Story Archaeology

Uncovering the layers of Irish Mythology through a regular podcast and related articles.

Walking with the Táin ~ Stories in The Landscape

The text of the Táin Bó Cúailnge is one of Irish story’s greatest treasures. The central tale of the two great bulls may be familiar but the wealth of wider stories that circle the Táin, involve some of the most colourful of Irish characters and encompasses almost the whole of the country.

Since 2011, a group of academics and knowledgeable enthusiasts have been walking the entire route of the Táin story, encouraging the growth of Táin based events along the way. The Táin March Festival is run by a voluntary committee who are passionate about preserving the history and culture of the Táin with the hope of generating greater interest and participation of local communities. The walk begins at Rathcroghan in Roscommon

For the past three years, I have been giving workshops on early Irish mythology to primary schools in Roscommon and Longford to support this on-going project. These workshops, using props and costumes are designed to set these, into the late-iron age context in which they were originally placed. As a story-teller, it is also my role to make these, often obscure, stories accessible and fun. We also get to explore story making and poetry inspired by those wonderful story-teller poets. in those days. It was never wise to upset a poet for their magic was the skill of making the world with words. We also examine some of the craft skills that made the world of the stories so memorable.

Each year, in late May, the schools (in costume) gather on Rathcroghan mound, to meet with Queen Medb and her poets, bringing their own stories and poetry to share. It is quite an event. Other celebrations and events also take place in Longford over the weekend. This year, we even published a poetry book and a short, animated film, based on one of the stories.

This year sixteen schools sent more than 350 children and their teachers to Rathcroghan. This large number means that the project will need to grow and change. Next year, we hope to provide children’s aonach days where classes will have the opportunity to enjoy hands-on ‘living history’ workshops on early crafts, environmental issues and maybe even take part in a ‘poets law court as well as continuing to explore the wonderful stories and poetry.

As you can imagine, this project occupied me fully from March through to the end of May but a lot has come out of it, including the very real need for written and audio versions of the stories that will appeal to a family audience. I am now occupied in creating some of these.

The project has at its heart community and connections, crafts and creativity. As we come together to celebrate an old story safely told for another year, we are also celebrating the on-going story of our shared environments.

Links: Find out more about the Táin March Festival

The Cats of Cruachan ~ an short animated film

This time last year, I was struggling with what felt like an impossible task. I was asked to come up with a scripted screenplay for the Rathcroghan Visitor Centre, Roscommon. This short animation was commissioned by Nollaig Feeney, the Roscommon Heritage Officer and was a direct outcome of the Schools workshops undertaken in the county in support of the annual Tain March event. (I will be writing about this event in a subsequent post.)

I was keen to tell part of the Fled Bricrenn story. There was a problem in that Bricriu’s Feast is a long and complex text full of convolutions and duplication. It took Story Archaeology four full episodes to tell the story. I had created a telling adapting it for a modern audience and much loved by Primary aged children but it would be a huge challenge to condense it to under tn minutes. Eventually, I settled for telling only the section of the story that concerned Medb and Rathcroghan.

As I am sure you are aware, and we soon discovered, animation is costly to produce and basic flash was all that the budget allowed for simple 2D graphics. I think that Pink Kong did a great job and we are pleased with the results. We had hope to make some of the children’s poetry integral to the story telling but the script had to be kept tight. We managed to include a short selection along with the credits. The film was completed last October but was released this May at the culmination of the 2019 Tain March event.

Our regular listeners will recognise that Medh is played by our own Isolde. We had fun getting the wheelchair into the recording booth but all went well eventually. I have now produced a full written and audio version of Bricriu’s Feast for a family audience and this will be published shortly.

Medb: Conquests and Consequences

Medb, Queen of Connacht, is rightly renowned in Irish legend and mythology, as a strong and influential woman leader. Her centre of power, Cruachan Ai, is still recognised as one of the most important Iron-age sites in Ireland.  Medb lead her people in her own name and by her own right. She was a strong woman in a society largely dominated by strong men. She fought hard to maintain the high status of her rule throughout her long life but the choices she made, as always happens, had consequences.

This audio-article endeavours to discover some something of Medb the woman, as she can be found in the old Irish texts? What choices did she have to make to protect her land and people and how did she come to terms with the consequences of those choices? It is an interesting story.

This audio article is based on a presentation given for an on-line conference  hosted by Vyvianne Armstrong. This conference is entitled Medb, Intoxication and Initiation. This is one of a series of upcoming conferences. If you would like to find out more, contact Vyviane at 

Music: A Trip to Emain by Gian Costello

Robin Williamson: Five Denials on Merlin’s Grave

Robin Williamson

released 1997

When I was putting together my audio-article on story telling, I mentioned that I owed a debt of honour to the musician, story teller Robin Williamson. I also mentioned that I once owned an entire vinyl collection of Incredible String Band albums! (that was in another country and besides …..)

I haven’t listened to them for years but tracks like ‘October Song‘, The ‘Dancing of the Lord of Weir‘,  and ‘Seasons they Change‘, yes, especially that one stays with me.

I saw them many times but, later, after they went their own ways continued to follow Robin’s work as a story teller. I think the last time I saw him perform was in the old chapel at Markree castle, near Sligo. Funny enough I have given a story telling evening there myself now.

I was always a story teller but it was after hearing Five Denials on Merlin’s Grave that set my feet on the path to living in Ireland,  exploring and experiencing the Land, not just the stories.  Back in 2000, I was fortunate enough to be able to light the spark that gave rise to Moytura 2000  when we re-enacted the battle and where the story was told, in its entirety, by a gathering of tellers.  Someone once told me that Robin. who inspired me to search for the story, had considered its location to be mythological . But this is Ireland and the stories lie held in its landscape. I am so glad his poetry sent me searching

I thought I might share the track with any listeners not familiar with it.



Telling Stories : Continuing the Oral Tradition

Join Chris Thompson as she takes a story-teller’s view of the old Irish stories. Who told the and why were they so memorable.   In this audio article, Chris celebrates the old stories and explores the challenges in telling them today.

For those who have asked me for ideas and advice on story telling generally, I am going to be devoting a  section of my upcoming Patreon site ‘Sinann’s Well’ to this subject.

References and Links

Oral Tradition Theory

While there are a great many experts who can illuminate this eclectic discipline. I have found the writing of John Miles Foley comprehensive and enjoyably helpful. I also appreciate the manner in which he takes account of the revitalizing effect of the internet on oral story tellingProfessor Foley was the founder of the academic journal Oral Tradition and the Center for Studies in Oral Tradition at the University of Missouri, where he was Curators’ Professor of Classical Studies and English .

I have added a link to the UK Amazon page listing a few a selection of his works but they tend to be somewhat difficult to find.  Our American listeners, I  suspect, would have less of a problem. His  books do offer a comprehensive and modern approach to Oral Tradition Theory.

For those of you who enjoy audio books.I would  highly recommend,  The Modern Scholar: Singers and Tales:  Oral Tradition and the Roots of Literature  By: Professor Michael D. C. Drout.

Miichael Drout, who studied under Professor Foley,  Professor of English and Director of the Center for the Study of the Medieval at . He is an author  and specialising in Anglo Saxon,  medieval literature, fantasy and science fiction.

This is an enjoyable and easy-to-follow introduction to the  history and development of Oral Tradition Theory and offers a fascinating insight into how story telling functions within  diverse  societies. I listen to the book  over and over again, just because I enjoy it. It is not too long, either.

Other links

The Ark before Noah by Irving Finkel

Nothing to do with Oral Tradition theory, or, indeed, with the early Irish tales, I am still going to recommend this book in connection with the current topic. This tells how a story, now known, only from the careful translation of long-lost Cuneiform clay tablets,  has continued to retain so much information,. Irving Finkel, does not just plot the meandering, ever changing and adapting, course of a story, still known and loved today,  but he throws a fascinating light on the world where this story may have been first told. He even identifies performative elements, still recognisable.

I love this book.

Music: The Wandering Harper by Gian Costello


Story Archaeology Music

I have been meaning to put up a post recommending the musician whose composition ‘The Tamlin Jig’ has opened and closed Story Archaeology posts since the beginning. Isolde and I met Gian living in Drumshanbo, a few km from us,  about the time we were first setting up the podcast. We were impressed with his music and delighted when he gave us permission to use selectios on the podcast.

It is about time I created a post specifically about his work.  Tamlin’s Jig is taken from the album Secret Kingdoms: but his other albums, including Taliesin and Merlin are well worth a listen as well. All of these can be sampled,  purchased and downloaded from

About Gian

Gian Castello studied Irish flute with various Irish teachers (John Lee, Donegal, and legendary Micho Russell, Clare).
He has
 produced four concept albums (“Merlin the Enchanter”, “Taliesin”, “The Secret Kingdoms”, “Rama, the primordial Druid”), one CD (“The Stone in the Field”) with the English harper Steve Haggerty and “To Drive the Cold Winter Away”, Italian/Irish production.

The Dagda’s Cauldron ~ A home-brew supplemental

Gobekli TepeIn the audio article ‘The Dadga’s Cauldron’  I was speculating, in a somewhat lighthearted moment, that the transformative element of the Dagda’s wonderful cooking pot from which no-one went away unsatisfied might have been connected to memories of early fermentation processes, i.e. the brewing of beer.   There has been plenty of evidence for feasting at midwinter in Neolithic times, and earlier. The excavations at Durrington Walls,  (near Stonehenge), England,  have provided plentiful evidence for mid-winter pig roasts for a start. Maybe they also had beer to wash it down.

It is hardly surprising that  the brewing of alcohol, especially simple beers was a skill that an early ‘art’.  It has been  said that the pyramids in ancient Egypt were built on beer, the mainstay of the willing and skilled workers was largely quid bread.  However, in recent years archaeologists have been coming to the realisation that the brewing of beer may have been one of the kick starters that began the  long and on-going process leading to  the cultivation of crops and domestication of animals.

It is not hard to imagine that if places were needed for hunter-gathers to meet, trade, celebrate, then exchange and sharing of ideas and stories  might have been smoothed and encouraged by the availability of a safe (safer than water)  and nourishing drink with pleasant additional effects.  It is also possible to speculate that the groups of people responsible for gathering  and processing  the wild grain might have soon realised that settling down close to these celebratory enclosures, perhaps even planting the grain  where they needed it would saved a lot of time and effort. They might have even discovered that the left-over mash was a suitable feed for cattle. Hmm! now they would be able to offer meat, cheese, milk and beer without hunting or gathering themselves.

And so it all  began! I kind of like the idea that the first people might  have settled in order to provide celebratory parties rather than to create spaces where people might gather merely to placate  gods. There is evidence that the enclosures at Gobekli Tepe, in Eastern Turkey which date from Mesolithic times,  provided beer for their visitors.  This site is astonishing. I visited it a few years ago while Klaus Schmidt was still alive. I have included a few pictures below. They are not all mine. They were just creating a wooden cover at the time. It was hard to get good photos. I have also included a couple of excellent articles,  about the site including one which refers to the evidence for beer production.

 The role of cult and Feasting in Neolithic Communities (with excellent pictures of Gobekli Tepe)

An article about beer production at Gobekli Tepe

Gobeki Tepe carved stone





A few years ago, I remember Isolde and I discussing the possibility of the Dagda’ cauldron as a  leather  bag used for brewing beer, a genuine ‘Santa sack’ indeed. However, since then I read about a couple of Irish experimental archaeologists, Billy Quinn and Declan Moore, from Galway,  who were already on the case.  They had been speculating that the commonly found ‘Fulacht Fiadh’ field monuments could have been ideal  for beer brewing. You can read about their findings through the link below.

 The Fulacht fidha and Brewing


Now I am a wimp and a lightweight  when it comes to alcohol but I think I could manage to open a good Irish craft beer this Solstice and raise a toast to the Dagda and his Cauldron of Abundance!


The Dagda’s Cauldron ~ A Seasonal Special!


The Dagda with his cauldron of abundance, from which none leave unsatisfied, epitomises the deep and ancient yearning we  feel for mid-winter indulgence and  good company.  It may be that the cauldron had more to offer than just a solid meal. Join Chris, from the Story Archaeologists, as she dips into this extravagant cooking pot.

This audio article is based on a piece published in the new book Harp, Club and Cauldron: A harvest of Knowledge published by Eel and Otter Press. It is an entrancing and informative anthology, well worth adding to your physical or digital library and the Story Archaeologists were proud to be asked to offer three articles to the book.

I will be adding further picture articles connected to The Dagda’s Cauldron article: .(Images of Gobekli Tepe and information on recent Iron age Feasting finds), shortly.

 Harp, Club and Cauldron A harvest of Knowledge:

Find on

Find on

Addendum: I haven’t checked but I think I referred to the German archaeologist who was responsible for the dig at Gobekli Tepe, for so many years, as ‘George’  rather than ‘Klaus’ Schmidt. I can’t imagine why I said that. Klaus Schmidt sadly died in 2014.

Music: “Tam Lin” by Gian Castello

Some questions answered by The Story Archaeologists

From "The Book of Conquests" by Jim Fitspatrick

We regularly receive questions from listeners and readers. We try to answer them as soon as we can but many are well worth exploring in more detail. Here we discuss just three. Firstly there is the problem of ‘coir’, a word that we use regularly in episodes to express an important but complex concept. Another term we frequently use is  ‘poet’ to cover a number of similar roles in early Irish society. In this discussion, Isolde gets to explain about  the many grades of poet that existed, File, Bards, and even Bramble Hounds! The third discussion concerns the thorny issue of who were the Celts, anyway. Join the Story Archaeologist  as they enjoy teasing out a few possible answers.

The Mysteries of Midir: a Samhain Special

Isolde recording


What did happen to Midir? Why does he appear in so few stories? It is a mystery. A murder mystery? Could be. Certainly Midir’s  reputation was usurped and he, himself, seems to have been, effectively,  ‘disappeared!

For a more ‘in depth’ examination of this topic go to:

In Search of Midir 

or In Search of Manannán

This short recording was originally made for an on-line conference hosted by Vyviane Armstrong. The weekend conference was entitled  “Tuatha Dé Danann. Our Tribe and Theirs”. Some of you may have already heard this presentation but, for our other listeners, I thought I would upload the recording. It is good to get Isolde back ‘on the mike’ and your donations have helped her to find new equipment that allow her to record lying down. We hope to record the promised, Q &A very soon.

This was the  seventh conference in the series  ‘A Year With The Gods. There was  a very interesting and varied programme and Isolde and I were delighted to be involved.’ If you would like to know more more about Vviane’s future events, do  contact her for more details.

Vyviane Armstrong
Land Sea Sky Travel


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