Sunset on the last day of April, May Eve or Oíche Bealtaine, is the traditional start of the Irish and pan-Gaelic festival of Bealtaine (for our Gaelic siblings in Scotland it is Bealltainn, while on the Isle of Man it is Boaltinn. Our Celtic cousins in Wales, Cornwall and Brittany have their own terms). May Day itself, the 1st of May, is Lá Bealtaine and the commencement of the summer or first “half” of the year in our native calendar. Unfortunately there has been precious little evidence of that so far, with an unseasonal week of rain, frost and occasional spots of snow across the country.

Of course, being Irish, there is some diversity of opinions on the above interpretations. An alternative name for the May festival is Céadshamhain (Céadamhain) or “First Samhain”. And what is Samhain, you may ask? Why, it’s the winter festival on the 31st of October and the 1st of November, the start of the winter or second “half” of the indigenous Irish calendar and arguably the date marking the “Celtic New Year”. Except that Samhain is almost certainly related to the word samhradh “summer”, though it probably does not mean “summer’s end” as the Medieval monastic speculators once claimed. Which confuses things somewhat, unless you believe that Céadshamhain in May is the start of the summer in the mortal world, the Earth, while Samhain in November is the start of the summer in the immortal Otherworld or . Though that raises its own problems. The intricate paradoxes of Gaelic thought abound!

Whatever the case, here is a good overview of the festival. I will be celebrating mine this evening and tomorrow, and I hope you can do the same. If you stumble across any preternaturally beautiful women or men during the next twenty-hours hours make sure to enquire of a friend: “Can you see that person too?

If they reply in the negative, exercise caution. Or not 😉

Lá Fhéile Bealtaine shona daoibh!

1 comment on “Bealtaine Or Céadshamhain, Just Enjoy!

  1. The key moment eat each of the quarter-day festivals match the position of the festival in the annual cycle, namely : Samhainn — Sunset; Iombolg — Midnight; Bealtainn — Dawn; Lùnasadh — Midday.

    The -radh bit in Samhradh is the unstressed development of the word _raithe_ meaning one of the four Celtic three-month seasons. The Samh- bit of course originally meant ´Summer´ equivalent to Welsh _haf_ (f = mh = ´v´).

    So, Sionnach, all ready to drive your livestock up to the shieling? (Do you have the word àirigh in Irish?) IIRC this practise had the odd name of transhumance or something like that.

    In Welsh the permanent winter homestead is called the ´hendre´ (old-home) and the summer place the ´hafod´. As for what went on up there, where the kids basically went off camping unsupervised, I´ll leave to your imagination.

    Ar fore Clanmai* pêr yw cân / y fronfraith fry a´r adar mân / ond er mor lwys yw´r hendre lân / mwy diddan fydd yr hafod …

    Sorry, couldn´t resist. 🙂

    *Clanmai is just a contraction of Calan Mai, the Calends of May, the P-Celtic languages don´t have a ´native´ name for this day AFAIK. Calan Gaeaf = Samhainn.


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