Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Lughnasa 2018

Modern advertisement for a Lughnasa festival in Ireland

Here we are again, another year and the return of Lughnasa.  Lughnasa is one of the oldest festivals we have in the Isles.  In modern Gaelic spelling, it is Lúnasa, in Scots Gaelic, Lùnastal, and in Manx Gaelic Luanistyn.  I like the spelling Lughnasa myself.   

The festival is observed in Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man, and throughout the Diaspora of the Gaelic people.  The etymology of Lughnasa is from the Old Gaelic, Lug (the god) = násad (assembly). Lughnasa is the start of the Harvest season.

Lughnasa has been celebrated for at least three thousand years and probably much longer.  Traditionally it is held on 1 August and the surrounding days.  This is the time between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox.  Lughnasa is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals along with Samhain, Imbolc, and Lá Bealtaine.
An Tarbh (The Bull)

Lughnasa is mentioned in the earliest Gaelic literature and was ancient even by early Christian times.  The festival is named from the god Lugh, who is one of the ancient gods of the Gael.  Lughnasa includes religious ceremonies, ritual sporting contests, matchmaking, visits to holy wells and Faerie trees,  and special market days.  Since ancient times, there festival included the tasting of the ‘first fruits’ and elaborate feasts, the sacrifice of a bull, servings of bilberries, and a ritual play and dance where Lugh takes and protects the harvest for the people of the tribes. 

A pre Christian image of Lugh from France

Lughnasa enjoyed great popularity well into the 20th century, but waned in mid-century, as modernity put stress upon these old customs... but, fortunately, Lughnasa has seen a great revival in the last few years.  Lughnasa  festival, fairs, and activities are growing in popularity.  The festival survives under different names, such as Crom Dubh Sunday, Garland Sunday, Bilberry Sunday, Mountain Sunday.  Lughnasa has been incorporated in Christian ritual with Saint Patrick filling in for Lugh, in the pilgrimage to the top of Croagh Patrick on the last Sunday in July.

the Lughnasa fire

In Irish myth Lughnasa was begun by the god Lugh as a funeral feast and athletic competition to commemorate the death of Tailtiu,  his foster mother.  The legends tell us that she died of exhaustion after clearing the fields of Ireland for agriculture. Tailtiu was the wife of the last Fir Bolg king of Ireland, before the coming of the Tuath Dé Danann.  

Enjoy your Lughnasa... I cooked a beef brisket for the celebration and will have a wee fire out in the fire pit tonight.   We remember our ancestors on such occasions, always a good thing to do.