May Day in Ireland was a festival to welcome the summer, the start of a new season, and to protect the family and livelihood of the farm from supernatural forces. It was a festival celebrated with flowers, big fires and dancing and had strong links to the same holiday celebrated throughout northern Europe.
It is rooted in the pre-Christian festival of Bealtaine. The name Bealtaine is believed to mean “bright fire” and like many other festivals it has its origins in pagan times. Centuries ago, bonfires were lit to welcome the arrival of summer. Bealtaine welcomes summer, bidding farewell to the dark winter half of the year. Traditions associated with May include May Bushes, May Flowers, May Boughs, May Poles and May Bonfires. All are associated with luck and protection.
In Ireland, depending on what day the holiday falls on, the feast is marked by a public holiday.
In the prehistoric Newgrange, County Meath, you can see that the people who built Newgrange in the Stone Age aligned the monuments with the major solar events.
An incredible Bealtine Stone Circle can be found in Donegal, and is as old as Newgrange. It is believed that Celtic festivals were held here, such as Imbolc, Bealtine, Lughnasa & Samhain.
Today, May Day is more commonly known and celebrated as Workers’ Day/ International Workers’ Day.
‘Never cast a clout until May is out’ is an expression warning of not shedding too many winter layers until the end of the month of May.