St. Brigid of Kildare

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Celebrating Bealtaine

Apr 28, 2020 (12:00 AM) - May 15, 2020 (12:00 PM)

The cuckoo comes in April,
She sings her song in May,
In leafy June, she changes her tune,
And in July she flies away.

Most of us are familiar with this nursery rhyme. This year, with the silence that surrounds us, we may hear the cuckoo again.

Each year here at Solas Bhride Centre we gather to mark the feast of Bealtaine, the beginning of summer in the Northern Hemisphere.  This year, because of the Coronavirus Covid-19 we are unable to gather together.   But we can be united in celebrating Bealtaine, each in our own home.

There are many customs associated with the celebration of Bealtaine. We share with you a few of them.  Bealtaine is also the Irish word for the month of May, a month dedicated to Mary the Mother of Jesus.

You may like to set up a May altar in your home.  You will need a candle, water, flowers and a blue cloth (or a cloth of your choice).

When you are ready begin by taking some time to listen to a recording of the Dawn Chorus.

Dawn Chorus:

Play for 5-10 minutes

If you wish continue to play as you read the opening prayer and introduction to Beltaine.

Opening Prayer

For the time of blossoming
For the display of colour in our fields and gardens
For wild flowers and garden flowers
For the blossom that hangs from our trees. We give thanks.

For strawberries and gooseberries
For fresh lettuce and onions
For the smell of new mown lawn
For the magic of bird song. We give thanks.

For the time of delight and refreshment
For the long hazy days
For the time with family and friends
For the stirrings in our hearts. We give thanks

For our joys and delights  .
For the stirrings in our hearts
For the blossom that awakens in our hearts
For all the possibilities of summer. We give thanks.


Bealtaine marks the mid-way point between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice.  It is now exactly six months to the beginning of the new Celtic year at Samhain. Bealtaine is associated with the Celtic god, Belanos or Bel meaning ‘bright one’ or ‘shinning one’.

For our Celtic ancestors Bealtaine marked the beginning of the pastoral season when the livestock were driven out to the summer pastures.  Rituals were performed to protect the cattle, the crops and the people, and to encourage growth. Special bonefires were kindled, usually from oak and their flames, smoke and ashes were deemed to have protective powers. The whole community would gather around the special bonfire which was known as a need-fire, that is, a fire that is kindled by rubbing two sticks together.  But before the bonfire was lit all other fires and candles in the community were extinguished. Then the ceremonial lighting of the fire, which was a symbol of the sun, took place. The people and their cattle would walk around the fire or sometimes between two fires and sometimes leap over the fires.  They usually circled the fire walking sun-wise three times.  Glowing embers were then taken from the fire to every household to rekindle the fire in the hearths.

Ashes from the fire were spread on the crops which not only nourished the plants but also offered protection of themselves, their homes, their animals and their crops. In ancient times the main Bealtaine fire was lit on the Hill of Uisneach in Co. Westmeath, which was regarded as mythological centre of Ireland.


We invite you to light a candle and recite the ancient Irish fire kindling prayer which some of our ancestors would have prayed:

I  will kindle my fire this evening
In presence of the holy angels of heaven,
God, kindle Thou in my heart within
A flame of love to my neighbour,
To my foe, to my friend, to my kindred all,
To the brave, to the knave, to the thrall,
O Son of the loveliest Mary,
From the lowliest thing that liveth,
To the Name that is highest of all.
O Son of the loveliest Mary,
From the lowliest thing that liveth,
To the Name that is highest of all.

Bealtaine was also a time of great fun, singing and dancing. An oat drink was made over the fire and some was poured out onto the earth as a gift to the earth before it was distributed among the people. Oatcakes were made and were shared out among all present. Oat-bread was given to their cattle and left out on the land for all the creatures that would potentially damage their animals and crops – e.g. the fox and the eagle.

There are many other customs associated with the festival. One custom was to collect flowers, primroses, hawthorn, gorse, hazel and marsh- marigold, to decorate doorways, windows and cattle sheds. The people themselves wore flowers and put flowers on animals and even farm equipment.

Our ancestors decorated  and some people still today decorate the May bush with flowers and ribbons.  The May Bush was a branch of some tree or shrub with the whitethorn being the most popular, which was cut down, brought home and placed outside in front of the house.


May is:

A time of blossoming

A time of colour

A time when the earth comes to life in all its glory

A time when we too are called to blossom, to bring colour, fun and new energy where ever we go

A time when we too are called to give glory.

Quiet Time

Take a few moments to reflect on how you can bring joy, new energy and colour into your life, and into the lives of all you meet.

Blessing with water

At Bealtaine people visited holy wells to pray for health while walking sun-wise around the well. Bringing home some well water, they sprinkled it as they walked the circuit of their property. That practice became absorbed into the practice of walking and blessing the land and the animals with Easter water during the rogation days.

We  invite you to bless the land and the creatures of the earth with water. We remember that the call to each of us today is to:

Touch the earth with gentleness,
Touch the earth with love
Touch her with a future by the way we live today.
God has given us the power to create the world anew
If we touch the earth together, me and you.

Mary, Queen of the May

May is Mary’s month.  Mary is called Queen of the May.  The custom of consecrating the month of May to Mary began in the 17th century in Italy.  In Ireland some of you will clearly remember decorating the May altar in your homes.  People still engage in this devotion to Our Lady.

Wild flowers such as primroses and bluebells were gathered and brought to Mary’s altar.

Brigid, legend tells us, was mid-wife to Mary on the birth of Jesus. In fact to the Irish Brigid is known as Muire na nGael – Mary of the Irish

We invite you to sing or listen to the beautiful and well known hymn Queen of the May

End of Ritual


 A treat:

You might like to listen to this ancient Irish song which was sung to welcome the summer.  This song first appeared in written form in 1745 but records hold that it was sung to welcome the Duke of Ormonde in 1662.  The 19th century music collector, Edward Bunting said that “this song is probably ancient.”  The song is called “Thugamar fein and Samhradh linn.” – “We brought the summer to us.”

Summer, summer milk of the heifers
We have brought the summer in.
Yellow summer of clear bright daisies
We have brought the summer in.
We brought it in from the branches of the forest
We have brought the summer in.
Yellow summer from the bed of the sun
We have brought the summer in
Mayday doll, maiden of summer
Up every hill and down every glen
Beautiful girls, radiant and shining
We brought the summer in.
Holly, and hazel, elder and rowan
We brought the summer in
And bright shining ash from the ford
We have brought the summer in.
Summer, summer who will take it from us?
Who will take it from us?
We have brought the summer in.





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April 28, 2020, 12:00 am IST
May 15, 2020, 12:00 pm IST
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