Happy Lammas & Blessed Lughnasadh
One of the eight Celtic festivals or holidays, Lughnasadh or Lammas is celebrated on August 1 each year. Lammas means half loaf and this festival day represents the first harvest day of the growing season. In Ireland, this date is known as Lughnasadh. According to Irish mythology, this festival began as a funeral feast and athletic games hosted by Lugh, the Celtic god of light, to honor his foster mother who is said to have died from exhaustion after clearing the fields of Ireland for crops. Still thousands of years later this day continues to be celebrated.
Many of the festivities have shifted to the Sunday closest to this first day of August and this year that was yesterday July 31. The pre-Christian custom of climbing the highest mountain or hillside on this day has changed into a Catholic pilgrimage. Yesterday at Croagh Patrick in Ireland 25,000 pilgrims climbed this mountain which rises 2,500 feet from sea level, and as you pretty much start at sea level, you feel every single one of those feet in your legs. I’ve climbed this mountain 1.75 times—not on Reek Sunday with the 24,999 other folks but once with my whole family and once with my husband. My .75 trip was on a day when I encouraged my family to go on ahead. I simply could not do it. Instead, I waited through intermittent rain showers, perched on a nice boulder while I waited for my umbrella to carry me off in one of the great wind gusts like Mary Poppins. Once my family caught up with me and we began to make our way down, the loose stones made it a struggle to control my descent. That’s when the muscle fatigue turned to pain (maybe I should not have let my muscles cool down while I sat on that nice rock) and I am not ashamed to admit it . . . I cried! Not big sobby cries but just whimpering I-can’t-believe-the-pain-in-my-legs crying. Just so you know, a few years later I was determined to redeem myself and made the whole trip with nary a tear. I should mention here that many of the pilgrims on Reek Sunday do this trip BAREFOOT!
I’ve written about Croagh Patrick before and you can see that article here, although I think I tactfully left out the crying part in that article.
Another, modern festivity that is a remnant of the early Lughnasadh celebrations are the traditional fairs and markets. The most famous of these is the Puck Fair in Killorglin, County Kerry. The fairs were always three days in length, comprised of the gathering day, the fair day, and the scattering day. A wild mountain goat (puc) is the king of the Puck Fair and he is crowned at the beginning while a local girl is the queen of the fair. The festivities include a parade, music, dancing, arts and crafts workshops, carnival rides, food, children’s entertainment, and a horse and cattle market. Sounds a lot like our county fairs to me!
Finally, I would be remiss not to mention one of my favorite Irish bands, Lunasa, and leave you with a little musical interlude. Happy Lammas – Blessed Lughnasadh to you all!