Bealtaine - Why May is such an important Celtic Month

Bealtaine is the Gaelic May Festival

From darkness into light... Bealtaine is the Gaelic May Festival.

Traditionally held on May 1st or about mid-way between the spring equinox and summer solstice in the northern hemisphere, it marks the return of the light and the start of summer in Celtic Ireland. Celebrations continue throughout the month still in parts of the country.

One of the four major Irish Celtic annual festivals, along with Samhain, Imbolc and Lughnasa, Bealtaine is still a description and word much used in the Irish language. It’s exactly six months from Samhain on November 1st.

The name is said to derive from the old Irish meaning of "bright fire". Bel means light and the Celtic sun and healer god was Belenus.

The main Bealtaine fire was lit at the Hill of Uisneach in County Westmeath in ancient times - regarded as the centre of the country.

Before the main fire was lit, hearth fires were put out and cinders and torches from the main bonfire would be brought from townland to townland where each community would light their own fires. 

Fires and Fertility
The lighting of one bonfire to another was seen as a rite of purification and herds of cattle were driven between fires in many villages. It was considered lucky to ‘leap between the bonfires’ for people who wanted to ensure their fertility for the coming year! 

It’s not very common now but in rural areas, there’s still the tradition of the “May bush’ where flowers and boughs from the rowan or mountain ash were collected and hung across doorways and ribbons and bows were tied to bushes. 

Other Bealtaine traditions include ‘beating the bounds’ - walking the circuit of one's property, repairing fences and boundary markers - as well as dancing and drinking. 

The mythical group known as the Milesians, were said to have conquered the Tuatha De Danann on May Day.

Nowadays there are many festivals across May in Ireland including the Bealtaine Fire Festival at the sacred Hill of Uisneach and the Bealtaine Festival - Ireland’s national celebration of the arts and creativity as we age featuring performances, exhibitions, discussions, workshops and readings.

May is a month of celebration in Ireland that focuses on happiness, fun and the expression of various art forms.
Posted on May 10, 2023