Ireland of the Welcomes
The month of August marks the ancient Celtic festival of Lughnasa, celebrating the harvest with feasting, fairs and sports.
A look at the history of the Celtic festival of Lughnasa and the celebrations it brings
Abundance, feasting and celebration - the ancient Celtic festival of Lughnasa (pronounced Loo-nah-sah) marked the start of the harvest season and with it came the end of months deprivation. In modern Irish, Lunasa is the name for the month of August and over the August Bank Holiday weekend, traces of the ancient festival survive in modern celebrations.
Traditionally, the month of July was a hungry month, awaiting the spoils of the harvest, and the Lughnasa feasting in August. Like many ancient pagan festivals, the date was co-opted and marked with a Christian festival. The last Sunday in July became a date of Christian pilgrimage, commonly known as Garland Sunday.
One of the most famous Garland Sunday traditions is climbing Croagh Patrick, in Couny Mayo. Known as "Ireland’s holiest mountain", St. Patrick is said to have spent 40 days fasting there. In the area, the day is known as Reek Sunday. The most hardened pilgrims make the rocky mountain climb barefoot and masses are said between 8.00am and 2pm in St Patrick’s Oratory, the church sitting at the top of the mountain.
Garland Sunday is marked at many other sites across the country, and whether it be Celtic ritual or Christian pilgrimage, climbing a hill is often part of the tradition. Keshcorran Hill in County Sligo, Mount Brandon in County Kerry, Slieve Donard in County Down and Máméan in the Maum Turk Mountains in Connemara, County Galway are other sites where you can mark the day. At Keshcorran Hill, near the south Sligo village of Kesh, Garland Sunday festivities begin in the afternoon. The holy hill is topped by Neolithic monuments and is the home of the extraordinary Kesh caves, said to have been the hiding place of lovers Diarmuid and Grainne. People traditionally climbed the hill on Garland Sunday, but today the Garland Sunday festivities include the popular King of the Hill run and family-friendly activities, from bouncy castles to dog shows.
Elsewhere in County Sligo, the Garland Sunday celebrations begin early in the morning at the holy well of Tobernalt, just outside Sligo town. The Bishop of Elphin would celebrate the first mass of the day there at 6am, with the faithful walking in pilgrimage from the town or travelling by boat up the Garavogue River.
In other parts of the country, the same day is known by other titles—Hill Sunday, Lammas Sunday, Bilberry Sunday or Crom Dubh’s Sunday. Crom Dubh (crum doov) was a dark old evil god, the opposite of the youthful sun god Lugh, after which Lughnasa is named. In mythology, the gods fought and Lugh vanquished Crom Dubh to win the harvest back from the underworld.
The proper date to celebrate Lughnasa is said to be the crossquarter day between summer solstice on June 21 and autumn equinox on Sept 21. It is traditionally held on Aug 1, though some of the celebrations in recent centuries have shifted to the Sundays nearest this date.
The festival is named after the god Lugh Lamhfada (Lugh of the Long Hand). He was said to be a polymath, highly proficient in many arts simultaneously - a wright, a smith, a champion, a swordsman, a harpist, a hero, a poet, historian, a sorcerer and a craftsman - and for this reason, was accepted into the court of the gods, the Tuatha Dé Danann. He is also said to have invented the game of fidchell (an Irish equivalent of chess) as well as ball games and horse racing.
SPORTS & GAMES
The Lughnasa tradition of games is said to be in honour of Lugh’s foster mother Tailtiu (The Great One of the Earth, the last queen of Fir Blog). Legend has it that having cleared away