The History Thread Celebrates Lúnasa

Today is Lúnasa, one of the four quarter days of the year in Celtic folklore. In pre-Christian times, it marked the start of the harvest season. It honours the god Lú, who originated the festival, though stories differ as to why – it might have commemorated his foster-mother Tailte, who cleared Ireland for agriculture, or his two wives, Nás and Buí. It also reflects traditions of Lú defeating Crom Cruach, representing a good harvest and victory over blight and crop disease.

In the Early Medieval Period, Lúnasa was also the time of the Aonach Tailteann, a great meeting held at Tailtin (nowadays Teltown) in Co. Meath, where kings made truces and treaties, proclaimed laws and witnessed contracts, alongside sport, racing, story-trading and matchmaking. The Aonach died out around the 9th Century, but the Irish Free State made an effort to revive it in the 1920s, hosting three Tailteann Games, an attempt at creating an Olympic-level international games competition. The name was revived once again last year by the GAA, with the Tailteann Cup being contested by Gaelic football teams who do not qualify for main competition.

Other Lúnasa traditions survive down to this day. The last Sunday in July is “Reek Sunday”, when (traditionally barefoot) pilgrims climb Croagh Patrick (or “the Reek”, pictured above) led by the Archbishop of Tuam, a pilgrimage that has happened for at least fifteen hundred years – the earliest written evidence of the pilgrimage dates from 1113, when it was already long-established. It probably predates Christianity in Ireland, and would originally have been a pagan practice.

The Puck Fair

And finally there’s the Puck Fair, which always happens around the 10th of August. The people of Killorglin in Kerry capture a wild puck goat (poc being the Irish word for a male goat) in the hills, where he is crowned King Puck by a local schoolgirl (the “Queen of the Puck”) and lifted aloft in a ceremonial cage for the three days of the fair. Don’t worry, the goat is well looked after – in fact thanks to increased temperatures in recent years they’ve been taking the goat down more often to save him from the heat. After the fair, he is released back into the hills none the worse for wear. The tradition supposedly dates back to when one goat ran to Killorglin to warn the people that Oliver Cromwell was coming. “An Poc Ar Buile” (“The Mad Puck Goat”) is often one of the first Irish-language folk songs people learn. During the fair, the pubs have a unique dispensation to stay open an hour later than usual, till 3am.

Anyway, on this first day of Autumn (here, at least) tell us what you’ve been reading and what you think about it.