Bonfires & Dancing

The expression 'idir dhá thine Bhealtaine' means ‘between the two fires of May’, and is similar in meaning to the expression of being ‘between a rock and a hard place’. Driving cattle through the embers of May fires was undertaken to gain their good health for the coming year. Bonfires were a feature of May Eve throughout Europe but the tradition survived mainly in the east of Ireland and in parts of Munster. Although there were small local and family bonfires to ensure good luck, the tradition of larger communal fires survived especially in the cities, e.g. Limerick and Belfast. In the west, the bonfire night was most celebrated on St. John’s Eve and elsewhere Halloween was the night for fires.

Dancing was a feature of May bonfire celebrations. It also featured around the May Pole or where communal May Bushes were burnt. This was a time for celebrating the continuity of the community. The customary dance involved the men and women joining hands to form a large circle with a dancer weaving in and out of the circle under their arms and collecting other dancers to follow after them. This has been described as representing a winding serpent and as representing the movements of the sun. It is similar to the children’s game In and out go the dusty bluebells - these blue flowers were also traditionally picked in May.

 
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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