The May Bush

may bushes

The May Bush was a decorated bush, which in rural areas was left outside the house. In towns, it was erected in a communal place.

Sometimes it was carried about the area by groups of adults although later this custom was carried out by children.

Geographically, the tradition was strongest in Leinster and the Midlands, stretching west to Galway and northwards to south Ulster and Donegal.

The bush was often of hawthorn. The decoration usually consisted of ribbons, cloth streamers and perhaps tinsel.

Sometimes the leftover coloured eggshells painted for Easter Sunday were used as decorations.

On occasions, candles were attached to it.

‘Long Life, a pretty wife and a candle for the May Bush’ was a rhyme recounted by children in Dublin when looking for a contribution of candles, money or sweets for their May Day festivities.

Sometimes communal bushes were burnt on May Day evening. The bush was associated with the luck of the house or the community and in cities it was watched carefully in case a rival group would attempt to steal it.

The custom of erecting a May bush still survives as an individual household tradition, particularly in the Midlands.

may bushes

Photos: Decorated May Bushes on road between Cloghan and Ferbane, Co. Offaly in May 2009.

A number of houses one after the other on this road all had these decorated bushes.

The decoration was mainly of white or blue plastic bag strips tied to the bush.

The May Bough was a larger version of the May Bush and was most popular in Munster. Instead of a small bush, a larger part of a tree was used. This was either for outside homes or for use at some public area in the community. It was similarly decorated to the May Bush.

May Day in Ireland was a festival to welcome the summer and to protect the family and livelihood of the farm from supernatural forces.
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