While the nights can still be cool, household supplies of turf are running low and no one minds. The fire is not needed daily now to warm the house. Instead, it is time to gather wood and start building the frames for bonfires. It is nearly Bealtine. We are nearly halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. The sun is here, showing more and more of itself.
In Ireland, we welcome this joyfully. The sun is a visitor we look forward to and want to welcome properly. Modern Ireland still celebrates Bealtine with bonfires as our most distant ancestors did. Like them, we do not do this individually at home, to the relief of firefighters across the nation. We gather. Throughout Ireland there are places where our ancestors gathered to light bonfires for Bealtine, the celebration of summer’s arrival, and we gather there still. Stories will be told, music will be played as we have always done – only now we also have face painting for children and photos of those gathered will be shared on every type of social media.
One of the most notable of these celebrations is taking place in one of the most underrated parts of Ireland – the midlands. The Hill of Uisneach is at the geographic center of Ireland, a fact that had significance to our ancestors. The site is full of archeological evidence of our ancestors; researchers have so far discovered 20 visible monuments dating back to the Neolithic period, including remains of forts, a cairn or tomb known as Patrick’s Bed as well as trails and wells. The archeological star of this show is the Catstone, a large stone structure that resembles a cat and is said to be the burial place of Eriu, the earth goddess. Lugh, the sun god, is also believed to be buried at Uisneach. Before Tara was the seat of the High Kings of Ireland, Uisneach had that honor.
The Hill of Uisneach is nearly 600 feet above sea level, and it offers gorgeous views of the neighboring counties on clear days. On Bealtine, our ancestors lit the first fire of the celebration on this hill. This was the signal for other areas to light their fires. It is not really a surprise then to learn that the ancients considered this spot to be the gateway to the mythical fifth province Mide – a location more spiritual than geographic.
In recent years, a Bealtine Fire Festival has been revived. In addition to ceremonial fires, the event will feature a Celtic harpist and bard, information on Brehon Law, a decorated faerie den, workshops on Maypoles, meditation and drama – and of course face painting. Organizers stress that the event – and all activities at the site – follow the Leave No Trace principles of environmental responsibility. (After all, the earth goddess is buried there!) This is not the only time of year visitors can see this spot in the heart of Ireland. Guided tours can be arranged too.