Clonegal Castle - Foundation Centre of the Fellowship of Isis
Clonegal Castle is the site of the Fellowship of Isis Foundation Centre. It is the ancestral home of the Durdin-Robertson family.
Clonegal Castle, Foundation Centre of the Fellowship of Isis
Photo, left: Clonegal Castle, Temple of Isis entrance, Barbara Westlake.Clonegal Castle is the home of the original FOI Headquarters, known as the Foundation Centre of the Fellowship of Isis. It is located in County Carlow, in the southeast of Ireland, between the Wicklow Mountains and the Blackstair Range. The nearest village to the castle is named Bunclody, which comes from "Bun Clodie" meaning "the bottom of the Clody", because the river Clody meets the river Slaney nearby. The castle is referred to as "Huntington Castle" for non-FOI related matters and activities.The castle is situated within a valley laced with rivers and encircled by hills and a beautiful violet mountain. This mountain is named Mount Leinster. It is the highest mountain in County Carlow and the tallest of the Blackstairs Mountains. At the foot of Mount Leinster is a local landmark called "Nine Stones" where beautiful views of the surrounding lowlands can be enjoyed. According to tradition, these nine small stones are said to commemorate nine shepherds who were lost there in a winter storm.
Photo, left: View of the Slaney River, near Clonegal Castle.Within this valley the river Slaney meets another river, the Derry, whose name means ‘oak’. The name of the river Slaney (slainte) means ‘healing.’ The geographic area where these two rivers converge forms a triangular piece of land, known as the “Macha” or the “Crow’s Foot.” Macha is one of the many manifestations of the Irish Mother Goddess. There is a long and rich tradition of matriarchal centers in this area of Ireland.
At one time a primeval forest stretched from the Macha all the way to Dublin. Traces of this forest still remain near the gap of Coppenagh near White Mountain, at Ballyredmond Wood, at Altamont and some of the oak woods of the Coollattin Estate. It is from this primeval oak forest that the river Derry derives it’s name.
The shrines in Clonegal Castle are located in the lower level of the edifice. They are called collectively “The Temple of Isis.” They consist of twenty-six shrines set in a winding pattern throughout the main sanctuary. Within the chapel is a nave, a high altar and a chapel of Brigid, which is situated near a Neolithic well, named Brighid’s Well. The water of this well is famous for it's healing properties. There are also twelve shrines dedicated to the twelve signs of the Zodiac, five chapels dedicated to the etheric or magical elements of earth, air , fire, water and spirit. Additional shrines are set up within this basic group.
A line of lime trees forms Front Avenue, which is situated on the castle grounds and leads to the entrance to the Temple. It acts as a kind of rainbow bridge between the mundane world and the atmosphere of intuitive spiritual awareness that permeates the castle shrines, where so many have experienced other realms and received messages and visions of the goddess.
Photo, left: The gate at the end of the Avenue of Lime Trees, which line the approach to Clonegal Castle.
To one side of the avenue of trees lies the Bullawn Stone, an ancient round megalith with a carved hollowed center that collects rainwater. Local people still come to draw water from the stone to cure ailments. Just beyond the Bullawn, in a spot near the Front Avenue, a meteorite fell to earth at the end of the 19th century. It is recorded that the meteorite glowed for two years and provided a warm perch for local crows, who are the avian messengers of the Morrigan, one of the major goddesses of Ireland.
The gardens on the grounds of Clonegal Castle are believed to be the second oldest in all of Ireland. One of the highlights is a grapevine brought as a cutting from the famous vine in the garden of Hampton Court that was planted for Anne Boleyn.
Photo, left: Conservatory with grapevine. Photo courtesy of Olivia Robertson.
North of the gardens, beyond the courtyard walls lie the ruins of an old Abbey which may have been used by Franciscan monks or may have been part of an Augustinian Abbey of Abbeydown, which is now located two miles to the East. There are no written records of the date of the original building, but it is believed the ruins are approximately six hundred years old.
Photo, left: Old Abbey ruins taken by Paul Ramses in the early 1980's.Just outside of the castle grounds lies the famous Avenue of Yew trees. These trees are believed to have been planted by the same monks that built the old Abbey over six hundred years ago. The avenue is formed by 120 English Yew Trees and is 130 yards long. The eastern and southern corners of the Avenue of Yew Trees were trimmed many years ago to provide a view from Clonegal Castle. The Yews on the lawn were originally trimmed into shaped topiaries, first as cups and then as balls. Eventually they were allowed to grow in their natural shape.The Avenue of Yew Trees is one of the most famous features on the castle grounds. Yew trees are evergreen and very long-lived, their manner of growth is unique. It is because of this that Yew-trees became a symbol of life ever-renewed. The branches of these trees grow down onto the ground, and then form new stems, which spring up around the original, central tree to eventually form a series of densely intertwined trunks and boughs. The young saplings of the Yew tree come forth from the old - a naturally occurring illustration of the concept of rebirth. In folklore it became known as the "tree of resilience.” The Yew is one of the five sacred trees brought from the Otherworld, one of the Seven Chieftain Trees listed in Brehon Law, and one of the nine sacred trees used for kindling the need-fires of Beltane.
Photo, left: Loreon Vigne (in black cape) walks beside FOI Co-Founder Lawrence Durdin-Robertson along the Avenue of Yew Trees, early 1980s. Besides being the location of the Foundation Centre of the Fellowship of Isis, Clonegal Castle is the ancestral home of Lawrence Durdin-Robertson and Olivia Robertson. Castle tours are conducted and arrangements to meet with Olivia or view the shrines of the Temple of Isis can be made by appointment.
FOI Co-Founder Olivia Robertson prays and meditates daily in the castle shrines. The Temple of Isis at Clonegal Castle brings to reality the vision of an ancient temple of the mysteries. It is a vital, working temple, filled with beautiful artwork, rich colours, healing, divine presence and love for all of creation.
The shrines were created by Olivia and her brother Lawrence in the old Anglican chapel of the castle to establish groups for Goddess based rituals, which became the Fellowship of Isis Liturgy. They had discovered that the energy raised through ritual could spread rays of healing and goodwill throughout the world. FOI members began to travel to the castle to take part in the rituals, at first a handful, but the numbers of attendees rapidly grew.
Olivia writes: "I used to issue a hundred invitations to members and about 20 would come. Now I issue none and they come, new faces, babies to be baptized from the well, old friends from overseas. And our mute swans are still there, with unclipped wings, gliding in pairs amidst flowery weeds and rising high above glittering water of our river Derry (Daire) River of the Druids."