Bealtaine welcomes summer with festival fun


The festival of Bealtaine in May marks the beginning of summer in the Celtic calendar and, since it’s Ireland, it’s a good excuse for a party.

Falling midway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice, Bealtaine is one of Ireland’s four fire festivals, the others being Imbolc (February), Lughnasa (August) and the best known one, Samhain (October), which is the origin of Halloween.

Bealtaine welcomes the new season of summer and is now often linked to May Day celebrations. In ancient Ireland, Bealtaine was marked with the lighting of bonfires, a sign of purification and a symbol of rekindling the sun.

The festival was particularly associated with the Hill of Uisneach in County Westmeath, where the borders of Ireland’s five ancient provinces met at the Stone of the Divisions, which still stands there. For hundreds of years the Hill of Uisneach was regarded as the ceremonial and sacred centre of Ireland and at Bealtaine people gathered to watch the high king light the great fire which was said to be visible across most of the island.

Today the Hill of Uisneach is the location of the Bealtaine Fire Festival which this year takes place on 11 May. The festival presents music, arts, craft and traditional workshops, craft stalls, talks and demonstrations, games for children, yoga, and healing and mindfulness sessions. And as the sun sets the great Bealtaine fire will be lit.

Across the island of Ireland lots of other Bealtaine celebrations will also take place in May. In picturesque Dingle. County Kerry, on the Wild Atlantic Way, Feile na Bealtaine runs 2–6 May. A community-based music and arts festival, it has an impressive programme of over 100 events spanning multiple genres of musical and literary performances, discussions, film, theatre and visual art exhibitions.

And Bealtaine Festival is a national festival throughout the month of May to celebrate the arts and creativity of older people. Events range from music and choral performances to visual art, theatre, writing workshops, dance, literature, circus, discussions, film screenings, storytelling and more and will take place in cities and towns across Ireland.

There will be also be plenty of May Day celebrations across the island including the Merry May Day (6 May) in Holywood, County Down, where traditional maypole dancing is the highlight of the day.