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Ireland’s native star names and night sky folklore explored in public lecture

18 Aug 2023
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Zodiac signs may be the modern go-to for astrological reference, but centuries ago Ireland had its own native understanding of the heavens – a tradition that will be explored in a fascinating public lecture at University College Cork.

RTÉ and TG4 journalist Seán Mac an tSithigh will present a talk on old Irish star names, origin legends and folk beliefs relating to stars at UCC on 24 August at 6.00pm in Boole 1.

In  ‘Celestial Echoes: The Night Sky in Irish Folklore’, Mr Mac an tSíthigh will draw on old manuscripts and his own fieldwork to explore aspects of the night sky in Irish folklore.

While Greek and Roman traditions may dominate our interpretation of the constellations today, the Irish once had their own native understanding of the heavens. In this talk old Irish star names, origin legends and folk beliefs relating to stars will be revealed, offering an imaginative rendering of the night sky and its forgotten tradition.

The talk part of the Irish National Astronomy Meeting 2023 (INAM 2023) which will be hosted by the School of Physics, UCC on 24 and 25 August.

Speaking before the event Seán Mac an tSithigh commented:

"Much of the lore which I will be presenting was gathered in the Irish speaking areas of Ireland during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. It was collected before the age of electrification, from a generation which retained an intimate relationship with the night sky, along with a rich oral culture.

“In the manuscripts of the Irish Folklore Commission we find the stars having practical functions but they also hold deeper cosmological meaning. Whether they were used as weather signs, portents of ill-fate or messengers of superstition during childbirth, it is clear that astronomical movements were central to how communities understood their immediate environment and how they imagined their future.

“While a living tradition has almost been completely lost, the old star-names and surviving lore can help us unlock the beauty of the Irish night sky, revealing a colourful mosaic of personalities and imagery, and hopefully offering us the opportunity to revive and reclaim a native tradition,” he said

Professor Paul Callanan, Head, School of Physics, UCC added:

“We are indebted to Seán and his efforts to record the Irish oral heritage of the night sky, preserving cultural traditions that would otherwise be lost in the midst of time. Everyone is welcome to what will be a unique and illuminating presentation from Seán."

INAM 23 is organised by the Astronomical Society of Ireland and will showcase the exciting work being carried out by researchers from the island of Ireland in partnership with international collaborators.

Topics under discussion will include galactic cosmic rays, habitable planets, massive black holes, and the astronomical observatories of Ireland.

Attendance to the talk by Seán Mac an tSithigh is free and open to the public. Register here.


University College Cork

Coláiste na hOllscoile Corcaigh

College Road, Cork T12 K8AF