MAY you discover ancient Irish traditions?

Whether you are already living in Ireland or planning on coming here soon – you must know that the country is really attached to its ancient traditions!

May Day, which is held on the 1 st of May, has been celebrated all over Ireland since pagan time as the Celtic Feast of La Bealtaine. This festival, which marked the arrival of summer and the end of the dark months of the year, was also marked by a variety of customs! You MAY discover them below.

Bonfires a.k.a belfires:

A tradition that remains in certain parts of Ireland is lighting bonfires up the hills on the evening before May Day. In ancient times, Irish people lit bonfires to invoke a more fertile land and herd* for the coming year.

*herd: a group of farm animals.

FUN FACT: even though Irish people lit bonfires on the evening before May Day, they never lit fire in their fireplace as it was considered that sending out smoke through the chimney would bring back luck to their family.


It might be hard to believe but it is true, cows used to be involved in a variety of traditions on May Day! Related to the first paragraph about bonfires, one tradition of the time involved making cows go through bonfires to bring good luck to the farmer and its cattle. These cows were then decorated with yellow May flowers in order to be protected from thieves (humans as well as fairies and witches). Last but not least, women used to get up at dawn to take milk from their neighbours’ cows as it was said to increase the milk of their own cows and lower the milk of their neighbours’ cows.


Women were also involved in a variety of traditions related to May Day. One tradition still remains in some parts of Ireland as well as in the UK: The Queen of May. This tradition involves choosing a pretty girl to crown with flowers as the May Queen. Another tradition involved women dancing round the maypole which was erected on the village green and decorated with flowers and lots of ribbons! Women would indeed grad a ribbon and dance in a circle round the pole to traditional music.

Women themselves used to wash their face in dew at dawn on the first day of May as they thought it would make them more beautiful and attractive. Why not try this out?

Witches and fairies:

As the festival represented the beginning of the better days of the year, there was the need of safeguarding livestock from the fairies. This was done by leaving May flowers at the doors to bring luck to the household and keep both fairies and witches away. Moreover, fairies, who adopted ringforts as their homes, were thought to be very active on the eve of May Day. It was therefore forbidden to sleep outdoors and considered a very bad idea to walk too close to an old ringfort!!

Ireland boasts a characterful culture, full of unique traditions on which you can read more in the following blog posts:

To check what events are happening in Dublin during May Day check here!

Written by Kathleen Poruchet

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