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May on Our Doorstep:New National Survey

The National Museum of Ireland-Country Life, Turlough Park, Castlebar, Co. Mayo is undertaking a collaborative heritage project with the Linenhall Arts CentreLinks to external website, Castlebar. May On Our Doorstep is a celebration of traditional May customs combining a visual arts project, two exhibitions and an opportunity for online participation from the public. We are inviting people to share their memories of May Days Past and to contribute to a national survey which aims to find out how and where people are still ‘welcoming the summer’ in the 21st century.

Welcoming the summer’: An Ireland-wide survey of 21st century May customs: On May 1st 2011, a series of heart-warming images capturing the tradition of leaving flowers on the doorstep for good luck and protection, were taken in a number of Co. Mayo towns.

This year we are conducting an online survey to find out just how widespread the practice of celebrating ‘the coming of summer’ is in a modern, technological Ireland.

This project is aimed at the general public, schools and photographers (of all abilities!). People are also invited to share their memories of May Days Past, particularly in relation to May Eve and May Day. Recollections of older people in the community can greatly contribute to the Museum’s knowledge in this area. Examples of customs include: May Altars, flowers left on the doorstep, flowers or branches hung above the threshold of house and byre , May Eve bonfires, May Poles, May Queens and Parades. Do you remember these or any other May Day customs? If so, please add your memories by submitting the online survey form on

The Museum is particularly keen to uncover photographs depicting May celebrations and customs as these are relatively rare. Alternatively, a photograph of the person recollecting May would be welcome.

Students can record the May Day memories of their parents, grandparents and neighbours and submit them online or, if your school decorates a May Altar, why not add this to the survey?

We are challenging photographers across Ireland to ‘Capture Tradition’. Research, find and document customs on May Eve, May Day and during the month of May. Images submitted to the survey will form an online exhibition reflecting the living history of Ireland and a connection with age old beliefs that many thought were truly in the past.

How to participate:

To participate online and for more information about this project visit and follow the link to ‘Welcoming the summer’ May Customs. Scanned or digital photographs can be emailed to

‘As in much of northern Europe, May Day in Ireland was a celebration and welcome of the summer. Here, it is rooted in the pre-Christian festival of Bealtaine. Bealtaine embraces the summer, bidding farewell to the dark winter half of the year.

Flowers, dancing, and bonfires featured strongly in the festivities. People also sought protection for themselves, their homes and livestock against supernatural forces...Traditions associated with May include May Bushes, May Flowers, May Boughs, May Poles and May Bonfires. All are associated with luck and protection.’ (Clodagh Doyle, Curator Irish Folklife Division)

Thank you for helping to celebrate and record our nation’s rich heritage!

For further information please contact:

• General details: Eorann Kavanagh, National Museum of Ireland - Country Life. Tel: (094) 903 1758; email:

• Interviews: Lorna Elms, Education & Outreach Dept., National Museum of Ireland - Country Life. Tel: (094) 903 1751; email:

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