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IMBOLC

Imbolc is that time of year when the ewe's milk comes - which is precisely the meaning given in Sanas Cormaic’ - a 9th Century glossary, said to have been written by King Cormac of Cashel. A festival marking the beginning of spring has been celebrated since ancient times. Midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, it can fall between the 2nd & 7th of February.

The Imbolc festival celebrates the Celtic goddess Danu (also known as Brigid). You may have heard Christian stories associated with St. Bridget, these are echoes of the ancient story of the Goddess Danu. Danu's people were tribal Celts who spread westward across Europe, along rivers and coastlines bringing her worship with them to Ireland.

 

Along with their skill as herdsmen and their knowledge of farming crops. Danu was their fertility goddess whose powerful energy revitalised the earth each year in spring. There are stories of seeds waking to the pressure of her feet, and flowers springing up where her cloak touches the fields.

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BEALTAINE

Bealtaine (Belltaine, Beltane, Beltine), is the festival day that marks the beginning of summer and the movement of livestock from winter lowlands to summer pastures. Traditionally celebrated at the beginning of May, Bealtaine is one of four main seasonal festivals and falls halfway between the spring equinox and summer solstice.

The earliest reference to Beltine is found in Cormac’s ‘the ‘Sanas Cormaic’ - a 9th Century glossary.

“Belltaine, that is Bel’s fire, or the lucky fire of Bel, that is two fires which Druids used to make with great incantations and each year they drove the cattle between them to guard against disease.”

Bealtaine may also be translated as the ‘Pathway of Fire’, reenforcing this explanation. Bealtaine was once known in Ireland as Cétamain/Cétshamain.

Festivities may include Maypole dances and the cutting of green boughs and flowers.

Bealtaine and Samhain are two junctures thought to be critical periods when the bounds between the human and supernatural worlds are temporarily erased; on May Eve witches and fairies roam freely, and measures have to be taken against their enchantments.

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LUGHNASHA 

On 1 August is celebrated the Lughnasadh or Lughnasa, the Gaelic festival for the beginning of the harvest season. Historically, it was observed in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. In Modern Irish it is called Lúnasa, in Scottish Gaelic: Lùnastal.

It stems from Lugh, the Irish god of war and oaths.

Lugh, first instituted Lughnasadh as a festivity of athletic games, weapons mastery, bardic competitions, and horse races. He wanted to honour his foster-mother, the goddess Tailtiu, who had died from clearing the land
for the people to grow crops. 

Lugh, first instituted Lughnasadh as a festivity of athletic games, weapons mastery, bardic competitions, and horse races. He wanted to honour his foster-mother, the goddess Tailtiu, who had died from clearing the land
for the people to grow crops.

The “games” predate the Greek Olympics by about 1200 years and it could be reasonably speculated that the Irish Telltown Games were the inspiration for the later Greek and, as such, modern Olympic Games. Today Crom Dubh Sunday, Bilberry Sunday, or Puck’s Fair are just a few names for the celebrations.

In Cahersiveen we celebrate with a music and arts festival along with a horse race and various competitive sports.

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SAMHAIN

Ancient Celts marked Samhain as the most significant of the four quarterly fire festivals, taking place at the midpoint between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice. During this time of year, hearth fires in family homes were left to burn out while the harvest was gathered.

After the harvest work was complete, celebrants joined with Druid priests to light a community fire using a wheel that would cause friction and spark flames. The wheel was considered a representation of the sun and used along with prayers. Cattle were sacrificed, and participants took a flame from the communal bonfire back to their home to relight the hearth.

Because the Celts believed that the barrier between worlds was breachable during Samhain, they prepared offerings that were left outside villages and fields for fairies, or Sidhs.

It was expected that ancestors might cross over during this time as well, and Celts would dress as animals and monsters so that fairies were not tempted to kidnap them.

In the middle ages carved turnips called Jack-o-lanterns began to appear, attached by strings to sticks and embedded with coal. Later Irish tradition switched to pumpkins.

Pre-Christian Seasonal Festivals

Our Pre-Christian Festivals were centred around what is called The Cross-Quarter dates,

Cross-quarter date festivals all coincide with observable and noticeable changes in the weather, the length of day and the landscape itself.

  • Imbolc is the time when the ewes come into milk, when the first flowers appear and when the day noticeably lengthens.

  • Bealtaine (the cross-quarter date halfway between spring equinox and summer solstice) marks the beginning of summer and the trees coming into leaf.

  • Lughnasa (halfway between summer solstice and autumn equinox) marks the beginning of the harvest when the crops are ripe and ready for reaping. 

  • Samhain (halfway between autumn equinox and winter solstice) marks the beginning of winter, the death of vegetation, the falling of the leaves and the rapid shortening of the days that began at Lughnasa.

 

The cross-quarter dates are distinct visual clues to the drama of the seasons and the changing patterns of the year, and all can be related to agriculture.

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