Tír na nÓg are the islands of everlasting youth and beauty, not unlike Peter Pan’s fictional Neverland.
Populated by gods and spirits who no longer have any connection to our world, it is possible for humans to visit, although returning is not usually easy due to the different way in which time passes there. The stories passed down to us about past visitors usually relate that anybody returning from Tír na nÓg will find that it is later than they thought, with all their friends and family long dead of old age.
Pliny The Elder warns us that it is not a flawless paradise either as “These islands are greatly annoyed by the putrefying bodies of monsters, which are constantly thrown up by the sea”.
Although the islands can be glimpsed shrouded with mist in the sea, they cannot be reached by water, despite occasional sightings of them in the distance, distinguished by the large black rabbits populating their shores.
Despite the instructions given of “Second on the right, and straight on until morning”, the usual route is via groves of birch trees in the forest.
If you wish to make that journey, find a group of birch trees in a quiet spot. Take a piece of birch bark as it peels away from the trunk, and write your name on it with the end of a charred birch twig.
Bury it in the centre of the grove, and spend as much time as you can there, until the time comes when the door opens, and you can step through.
Spending quiet time in a birch grove is never wasted time, as these are trees sacred to the Welsh goddess Blodenwedd, who has dual aspects of owls and flowers.
She is very sympathetic to spurned lovers and those who have been hurt by unfaithful partners. If you feel any resentment or anger because you have been crossed in love, either now or in the past, sit alone for a while with your back against a birch tree. This will help channel your bitterness into a more positive energy, and help you gain wisdom from your experiences due to her influence.
Keep your eyes peeled for the fly-agaric mushroom(the red & white spotted fungus of all good fairy-tales), which grow exclusively on the roots of either pine or birch trees.
During the sap season, which usually falls on the last two weeks of March, you can derive a delicious, nutritious drink from the birch tree. All you need is a drill, a short length of rubber tubing, and an empty bottle to catch the liquid.
Find the largest tree available, and after whispering a quiet pleaseandthankyou to Blodenwedd, drill a hole through the bark into the wood. You will tell immediately if the sap is rising, because a trickle of liquid will begin to run from the hole. Push the tubing into the hole, so that it catches the sap flow, and place the other end into the neck of the bottle.
The bottle should gradually fill up with a clear liquid with a faint sweet mineral taste. After you remove the tube, be careful to plug the hole with a clean, firm piece of stick.
This has been widely touted as a health drink, loaded with vitamins and minerals, but you should not overlook its magical significance. The Druids were believed to have used the sap to make a spiritual cup for the celebration of the Spring Equinox.
You can also find bottled sap in the soft drink section of some shops if you are lucky, or order it online.
Then, you can make an Equinox cocktail from a blend of birch sap and St Germaine elderflower liqueur for your own celebrations.
1 shot St Germaine liqueur
1 teaspoon of honey
A pinch of ground clove
Lemon peel to garnish
1 teaspoon lime juice
Combine the liqueur, honey, clove and juice with ice in a chilled shaker and agitate vigorously until well combined. Strain into a cocktail glass and top up with birch sap.
Toss the drink back into the shaker with fresh ice and agitate again. Strain back into the glass and garnish with a spiral or strip of lemon peel, grating a little lemon peel over the top of the drink with a pinch of ginger.
This would be an appropriate drink for either Ostara or Beltane festivities, due to its elements of both the birch tree and the new Spring, and the flower connection which comes into play in the Summer.
As the lifeblood of the tree flows into you, feel yourself become stronger, more flexible, and more firmly rooted. You may note an aphrodisiac effect, especially on male imbibers.
As you clink glasses, hoot like an owl to pay homage to Blodenwedd’s owl aspect.