A Burning Tradition

1017629_213471375478723_2011213679_nThe procession was somber as the rag-tag group carried the ship through the tent-lined paths to a clearing. There, a woman dressed in a dark linen tunic started a fire with flint and steel.  She used her hand to protect the tenuous flame from the wind until it caught the tender, then her bobbing torchlight led the way through the dusky stillness to the water’s edge.

Though a crowd had gathered, few spoke, as the designated individuals lit their torches from the main flame and set their part of the boat on fire. From time to time, pained sounds escaped, as if someone were trying not to cry and failing. Fragile tendrils of smoke curled into the still air, then a man stepped forward to propel the vessel out into open water. It rode the lake’s small currents, heading for the center.viking-boat-on-fire

This ritual has been going on since Pennsic War 30. (I just came back from 45) So for the last fifteen years, Baron Garwig of the Kingdom of Ealdormere, has been creating a Viking ship to burn in the memory of loved ones lost.viking-ship

I can’t really explain to you how moving it is to have this tangible way to express your grief.  Those who have lost a friend, family member, or beloved pet, come and place mementos such as a favorite collar or piece of jewelry on the craft. The year I lost my grandmother, I put a shield on the lovingly constructed ship, and I was honored to be one of those chosen to carry it to the water’s edge.

viking-ship-lake-picThese special moments are important in our lives. I wanted to share this Pennsic tradition because I think it embodies much that is noble in the human spirit: compassion, a willingness to help, and a desire to remember.

If you want to learn more, Pennsic has its own newspaper, and one of the articles dealt with this subject. http://pennsicindependent.com/node/322  The Pennsic Independent is a great way to discover more about what goes on at ‘war.’

Do any of you have traditions that bring family and friends together? I’d love to hear about them. Until next time… www.Dawn-Ireland.com


Pennsic War Artisans


Every year my husband and I attend Pennsic War. Now, this is not a real battle, but it is a contest between the East and Middle Kingdoms. Let’s just say it’s a huge event, with over ten thousand campers, that is sponsored by the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism.)

One of the things I love about this event are the classes. There are some very talented and knowledgeable people in the SCA and when they come to Pennsic they offer to teach, most of the time for free. I’ve taken classes in: playing the harp, herbs, falconry, metal working, wood carving, basket making, sprang (a one thread weaving method) and more. The aim is to keep alive the skills that were used in history until 1600.971910_213470635478797_99285153_n - Copy

Every day of the event, Artisan Row hosts a discipline, anything from glass blowing to spinning. You can go and chat with the artists and decide if that particular skill is something you’d like to explore. Or you can take a hands-on class. They even have Guilds for people to join that encourage members in their pursuit of interests such a brewing and lace making.

Every year they have a display of the various arts that members have created. They are judged for authenticity, but most of us walk around to admire the beauty of a book that has been illuminated, or a horn that has been carved with detailed figures.

Oh, and the classes can also highlight something you don’t want to do. Case in point, I always thought I’d love to have falcons. But after taking the class, I discovered you have to be with them twenty-four/seven, and feed them cut up pieces of small animals. Of course, the clincher came when my instructor described helping two other men tag a Golden Eagle. The bird broke free and put its talons through my instructor’s forearm. The other two men tried to loosen the bird’s grasp without hurting the animal, but it was impossible. How did my instructor get free? He had to play dead and the bird let go. No, much as I admire the beauty of the birds, falconry is not for me.

If you’re interested in Pennsic War, you can visit: http://www.pennsicwar.org/penn45/

Do any of you attend anything similar, or have classes like this in your area?

If you want to find out more about me and my new time-travel story, Highland Yearning, you can visit www.Dawn-Ireland.com

Grandpa and the Railroad

My grandparents came from Dundee, Scotland. And even though I was very young when grandpa died, I still remember his tall, lanky form, and his fondness for bouncing me on his knee. He was a hard-working man who helped create the rails for the railroad near Altoona, PA. He’d been in this country for five years before he could scrape together enough money to bring my grandmother and their children to join him.

railroad museum Aunt May

Several years ago my Aunt May took us to visit the Railroaders Memorial Museum and Horseshoe Curve in PA. My grandfather is part of a large mural on the third floor of the museum. If you look at the picture of Aunt May, you’ll see she’s standing in front of the wall-size photo. My grandfather is the third from the right with an open-at-the-neck shirt and a cap. Below is what my other aunt wrote on the back of the picture.railroad museum back






Of course, while we were there Aunt May had to take us to Horseshoe Curve. This was a very important stretch of rail that connected our county, and had been a marvel of technology in its day.  We even took the Funicular up to the track for a spectacular view.


The Horseshoe Curve was so important that the Nazis had it on a list to be destroyed during the war. At one point, the threat became dire and my grandfather was asked to join a line of men that stood within arms-reach of each other at night to protect the curve.  Each man was issued a Billy Club, and my husband is now the proud owner of that bit of weaponry.

We never know what part we’ll play in history.  My latest story is a time travel romance, set in the Highlands before the Clearances. The heroine comes from our time, and she does what she can to help the Mackays before they are driven from their homeland.

I hope you’ll read Highland Yearning. It’s the first book I’ve written where I include a dog, a West Highland Terrier-mix named Scruffy. He may be a little, white dog, but what he lacks in size, he makes up for in personality. Find my books at www.Dawn-Ireland.com.





This last weekend, I had a conversation with a swan. Okay, so it was a one-sided conversation, but the swan appeared to be listening. I was on a bay with some friends and a swan family came to within 12 feet of me.  As they floated nearby, I had the impression the male wanted to show off his cygnets. Most of the young were gray balls of fluff, although two were white.

swans2 6-11-16

Now, I don’t know how many of you have been around swans, but they are much bigger than geese and a bit intimidating. They will drive other animals out of their territory by coming up out of the water and flapping wings that can be ten feet across. Later that day, we heard the distinctive whoosh of the wings from inside the cottage and I was glad I hadn’t done anything to annoy our early afternoon visitor.

This wasn’t the first time I’d seen swans. I was fortunate enough to visit Bruge, Belgium where the regal birds are a reminder of an unfortunate decision. In fourteen eighty-eight the citizens of Bruge put to death Pieter Lanchals, a town administrator for Maximilian of Austria. When the king discovered what they’d done, he ordered the people to care for the swans on the lakes and canals for eternity. The punishment was fitting, as a swan was a part of Pieter’s coat of arms.

The swans have become a wonderful element of Bruge, along with the lovely city center, which has remained basically unchanged since the sixteenth century.  When I visited, the downtown was alive with wedding parties. It’s a favorite picture hot-spot with its stone buildings and canals, as well as home to an amazing bobbin lace industry.

Bruge, swans2

This fairy tale location is perfect for swans. And the majestic birds are the center of many a tale, from stories such as the Irish “Children of Lir” to Hans Christen Andersen’s “The Ugly Duckling.” Some of the legends have even been the basis for phrases we use often. A swan’s song comes from the belief that a mute swan will sing a beautiful song at its death.

Mmmm, The Ugly Duckling. I haven’t written a romance with that theme. Maybe it’s time. After all, swans understand soulmates, they pair bond for life.

To learn more about me and the stories I like to tell, visit www.Dawn-Ireland.com. My newest release, Highland Yearning is available for pre-order. I had fun writing this light-hearted time travel set in 1775.