Heathen Festivals

From Irish Druids and Old Irish Religions, 1894

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Popular holidays are still associated with the ideas of former heathen festivals.

May-day in some parts of Ireland has its female mummers, who dance and hurl, wearing a holly-bush. A masked clown carries a pail of water with a mop for spreading its contents abroad. Boys then sing carols, as in France. In the south-east of Ireland a girl is chosen as May Queen, presiding at all May-makings till she is married. May Eve, having its dangers from fairies, &c., is spent in making cattle safe from the milk-thieving little people, by causing the cows to leap over fires. Dairymaids prudently drive their cows along with the mystical rowan stick.

Of the phallic May-pole, set up for St. John's Eve or Midsummer-day, N. O'Kearney remarks, "The pole was evidently used in the Druidical ceremonies." Yule cakes were Nur cakes. Hogmanay was observed, as in Scotland. Hog was a Chaldaean festival. Irish pagan feasts were announced by the blowing of long horns, two or three yards in length, some of which are to be seen in Dublin Museum. The Christmas Candle of south-west Ireland was burnt till midnight on Christmas Eve, and the remnant kept as a preservative against evil spirits till the next year's candle was set up. Magic ointment revealed the invisible.

All Saints' Day perpetuated the pagan Samhain of November Eve. Holy cakes, known sometimes as triangular bannocks, were then eaten as Soul-Mass cakes.

"November Eve," says Mrs. Bryant's Celtic Ireland, "is sacred to the Spirits of the Dead. In the western islands, the old superstition is dying very hard, and tradition is still well alive. It is dangerous to be out on November Eve, because it is the one night in the year when the dead come out of their graves to dance with the fairies on the hills, and as it is their night, they do not like to be disturbed."—"Funeral games are held in their houses." In olden times it was thought their dead heroes could help in distress.

"Twice during the Treena of Tailten,
Each day at sunrise I invoked Mac Eve
To remove from me the pestilence."

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