States, and the world.

Tommy Makem was an acclaimed singer, songwriter, actor, and storyteller. In his five decades of showmanship, he and his banjo traveled all over Ireland, the United States, and the world. He is the author of Tommy Makem's Secret Ireland.

Read an Excerpt

Tommy Makem's Secret Ireland

By Tommy Makem

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 1997 Tommy Makem
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-7830-3


Where Boand's River Flows


Let us not begin our journey in modern Ireland, but rather in the ancient heart of this storied land. We leave behind the fair city of Dublin and make our way northward through Finglas of the Fair Rill and what Ledwidge, the poet called "White Ashbourne." After twenty or so miles of pleasant travelling by long, straight roads, we turn a bend in the road and down below us is the legendary River Boyne. As we cross the bridge with the strangely angled waterfall on our left, we see Slane Castle, the home of Lord Mountcharles peeping through the trees. Climbing the hill on the other side of the bridge, the village of Slane in County Meath suddenly appears.

Here at this crossroads, we can see four identical houses, one on each corner. They are said to have been built by a local landowner for his four daughters, so that all four would feel equal.

The road to the left takes us to the town of Navan and on to the Hill of Tara. Straight ahead to the north is the Hill of Slane.

We are taking the road to the right, out of Slane. This road runs on to Oldbridge and Drogheda. A mile or so out this road is the home of the poet, Francis Ledwidge, who was killed in Flanders during the Great War in 1917.

Travelling past Ledwidge's cottage, we take a road to the right and eventually approach our first destination, Newgrange, or Brugh Na Boinne as it is called in Irish. Brugh Na Boinne means the Palace of the Boyne, and Brugh also means the whole area, or complex. It is a most impressive sight, having been restored to great splendour and has an atmosphere that never fails to leave me awestruck.


Newgrange, popularly known as a megalithic gravesite, is between five and six thousand years old, dating from the fourth millenniumB.C. Reputed to be the oldest man-made building in the world, it outdates the Egyptian pyramids and outdates Stonehenge by at least a thousand years and perhaps as much as fifteen hundred years.

The site covers an acre and the building is circular, with a three-hundred-foot diameter. The front of the building is faced with white quartz from the Wicklow Mountains, some fifty miles to the south. It also has inserts of round shaped granite stones from the Mourne Mountains, fifty miles to the north. The popular theory is that both the quartz from Wicklow and the granite from Mourne were brought here by some form of raft along the seacoast from both directions, and then up the River Boyne to Newgrange.

There are twelve standing stones a short distance out from the building, but there are only theories as to where they originated. Previously, there were thirty-five, and they were thought to be a boundary "for the dreaded spirits of the dead, so that they should not transgress it and molest the living."

Brugh Na Boinne

Where Boand's river twists and turns and flows,
And Brugh Na Boinne lights up the shining hill;
In winter's deepest darkness no light glows
To warm the earth, or ease death's bitter chill.
But on the shortest day the sun returns,
Renewing life and hope in earth and bones,
He climbs the Brugh's dark passage, where he burns;
His message carved on rows of standing stones.
And here I stand beside the entrance stone,
With all the years of darkness nearly done;
I feel the voices singing in my bone,
The ancient pulsing of the moon and sun.
And hidden knowledge, by some mystic power
Has been refound, to light man's shining hour.

— Tommy Makem

There are ninety-seven kerbstones around the building, a number of them with carvings, but the most elaborate and best known of all the carved stones in the complex, is undoubtedly the entrance stone at the doorway to the chamber. This stone is regarded as the finest example of megalithic art in the world.

The passage climbing into the cruciform shaped chamber is 62 feet long and is lined on both sides by 43 orthostats, or upright stones, many of them decorated. These orthostats vary in height from 5 to 8 feet and when Newgrange was excavated, it was deduced that the carvings must have been done before the stones were set up in place.

The cruciform chamber is made up of a central chamber with a 20-foot high corbelled roof and three smaller chambers opening off of it. Each of the three smaller chambers has a stone basin, presumably used to hold the ashes of the cremated dead. Some of the stones forming the corbelled roof of the central chamber had grooves cut into them to direct whatever water might seep through the cairn away from the chamber. No water has run into it for over five thousand years!

The Beaker People, as the people who built the edifice were known, were not only clever engineers and architects, but also very skilled in astronomy. There is an opening over the entrance to the chamber called, in recent times, a window box. It faces east and is so precisely placed that during the winter solstice (19–23 December), the shortest days in the year, the sun shines through the window box and climbs up the passage between the orthostats. It shines on the back wall and illuminates the chamber for about seventeen minutes.

The ancient peoples believed that their sun god, the giver of light, heat and all life, had been off fighting the forces of darkness through the darkest time of the year and on returning in victory penetrated mother earth, renewing life and hope in everything in the earth, on the earth and over the earth. They knew the course of the sun, the moon and the planets and could plan their lives in accordance with celestial courses and movements.

There are two other mounds that form part of the Newgrange complex: Dowth, about a mile or so to the east of Newgrange, which has not yet been excavated, and Knowth, about a mile or so west of Newgrange, which has been excavated and contains a great wealth of large carved stones. There are, supposedly, about nine hundred decorated megalithic stones in the world; six hundred of those are here in the Newgrange complex.

There are also some people who believe that Newgrange is not a burial site at all, but a ceremonial site used mostly for initiation rites. According to some ancient manuscripts, the builders of Newgrange and their descendants used to communicate with the spirits of the dead in religious rites. They would enter the tumulus and fast for three days and three nights, lying or squatting on the stone troughs in complete darkness. After the fast, communication would be achieved and the initiates would emerge into the light.

Symbolically, they entered the chamber, their minds in darkness and great knowledge was passed onto them during communication. They then emerged into the light with the newly acquired knowledge. There is a correlation here with one of the central themes of Christianity. The dead Christ stayed in his tomb for three days and then emerged alive. This idea is probably present in the practices of many of the ancient civilizations.

The River Boyne takes its name from the Goddess Boand. Her name means the "Goddess of the White Cow." It was a belief of the ancient people that each phase of the moon was represented by a different coloured animal. The story goes that the Boyne River sprang up when Boand, who had been forbidden to go near a certain secret well, approached the well. The waters rose up and engulfed her and flowed towards the sea. Boand became the river and the river is the goddess. Boand had borne the son of Dagda Mor, one of the greatest of all the De Danaan gods. The child's name was Aengus, the god of love. Aengus lived here in "The Palace" at Newgrange and is buried here.

The ancient Book of Lecan described the origins of Newgrange like this:

There was Eochaid Ollathair, The Dagda Mor,
son of Eladan, son of Delbaith, eighty years in the
Kingdom of Erin. It was he who had three sons, Aengus
and Aed and Cermaid. It was upon these four the men
of Erin made the Sidh of the Brugh.

Every time I enter the mound at Newgrange, I get goose-bumps. The beauty, the artwork, the mystical pulse that throbs through the atmosphere, all combine to make Brugh Na Boinne — Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth, indeed the whole Boyne Valley — a magical place for me.


I remember very clearly, the first time I visited Newgrange. There had been a light drizzle of rain early in the day. As I drove north out of Dublin it began to ease off a bit and by the time I had reached Glasnevin Cemetery it had stopped. Approaching Finglas, the clouds had begun to move and patches of blue sky were appearing. On reaching open country the sun was shining gloriously, the harbinger of a beautiful day to come. In Slane I took the road to the right and following signs, made my way towards Newgrange. I had read about it but was not prepared for the magnificence of the building. Rounding the bends on the small country roads I caught a side view of it on my right and could not take my eyes off of it. On rounding the final bend and coming up on the full frontal view in the brilliant morning sunshine I was mesmerised! I barely remember paying the entrance fee and getting the little coloured sticker. On the walk across the field to the entrance I kept smiling to myself and gazing in wonder at the shining building.

As I walked, or rather floated, up the long passageway between the tall carved stones, with ten or twelve other people and our guide, the hairs on the back of my neck began to rise and tingle. With every step I took up into the chamber I was more and more convinced that I had been there before.

After our guide had given her talk about the various carvings, the stone basins and the corbelled roof, she asked if anyone had any questions. I said "There's a feather carved somewhere here." Where I got this information from I don't know, I certainly had not read it or heard it anywhere. Stepping away from where she had been standing and pointing it out on the megalith that had been at her back, she said "I nearly forgot about that. It's not a feather, it's a fern." I was dumbstruck!

Written on the Stones

Stones that stand in circles,
Circles carved on stone,
Sunlight shining through the earth,
Winds that sigh and moan
Singing hymns on mystic hills
By the river bend;
Seasons in their turning
From dark to light again.

See the stones! See the stones!
The answers to the mysteries
Are written on the stones.

Ancient masters carved them
Five thousand years gone by.
Knowledge scanned from Sol's bright course
And the starry sky.
Saving for posterity
Things that should be known;
Knowledge for the seeker
Carved upon a stone.


— Tommy Makem

William's Glen

If we take the road between the Brugh Na Boinne and the bend in Boand's river and travel northeast past Dowth, we come to William's Glen at Oldbridge. It's so called, because here on 1 July 1690 the soldiers of William of Orange, a prince of the Low Countries (Belgium and the Netherlands), defeated the soldiers of King James II of Scotland, for the throne of England. This famous battle has affected Irish history even to the present day.

A few miles up the road straight ahead, we would come to the town of Drogheda, where three thousand citizens were slain when Oliver Cromwell sacked the town in 1649. We are taking this little road to the left and it will lead us to Mellifont Abbey, near the village of Collon in County Louth.

Mellifont Abbey

Mellifont Abbey, the first Cistercian monastery built in Ireland, was founded in 1142 by St. Malachy, who was archbishop of Armagh. The saint, born Malachy O'Morgair in the city of Armagh, travelled to France as a young monk. At the monastery in Clairvaux, where his good friend St. Bernard was abbot, he became very impressed by the monastery and its lifestyle. Later, Malachy sent a few of his novices to study life in Clairvaux and they, on returning to Ireland, formed the nucleus of the Mellifont community. Even the site on the Mattock River was chosen because of its similarity to Clairvaux.

The Abbey Church was consecrated in 1157 and under the orders of King Henry VIII was suppressed in 1539. It came into the possession of one Edward Moore, who was an ancestor to the earls of Drogheda. From him, it passed to the Balfour family of nearby Townley Hall. The Lavabo, which was built in the thirteenth century, was octagonal, but only four sides of it remain today. The Chapter House at Mellifont was built in the fourteenth century. It had two stories and a beautiful groined roof.


We take the Navan Road out of Slane and a few miles south of Navan, a little road to our right leads us to one of the most important places in Ireland — The Royal Hill of Tara.

Tara was the seat of the high kings of Ireland during its most glorious days, the first centuries A.D., but it was a place of importance since 2000 B.C. and remains a place of importance to the people of Ireland. After Christianity was introduced in Ireland, Tara's influence slowly declined, but it was not until 1022 that it was totally abandoned.

Tara, or Temair, as it's called in Irish, got its name from Tea, daughter of Lugaid, wife of Eremon. Eremon was the son of Mil of the Milesians, who invaded Ireland around 1200 B.C., and is reputedly buried here on Tara.

About the year 918 B.C., Ollamh Fodhla, aptly called the Solomon of Ireland, became the twenty-first Milesian king here at Tara. He reigned for forty years. Among the vast array of his achievements, he organized the nation for efficiency. Having divided the land into cantreds, districts containing a hundred townlands, he appointed a chief over every cantred, a magistrate over every territory, and a steward over every townland. He established a school of learning. His crowning glory is that he established the Feis at Tara, the great triennial Parliament of the chiefs, nobles and scholars of the nation, to settle the nation's affairs. This assembly was unique among the nations in those early ages and right down to Christian times.

It was from the laws made and discussed at these assemblies that the Brehon Laws took form. The Brehon Laws were conceived with a brilliancy in law-making that is unsurpassed to the present day. The scope of the Brehon Laws was astoundingly vast, covering every fine shade of relationship, social and moral, between two people. It covered everything from the laws defining all the different species of bargains, contracts and engagements between person and person through laws minutely regulating the fees of doctors, judges, lawyers and teachers, and all other professional people. Included were complete criminal laws respecting manslaughter and murder, distinguishing accurately between principals and accessories before and after the fact.

This gigantic body of ancient Irish legal literature still exists. Five large volumes have been printed, the principal part of these being the Senchus Mor, which was supposedly edited by St. Patrick, and named for him "The Statute Law of Patrick."

The Honourable John McCormick, the late, learned Speaker of the House in the American House of Representatives, told me that the Magna Carta was based on the Brehon Laws. Since the Constitution of the United States is based on the Magna Carta, then the basic laws that govern the United States came from the brilliant minds of those ancient law-makers and poets at those assemblies at Tara.

Of all the kings who reigned at Tara, perhaps the most illustrious, after Ollamh Fodhla, was Cormac Mac Art who ascended the throne in A.D. 224. It was he who built all the wooden structures, the palaces and halls mentioned in early literature, the outlines of which still remain. These include Cormac's House, the Royal Enclosure and the Great Banquet Hall. The ancient poets wrote of Tara:

Temair, noblest of hills,
Under which is Erin of the forays,
The lofty city of Cormac, son of Art,
Son of mighty Conn of the Hundred Fights.

Cormac, constant was his prosperity,
He was sage, he was poet, he was prince;
He was a true judge of the men of Fene.

He was a friend, he was a comrade.
Cormac, who gained fifty fights,
Disseminated the Psalter of Temair;
In this Psalter there is
All the best we have of history.

— from 1000 Years OF Irish Poetry

The great Banquet Hall that Cormac Mac Art built is a most interesting structure. It was also known as "The House of Mead Circling," and was about 750 feet long and 75 feet wide. Ancient manuscripts describe it as being a rectangular wooden building divided into aisles and compartments. Each grade of society or class of person had their correct place designated in the hall and the proper colours in their clothing. The approved cut of meat suitable to their station in life was also laid out by the Laws of Hospitality.

In the matter of clothing the following colours were allowed: The king or queen could wear seven colours; the poet 6; the chieftain 5; army leader 4; land owner 3; rent payer 2; and serf, one colour only.


Excerpted from Tommy Makem's Secret Ireland by Tommy Makem. Copyright © 1997 Tommy Makem. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
1. Where Boand's River Flows,
2. Cuchullain Country,
3. The Ancient Kingdom of Mourne,
4. Green Glens and Blue Hills,
5. Follow the North West Passage,
6. Yeats Country,
7. Cruachain of the Poets,
8. Connemara and Other Delights,
9. Where Music Flows,
10. The Kingdom of Kerry,
11. And Thus Grows Fonder, Sweet Cork, of Thee,
12. There's None to Compare with the Waterford Boys,
13. The Golden Vale,
14. At the Foot of Mount Leinster,
15. Sweet Vales and Glens,
16. Dublin, Me Jewel,

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Tommy Makem's Secret Ireland 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
manirul01 More than 1 year ago
Amazing.....!Excellent......!Just enjoy it.....!