Bealtaine And It's Magical Traditions


Bealtaine, is one of the great festivals marking the beginning of summer in the Celtic calendar. There are many customs and beliefs associated with Bealtaine dating back to pre Christian times in Ireland. It signifies the return of light. The dark half of the year, Samhain, was said to begin at the end of October, while the light half was said to begin at Bealtaine at the beginning  of May, about midway between the Spring equinox and the Summer solstice . Bealtaine was the biggest and most important festival of the whole year.

What does Bealtaine mean?

The Gaelic word Bealtaine” means Bright Fire” so we can see that the naming of the early summer period, now corresponding to the month of May, is connected to the Celtic practice of lighting fires at this time of year. The place name Beltany” is an anglicized version of the word Bealtaine” and indicates places where bonfires were once lit to signal the commencement of summer. There are several Beltanys in County Donegal, including one near Raphoe, one near Killybegs and three in the parish of Tulloghobegley.

What customs are associated with Bealtaine?

One of the most important Bealtaine customs was the lighting of bonfires to safeguard livestock. The flames, smoke and ashes from these fires were considered sacred. For hundreds of years, people in Donegal and the rest of Ireland observed the ritual of driving their cattle around a bonfire or between two bonfires to gain protection, health and wealth. 

On the night before summer, all household fires were extinguished and a new fire was lit from the embers of the Bealtaine fire. 

Another custom was to spread yellow flowers on doorsteps to protect inhabitants. Pre-Christian people believed that the colour yellow symbolised the warmth of fire and was reminiscent of the sun – this was also why fire was so significant during Bealtaine

Cows were the main source of food until harvest time and therefore required special protection. A garland of primroses placed around the cows neck was thought to guard against disease.

To placate fairies and any otherworldly forces that may have targeted homes, milk was poured across thresholds. Sprigs of rowan or hawthorn, were also placed around the houses and even on the horns of cows to ensure they kept producing milk and calves. 

In the same way that the festival fire was deemed sacred, so was the earth, the dew on the grass, and the first water taken from a spring the next day. It was said to be particularly powerful, with healing and protective properties.

What traditional beauty tips are associated with the 1st of May?

According to folklore, the dew on 1 May has magical properties and anyone who washes their face in it and dries it in the sun will have good luck and a flawless complexion for the entire year!

And so customers go out and wash your face with dew, first thing on the morning of  May 1st, let it dry in the sunshine (weather permitting) and celebrate the start of summer.

As always thanks for your support.