Some say Ireland is timeless as the new becomes layered upon the old leaving the past visible almost anywhere one might go. Even such recognized symbols such as the High Irish Crosses mix Christian symbolism together with ancient symbols from Ireland's pre-Cristian past.
Any day is a great day to visit Ireland! Yet, if you happen to be in Ireland during some of the special days of the year, then it is worthwhile to take the time to appreciate the special meanings and places associated with those ancient commemorations of time.
Falling on or about the first of August, the feast of Lughnasa, the last of the Celtic year represents midway between the summer solstice and the fall equinox. Lughnasa celebrates the start of the harvest season and abundance. Similarly, Bealtaine, falling around the first of May, is an ancient fertility festival and the beginning of the summer season, and the light half of the year.
Many of our guests have joined us for a visit to Uisneach, in County Westmeath. Besides being the sacred center of Ireland, and the place where Ireland was given her name in the mythology, Uisneach is famous for the ancient Beltaine festivals celebrated on the 1st of May commemorating the start of the summer season. Incidentally, Beltaine and Lughnasa are related as the sunrise on Beltaine is identical to the sunrise on Lughnasa when viewed from Uisneach Hill; 64 degrees to the northeast aligned with the Hill of Tailte, death place of the goddess as she submits to the sickle of the harvest, and Dunany point.
Two other ancient places with significance to Lughnasa are Lough Gur and Croagh Patrick.
Croagh Patrick is an excellent example of how the new has been layered upon the old. Long before the association with the patron saint of Ireland, this mountain bore spiritual significance. Croagh Patrick, the white tipped mountain, before the Christian times, was associated with the peak of the year. Long before pilgrims would climb Crough Patrick barefoot in penance on Reek Sunday, the last Sunday in July, barren women would climb and spend the night at the top, seeking fertility.
At Lough Gur, the legends of Fionn mac Cumhaill follow us from the famous Giant’s Causeway. As the name Fionn means “bright” in ancient Irish and thus he chases the sun goddess Áine as she follows her seasonal journey southward. It is at Knockadoon, the hill of the Fairy King beside Lough Gur that Fionn brings his horses to race at Lughnasa. A short distance from Knockadoon, we also find the Great Stone Circle, the largest found in all of Ireland, which in times long past saw many a Lughnasa celebration as well as the special setting of the sun on Samhain.