..on Bealtaine. The weekend of May first I attended the Festival of the Fires. Bealtaine is an ancient Irish festival which has survived in folkloric practices throughout the country and with the diaspora around the world. The lighting of bonfires on Oidhche Bhealtaine (‘the eve of Bealtaine’) on mountains and hills of ritual and political significance was one of the main activities of the festival. In ancient Ireland the main Bealtaine fire was lit on the central hill of Uisneach ‘the navel of Ireland’. This is where the sacred division of Ireland into the four provinces occurred and was one of the ritual centres of the country. It is located in what is now County Westmeath. Until recently the lighting of bonfires in Ireland on Oidhche Bhealtaine seemed only to have survived to the present day in County Limerick, especially in Limerick itself, as their yearly bonfire night. Last year a passionate cultural group revived the custom at Uisneach and this year, I experienced this wonderful tradition!

There was ART , organic food, a play area for children AND a play area for adults (where I tried my hand at stilts), a holistic area, face painting, mounted warriors of Uisneach patrolled all day – their faces painted, cloaks flying, and beautiful horses lending an air of history and romance, more ART , and Fantastic music! We heard Republic of Loose and Kila!! As the huge flaming ball of the Sun set and darkness fell we all processed up the hill for the lighting of the massive Bealtaine Fire!

Huge fantastical creatures, Kings and Queens of old, children laughing, poets and musicians bearing torches, shamans who sounded the deep gongs… A mighty procession led us up the hill. As the torches lit the fire and the sky caught the flames aloft, the hills of surrounding counties…all over the island, lit in response. I turned myself to see the horizon dotted with emerging fires…. From across the beautiful island of Eire, the people welcomed Summer!

May it be lush and full of promise for us all.

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