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Tintagel. Ghosts of Destiny and Desire, with Margo Williams.

Tintagel is forever linked with King Arthur and Druid Merlin. Legend claimed it was here he magicked Uther's enemy Gorlias into his likeness to fool wife Queen Igraine. From lovemaking a child was born, Arthur.
Photo image of Tintagel Castle, Cornwall
Tntagel Castle, Cornwall

On Merlin and What Happened to the Druids

Druid Merlin's grandparents probably cheered as the Roman army legions sailed away from the British isles, when the empire foundered in 410 AD.

Emperor Tiberius had outlawed Druidism early in the first century. Suppressing "all the herd of prophets and medicine-men," as 1st century author and naturalist Pliny described them writing on the subject of magic. By the 400s there were none left in Britain south of Hadrian's Wall.

Many of the old outlawed Celtic priesthood sheltered in Ireland. Like Scotland, a land far too dangerous for any Roman general's logistics. Rome's soldiers feared the peoples of that most western island we call Ireland. Rightly so.

Tintagel, the Fortress of the Narrow Entrance provided time for retreating Celts to escape across the sea to Ireland. There Druids continued in their old ways, minded the seasons and the stars, brewed, dried and tended the necessaries for health in the community.

Provided education for the young in the college networks, dealt with disputes and crime. Taught how not to be afraid of death, because it was just a sting and reunions happened all the time in the hereafter.

Even general Julius Caesar respected the Celts ferocity in battle but not their mastery of tactics. Druids didn't teach battlefield management systems and so were easily defeated by disciplined war-hardened Roman legions.

But in Ireland they thrived until competition arrived from a new priestly order influenced by Rome.

The experience of King Diarmuid mac Caerbhaill and the cursing of Tara in Ireland is often cited as the reason why the last of the old Celtic empire failed. In less than 24 hours.

King Diarmuid and the Bishop's Curse

The account, believed to have been given by one of those present in Tara, is based on a translation of an old manuscript found in Lismore Castle, by S.H. Ogrady, "Silva Gadelica".

A hundred years or so after Saint Patrick cleared away all the snakes from Ireland, King Diarmuid mac Caerbhaill (Dermot Mackerval) ruled the country. High King, Ard Righ. His throne stood on the sacred hill of Tara, in Meath.

King Diarmuid mac Caerbhaill saw opportunity.

Image of bearded male face for actor in story of King Dermot Mckerval
Left: "The Beguiling of Merlin" by Edward Burne-Jones. Right: King Diarmuid mac Caerbhaill .

King Diarmuid mulled long and hard on the idea in his head. Turned it over every which way, pros and cons; and then waited some months more before launching his invitation to the five chieftains of the Irish people.

Diarmuid wrote on an invite sent to each.

"Come to Tara and discuss ideas for forming an Irish nation."

Unfortunately it so happened, after delivering that invitation to chieftain Hugh Gairy, the king's messenger unexpectedly fell into a ditch and never got up again.

Receiving no response, as he had from everyone else, the King sent soldiers to fetch Hugh Guairy to explain why the nasty accident happened so close to his gate.

Hugh Guairy didn't want to answer questions, and found sanctuary in the house of a saint, Ruadan of Lorrha, a sort-of-distant relative via a bishop. Understandably Ruadan protected his kin from the king's officers when they came knocking on the door. When second time they hammered harder and didn't wait for answer Lorrha showed them where Guairy was hidden.

Alarm! Alarm! Alarm! in Ireland

The bishop and the saint immediately sounded alarm to all the brethren; reminding them that a king, although powerful, did not have the power to arrest a man under Christian church protection. They sent word of summons to a protest. The call was answered by a small caravan of holy men. They arrived at Tara, and immediately set about fasting outside the castle gate.

The legend tells of how later that night the Queen awoke before dawn, and noticed her husband lay eyes-open staring at the ceiling. She told him of a vivid dream that came from the darkness. "Husband," she sighed. "I had such a dream."

Diarmuid turned to listen.

Image of decorative letter I

"I dreamed of a wide-leafed tree on Tara's green hill. And eleven slaves hacking at it. But every chip they hewed from its trunk returned instantly to its place again."

"Good sign," whispered Diarmuid.

The queen turned her head, eye-ball to eye-ball with the King.

"A man came and dealt the tree a single stroke, one cut laid it low."

"Ruadan?" asked Diarmuid.

What to Do About Fasting Magic?

The king washed and dressed, and strode silently through the great halls of Tara. He climbed the steps above the castle gate and watched from the ramparts the black-robed shapes below festooned around his doorstep; wailing and praying with arms stretched upwards.

The castle guards had taken to casting down stale bread and old meat, in an effort to break the dark magic of the fast and so dispel its effect. Debris of food now lay strewn about the castle gate where in the morning mist the black robed figures wailed and cawed like monstrous crows. 

King Diarmuid could stand it no more, he roared from the ramparts, "Will ye no give it a rest?"

A dark figure twitched and gaped up at the battlements, "Is that you, Mackerval?" To which question erupted a great caterwauling of priests praying and wailing to God to do something about Guairy's arrest.

King Diarmuid threw down the succulent remains of the chicken leg on which he breakfasted, and immediately the fasting brothers down below frenzied about the scrap. "Alas for this iniquitous contest that ye have waged against me," he sighed. "Seeing that it is Ireland’s good that I pursue, and to preserve her discipline and royal right."

The king stared into the distance, didn't want to think of the obvious consequence but stated it anyway like that would do some good. "But 'tis Ireland's unpeace that ye endeavour after,’ roared disappointed Diarmuid mac Caerbhaill.

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The Bishop's Curse

Ruadan, furious at seeing his fast protest so easily broken, rose to his feet. Chest heaved beneath his black robe as he sent a curse toward the king in grave and scary voice: "Hear this, high king," two words smeared in withering scorn, "Desolate be Tara, for ever and ever."

A chorus of assent hissed from the brotherhood gathered on the steps of Tara.

Understandably, scene-builders like to decorate that sombre moment with something like how King Diarmuid mac Caerbhaill saw the sky crack open to ferocious lightning blast and earth-shaking boom thunder clap to follow.

And maybe it did, as the high king of Ireland conceded defeat.

The Moral of the Story?

Guairy was released. Tara was abandoned, and Ireland has been divided ever since.*" explained mythbuster T.W. Rolleston in his must-read Celtic Myths and Legends. (Senate)

"Except for a brief space when a strong usurper, Brian Boru, fought his way to power, Ireland knew no effective secular government till it was imposed on her by a conqueror."

Cursologists rightly understand why the high king of Ireland yielded to a troupe of fasting holy-men. Diarmuid believed the bishops had supernatural powers. A Celtic king always bowed and yielded to a Druid priest. Diarmuid assumed the same applied to the Christians.

And before long, so they did.

Image of decorative illustraion of fountain and dragons.

Hey Presto!

Magic happened.

Soon after the conversion of Ireland to Christianity,

"We find the country covered with monasteries, whose complete organisation seems to indicate that they were really Druidic colleges transformed en masse."

Rolleston cites Bertrand in "L'Irlande Celtique" in Religion de Gaulois':

"Such an organisation would pass into Christianity of the type established in Ireland with very little difficulty," continued Rolleston.

"The belief in magical rites would survive - early Irish Christianity was as steeped in magical ideas as ever was Druidic paganism. The belief in immortality would remain, as before, the cardinal doctrine of religion."

Above all the sacerdotal order over the temporal power would remain unimpaired; it would still be true, as Dion Chrysostom said of the Druids: "It is they who command, and kings on thrones of gold, dwelling in splendid palaces, are but their ministers, and the servants of their thought." Quoted by Bertrand.

Image of decorative letter T

Tension between king and clergy is an old destiny and desire issue, it seems.

The Camelot Castle Hotel Ghost

Paranormalists who stay the night in Tintagel's edge-of-the-Cornish cliff behemoth of a haunted hotel, the Camelot Castle - formerly the King Arthur's Castle hotel - wonder if this accounts for why the Celtic tales are best preserved in the Irish cyclic sagas.

Tales long, short and tall from all over the world now are told in its bar and bedrooms. Hollywood stars stayed here filming Knights of the Round Table; Robert Taylor and Ava Gardener among the suggestions for the white-gloved ghost sometimes seen on the staircase to the bar.

Or maybe Sir Laurence Olivier's eternal performance of Dracula. The ghost in the hotel is no knight in shining armour, so scared staff complained.

Thank you for your company on this short tour of mysteries and legend. If you would like to know more about Margo Williams' investigations at Tintagel and other matters of destiny and desire, read this book. Now available from Amazon.

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Book cover link to purchase Ghost Encounters Destiny and Desire from amazon.co.uk
Book novw available from Amazon
Useful links

Tintagel Castle

Hill of Tara

Camelot Castle Hotel