Sunday, 3 May 2015

Welcoming the summer with flowers.

In the past there were many customs and observances connected to the first day of May, Bealtaine,
and people here continue to mark the seasonal transition by decorating a May Bush, lighting bonfires
or by visiting a holy well.
When the weather cleared and the sun shone on May Eve I gathered wild flowers to celebrate the start of Summer.

An abundance of flowers in the hedges.
One of the traditions I maintain is to hang the May bough over the front door.
The bough had fallen naturally, I decorated it with ribbons and flowers and according to custom,
swept the threshold clean, and placed it above the doorway on May Eve to stay in place for three days.

The May bough hangs above the door.
Yellow flowers are used mostly, such as primroses, cowslips and buttercups because they symbolise
the sun perhaps but white and blue flowers are also collected.
As well as welcoming the summer it was believed that the sweet scent of spring flowers offered protection against the Good People who were understood to enter homes at this time.

In the past posies, red ribbons or slips of mountain ash were tied to the cows' tails and horses' bridles
to offer them similar protection from the activity of the Sídhe and also to counteract the 'evil eye' of certain neighbours who had the ability to steal the goodness from animals and produce.

Placing flowers on the doorstep or on windowsills also offers protection.
Good luck and further protection was afforded to the household after sunset on Bealtaine Eve when farmers' families and workers would walk the boundaries of the land carrying seeds of corn,
Sgaith-an-Tobar , the purity of the well, (the first water drawn from a sacred well after midnight the previous year) and the herb, vervain.
The procession stopped at the directions, beginning in the east, where they would dig a sod of earth, break it up, sow the seed then sprinkle it with the water.

So powerful are the supernatural forces at Bealtaine that the landscape itself was understood to be able relocate. The Motte / Motty Stone, a huge, white granite boulder on Cronebane Hill in Co. Wicklow,
was said to leave the hill top and come down to drink at the Meeting of the Waters on May Day,
whilst rocks off the coast of Ireland become unbound to journey across the sea.

PIC Motte Stone © 2015 Samuel Connolly

Encounters with the Sídhe were expected at Bealtaine when the Good People travelled the countryside to take part in hurling matches, dances and battles.
For this reason it was considered wise to stay safely indoors at night, although several precautions
could be taken if one had to venture out.
Carrying a black-handled knife, a piece of iron, a cold cinder from the hearth or a twig of mountain ash were all effective as means of protection against Other-worldly forces.
If however that protection failed one could always resort to the extreme remedy of washing the hands and face in urine which disgusted the Good People and caused them to depart!

The practice of leaving small offerings at a fairy fort, a lone bush or near the home was believed to propriate the Sídhe and to ensure their goodwill in the coming months.
This tradition also continues in Ireland to this day.

Personal offerings of milk & butter to the Good People on the eve of Bealtaine.
Irish readers can take part in the survey of May Day customs by submitting information & photos
to the website "Our Irish Heritage" here:

Information on May customs taken from The Year in Ireland by Kevin Danaher which has been republished by Mercier Press and can be found HERE


  1. I think that fear of the faeries was a
    Christian thing put about by priests who felt threatened by an alternative belief.

  2. Completely agree with you Heron!

  3. Thank you for more information about Beltaine! And I have never heard of the small offerings before.

    R and I chose to marry on May Day; although I don't celebrate it as intensely as I had in the past, I am glad that it marks our anniversary.


  4. Happy anniversary to you both! May you have a long & happy marriage Carol. X

  5. Wonderful Jane, and i love Kevin Danahers books too , he did some facinating stuff on Vernacular houses throughout ireland

  6. Thanks Áine-Máire. Yes haws a fascinating write - think I've read the book on vernacular houses.
    Strange you should mention them as I'm painting one at the moment!


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