Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Talking to Artists 1: JG O'Donoghue

Above: JG O’Donoghue, Mid-Late Iron Age Gael
This is the first in a new series here at In a Dark Wood. There is a lot of fantastic art being lovingly crafted all over the world celebrating ancient myths, ancient civilsations and ancient handicrafts and traditions and the Internet has become a fantastic forum for that art. I plan to speak to a number of these artists, to ask them about what they do, and how and why they do it.
Recently I had the great pleasure and privilege of discovering the artwork of JG O’Donoghue on Etsy. JG’s beautifully wrought works evoke, as he himself says, “wider issues of Irish existence and identity, such as language, history, typography and archaeology.” In short, “What once was, fascinates me” and to us here in the Dark Wood, that says it all.
1. What inspires you about the past?
What inspires me is the different ways of being and living than we have now, they weren’t inferior to us, or less sophisticated, in some ways they would be superior to us. Another reason is the past’s huge influence on our daily lives, the way it tells us who we are culturally, nationalistically, linguistically, even spiritually. Even for those who don’t care much for history, they live their lives according to past philosophies, they watch movies and read books that tell stories informed by history, listen to music tempered and morphed by historical events, how they talk, what they talk are influenced by the past, they enter historical buildings, walk down ancient streets, there is no avoiding the past, it is everywhere but often subtle, underneath, in many ways you could say there is no such thing as past, as it is always there in the present.

Above: JG O’Donoghue, Ogham Tree - Eadhadh
2. What inspires you about the standing stones, which seem to be a big feature of your work?
One is the locations, their builders had a great eye for picking the right spot, beautiful vistas usually surround them, there is something spiritual there, even for the unreligious, that still impresses to this day. I’m influenced by the place I live too, as Cork and Kerry are one of the most important areas in Europe for later megalithic monuments, it was this region that was the main source of Copper for Bronze age Ireland and Ireland as a whole has the second largest amount of megalithic monuments in Europe, second only to France.
It inspires me also the way the megalithic builders approached religion differently too, or at least how I see it, christianity and modern western culture puts people first, it alters the landscape and world to fit our needs, at the cost of everything else, while the megalithic builders used what was there as their cathedral. The fundamentals of their religion seem to be the focus on the earth and the sky, the former with the stones, and the latter with the various alignments and a combination of the two, connecting the heavens to the world below. But we still have to imagine the finer details of their religion, it is a great mystery, an echo of what they believed might be in early Irish mythology which suggests these places are seen as liminal, places of transition, a threshold from one point of existence to another, from our world to the spirit world.
3. Can you tell me about your depiction of the Irish language as connected to trees and the sea?
What better way to describe a language and to show its connection to the land around it, than the ancient forests of Ireland, mostly gone now, replaced by new man made landscapes, or an Island which stands for thousands of years but is slowly worn away by the tide. These are reflected in the Irish language, that is as native to this land as those trees, as old if not older, but as endangered and as diminished. Irish is the third oldest written language, after Latin and Greek, in Europe, and as a verbal language may even be older than both of those languages, it has been through attempted extermination, horrible conflicts and inflictions and yet it still lives.
I suppose some would say what does a local issue like the survival of the Irish language have to do with them, but I believe in the local you get the global, the national is the international. In this example, 98% of the world’s languages are spoken by 1 or 2% of the world’s population, the shrinking of linguistic diversity is an international issue. After saying all that the underlining message in my illustrations is a positive one, the sun is rising for a new day as the Irish language I believe can make a comeback, and this is exactly what is happening all over the country, and being done by far more dedicated and better people than myself.
4. Can you tell me more about Islander Art?
Islander art is a collective of artists that I co-founded, we essentially run an online interactive gallery. We are from the islands of Ireland and Britain because of this we are mostly an online collective, centred around a blog, where each member has their own day of the week they post their work on each week. Islander Art provides us all, I think, with certain things that we lack in our professions, one is a community to belong to; as the name of the group suggests, illustration and art are lonely professions so islanders creates a community where we get to interact, network, get feedback, encouragement, and critique from our peers. As we do this we promote ourselves individually as well as a group, from online social media to real world exhibitions, this all allows us to gain new ways of connecting with the wider world too.

Above: JG O’Donoghue, Cullaun standing stone
Above: JG O’Donoghue, Raheen-a-Cluig
5. Do you plan to do more with the 3-D comic on your website?
The 3D comic was a project I did for my masters, it took me over a year, with the writing of it and the production and all the rest. It hadn’t been done before, well not that I know of, so it was an uphill struggle without knowing where it would end up and no people to point you in the right way. So I tried it out, but unfortunately I found that 3D is wholly unsuitable and too work intensive for comics, well it is in its present form I think, but in the end I learned a lot from it but I have no plans to continue it or use it in the future.

Above: JG O’Donoghue, “Ardrah Stone Row”
6. What attracted you to the Ogham trees?
I love trees, I find them to be beautiful in their own right with complex shapes and bends, and each tree an individual and unique. If you notice nearly every European culture has a tree central to its beliefs, for instance the world tree that created all life in Indo-European cultures like Germanic, Celtic and Latin. Even nowadays it is central to the most important holiday of the western world, Christmas. Another attraction was Ogham itself, which is Ireland's first form of writing, judged to be between 1,600 to 2,000 years old, and the most unique aspect of it is that each letter was named after a tree. This idea shows the importance Trees held for the early Irish, each tribe or tuatha in Ireland had its own sacred tree, this was also where the kings of the tuatha were inaugurated, and this tree symbolised the world tree as well as the clans’ security and integrity.
Each tree has a lot of stories or meaning, like for instance Oak has played a major role in Celtic culture, the word most associated with Celts, "druid" comes from the Proto-Indo-European root dru, meaning "oak", the Irish word for oak "dair" comes from this root. Another is Aspen which is called Crann Creathach in modern Irish (Crann meaning tree, Creathach meaning to quiver, vibrate or shake), and in Ogham it’s called Eadhadh, which comes from ed uath, meaning horrible grief/terror, both are fitting as the loose toothed leaves of the tree tremble with the slightest breeze, this can often make a spooky rustling sound, appearing out of nowhere in a calm day as if whispering. I feel knowing the name of trees, their story and properties makes them come alive in a whole new way, knowing trees opens a world to you as does reading and writing, knowing both makes your life that much more fuller.

Above: JG O’Donoghue, “The Irish Language Forest/An Coill Teanga Gaeilge”
Thank you so much JG for sharing your wonderful art and ideas with us.
You can find JG online at :

Or contact him at:
Please note that all images are protected by copyright and remain the property of JG O’Donoghue.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Sorry for falling a little bit quiet in this corner of the Woods for a day or two. I was a-roaming elsewhere last week and this week I have very cleverly managed to develop a chest infection so, as we say here in Australia, I am currently not feeling too flash.

Nevertheless, I have goodies a-plenty planned for the shop which I am busily working on, inspired as I have been by a great slew of craft books I bought while I was away. More on that shortly.

In the meanwhile, here is a gorgeous music clip I have just discovered by Bon Iver. I am blown away by the beauty of the location - Iceland - and I would so love to be that little boy, wandering wherever my whim took me in such a magical place. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

as if he were an idea instead of the grass

Image from

Straight Talk From Fox
by Mary Oliver
Listen says fox it is music to run
over the hills to lick
dew from the leaves to nose along
the edges of the ponds to smell the fat
ducks in their bright feathers but
far out, safe in their rafts of
sleep. It is like
music to visit the orchard, to find
the vole sucking the sweet of the apple, or the
rabbit with his fast-beating heart. Death itself
is a music. Nobody has ever come close to
writing it down, awake or in a dream. It cannot
be told. It is flesh and bones
changing shape and with good cause, mercy
is a little child beside such an invention. It is
music to wander the black back roads
outside of town no one awake or wondering
if anything miraculous is ever going to
happen, totally dumb to the fact of every
moment's miracle. Don't think I haven't
peeked into windows. I see you in all your seasons
making love, arguing, talking about God
as if he were an idea instead of the grass,
instead of the stars, the rabbit caught
in one good teeth-whacking hit and brought
home to the den. What I am, and I know it, is
responsible, joyful, thankful. I would not
give my life for a thousand of yours.

This is a beautiful poem by the wonderful American poet, Mary Oliver. I found a copy of it on my desk in amongst some papers yesterday, and wanted to share it with you today.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Home Sweet Home

This is a modern reconstruction of a Crannog at Loch Tay in Scotland.
Image from Wikipedia.

I was glued to Neil Oliver's A History of Celtic Britain last night - first for the segments on art, decoration and jewellery, and then for the amazing Crannog structures in Scotland. I had never heard of them before but they were - to my layperson's understanding! - essentially long houses built on raised stump foundations above water. They look beautiful. When Neil Oliver and another academic talking head were gathered around the fire and the cooking pot in a Crannog, I wanted to climb right into the TV set!

Image from (which looks like a really interesting site - I've just discovered it!)

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Viking Cat is not Happy


Image from

I am having huge problems with Blogger at the moment. On this blog and some that I visit, I can't leave (or reply to!) comments. The 'comments' page just disappears. Can anyone shed any light on this? Thanks.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Image from

I am in love with these shoes. They are based on shoes worn during the Viking period and... I.want.some. I have found instructions online for how to make them ( but for someone who is only just starting to come to terms with their sewing machine, the idea of making my own shoes kind of freaks me out a little. On the other hand, it would be a great achievement to make my own shoes and also they do look relatively (deceptively?) easy - kind of like an elongated version of a suede coin pouch I bought while I was in Germany last year. There is always the coward's way out, of course...I've found an equally lovely pair on Etsy (

Do you like them? Would you have a go at making them yourself? Perhaps you've already done it?

Friday, February 3, 2012

Knitting up the ravelled sleeve of care

One of the many things I did discover while we were in Scandinavia was the long history of knitting there. Be it single-needle knitting (Nalbinding) or complex patterns (each one particular to an area), knitting has had a big role to play. Given the nature of a Scandinavian winter, this seems entirely reasonable to me! I have been knitting madly myself lately, very much enjoying working some big and snuggly stitches on my 10mm needles (above and below). Stay tuned for the finished product!

Look at this wonderful piece of ancient knitting.
Image source:

Some gorgeous examples of the particularly Icelandic knit, available for sale on Etsy at Tekoop.
Image source:

More from Tekoop
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A lovely example of a boot worked in Nalbinding.
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And one more from Tekoop - I couldn't resist! Tekoop

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Wanted: One Dream House

Image from - originally from

Do you ever daydream about where you'd live if you could choose anywhere in the world? I do sometimes. My good friend Bodecea over at Bodeceas Palaver ( sent me the link to an amazing Tumblr site this morning chockful of some wonderful images. If you are interested in all things Nordic (as well as a lot else besides), definitely check out Wyrd Sister (

Image from originally from

So. My dream house? Well, Mystical Real Estate Agent, I require:

  1. Isolation
  2. Amazing Scenery
  3. The house must be made of wood

Oh, and money is no object :) Chop, chop, my good man. Go out and find my house!

Image from - originally from

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Capturing the past

These are some beautiful images of wood-carving I took when we were in Norway last June. The one above is from the door of the stave church at Holmenkollen (near Oslo) and below is one of the stunning doors at the stave church at the Norsk Folkmuseum (Oslo). This is a 13th century church which was incorporated into the Museum in 1907. Inside, it was so dark and mystical, and yet inviting too.

I still only have a couple of our holiday photos actually printed and framed! There's so many that I love and which bring back such happy memories but shoving them into a photo album as I have done after so many trips before seems kind of pointless and boring. What do you usually do with your holiday snaps?


I have just borrowed from our local library The Silbury Treasure: The Great Goddess Rediscovered by Michael Dames and The Living Goddesses by Marija Gimbutas. Flicking through the former before bed last night, they both promise to be very interesting. Have you read them? Do you have any favourite books on the Neolithic period or Goddess worship?