Return of summer to be marked at Bealtaine Fire Festival

Return of summer to be marked at Bealtaine Fire Festival
Return of summer to be marked at Bealtaine Fire Festival

The return of the summer is being welcomed in Westmeath today as The Bealtaine Fire Festival celebrates one of Ireland’s oldest traditions.

The lighting of the Bealtaine Fire on the Hill of Uisneach in Rathnew takes place where the High Kings of Ireland once held their ceremonies.

The Hill of Uisneach is considered to be the spiritual and mythological center of Ireland.

“Google will tell us that the current center of Ireland is about three or four kilometers West of Uisneach,” explained Simon Tuite, a guide at Uisneach.

“But according to our mythology and our history, Uisneach was always seen as the geographical and the sacred center of Ireland. The home of the goddess Ériu a special place,” he added.

Although it stands just 596ft above sea level, the summit of the hill commands extensive panoramic views over Ireland’s central plain.

On a clear day, no less than 20 counties are visible on the horizon.

Around 5,000 people are expected to attend the cultural festival today with talks and tours of the hill also taking place, before the fires are lit just after sunset tonight.

A lot of people have come to the festival who may not have been to the historical site of Uisneach before so there are guided tours for people who want to learn about it, according to Mr Tuite.

“As far as our recorded history goes back to the early medieval era, we know that people have been lighting fires to mark the beginning of summer on the hill of Uisneach.

“And we would presume those fires go back a lot earlier than even that, back to prehistoric times,” he said.

It is believed the most important piece of mythology and one of the main reasons this event is considered so special, it is linked to the goddess Ériu, who is represented as the Goddess of Ireland.

“According to the legend she meets with the Gaelic people, the first humans to arrive on the land,” Mr Tuite said.

“She meets them at the summit of the Hill of Uisneach and says that she will give the Gaelic people the land as long as they promise to name it after her.”

With the festival welcoming the summer, today’s sunshine is seen as being symbolically important.

“We think the idea of ​​the fires, and Bealtaine itself, goes back to the movement of cattle twice a year.”

In May the cattle are moved out to their summer pastures and then they are moved back down in November, which coincides with the Bealtaine and Samhain.

“We think these festivals were symbolizing the beginning of summer that the warmer weather and the movements of the cattle onto the upland pastures,” said Mr Tuite.

Celebrations at the Bealtaine Festival this afternoon will include music, food, mindfulness, yoga, crafting demonstrations, heritage talks and walks, games and fire performers.

The lighting of the Bealtaine Fire will take place once the procession has gone up the hill at sunset with flames expected to dance high on the Hill of Uisneach to welcome the return of the summer.

 
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