So, out of curiosity and a vague intuition that the five fifths of Ireland correspond in some way to an ancient form of time keeping, I’ve been ringing some changes on the ‘Gaelic Clock’ I found in Cath Maigh Rath. Expanding this system out onto the day and remembering both the Coligny Calendar’s system of dividing units of time into dark and light halves and that early Celtic numeracy possibly used base twenty, I put together a system for the day that seems to some degree reasonable.
My first thought was to set twenty ‘hours’ in the day (making each effectively 72 minutes – appealing), but something didn’t feel right. I then decided that these twenty hours could be divided into five quarters with an extra sixth hour operating as a ‘non-hour’ or sacred hour at the times of dusk, mid-night, dawn and mid-day – paralleling the quarter festivals. This felt right as these hours are easy to percieve in natural settings, but one problem is that the four solar events (sunset, the more difficult to percieve midnight, sunrise and solar noon) would then fall in the MIDDLE of the hour – a tough one to calculate if the hour has five parts.
This brings us back to the Gaelic clock. This clock has two forms of organization: a four- and five-part (quarters and fifths) mapped over the hour simultaneously. The day could operate the same way, but it doesn’t ‘feel’ right. I like the five-hour quarters with four liminal hours. Of course I am trying to avoid a base-six hour (as ours is today) as this came in form Roman calculations through Christianity. I suppose I’ve already broken this rule by allowing essentially a twenty-four hour day.
hm … ok, let’s back up.
Getting back to my fifths-of-Ireland thing, my idea was that, standing on the Hill of Uisneach at the spiritual heart of Ireland (and not far from the geographic heart either) one could concieve of a five-fold division of time in which, looking up at the sky and thus out past the horizon, celestial events would fall into five fifths of the night (or daytime) sky. These then would be our initial five fifths – the regions radiating out from Uisnech according to the placement of the spatial heavens as viewed throught the passage of night and day (each fifth getting one fifth of night and day). The problem is figuring out in which direction lies the ‘point’ of the fifths – concieving the division of fifths as a star – which way is the star pointing? Does it change according to the sunrise, moonrise … or perhaps it is oriented along the sunrise at the winter solstice (a la New Grange)? If such is the case then the liminal hours can only really be divided along their light and dark halves. Otherwise, placing the point of the hour’s star at the sunrise, the beginning of the hour falls half-way through it’s third fifth and the only other option .i. reversing the alignment, the key moment (sunrise, set etc.) falls half way through the third fifth.
Looking at time from this angle, then, the extra hours at dusk and dawn fall into a nether period without the fivefold division of the hour…
but apparently the gods of hour and star don’t wish me to pursue this further at the moment. I must continue later.