Celtic holidays Lá Lúnasa, 1st of August
Lughnasadh or Lughnasa is named after one of the most popular Celtic gods: Lugh.
The month of August earned its name in English from Roman Emperor Augustus. But the character of August is better epitomised by its Irish name: Lúnasa.
It was one of the major Celtic holidays, sometimes heralding up to fifteen days of fairs, markets, wrestling contests and matchmaking.
Lúnasa (Lughnasa or Lughnasagh in Old Irish) is mistakenly thought to be a harvest festival but its far too early for that, with the crops still swaying and ripening in the fields. Like most Celtic festivals, it anticipates an event.
Lá Lúnasa, the official day of the festival, was a time when Celts turned their attention to appeasing Lugh so that he would allow them a good harvest in five or six weeks time.
So showing him respect, making sacrifices to him, or simply distracting him was called for. If his needs were completely satisfied, he would let them have a bountiful harvest. Dance, music, art and poetry featured in this process, for Lugh was outstandingly gifted and skillful.
According to legend, he was a master of all crafts, from smith to harper via poet, sorcorer and sporting champion.
Echoes of these traditions continue to this day, even if we aren't conscious of their origins. Early August remains a busy time in the calendar across Ireland with countless events being held. While Celtic holidays didn't include the wellie-throwing championships or 'best scarecrow' competitions that often take place at this time of year, the dance, music and street theatre festivals would have been recognisable (in spirit, at least) to our ancestors.
The other main Celtic holidays
Halloween is the best known festival tradition handed down by the Celts.
Held on 31st October, it is now celebrated across the globe.
Find out more about this internationally famous event, and the so-called 'darkside of Halloween'.
The name derives from the Old Irish 'i mbolg' meaning 'in the belly', referring to the pregnant ewes and the imminent arrival of their lambs.
Clearly, then, it had strong associations with fertility.
The festival was also devoted to one of the most powerful of Celtic goddesses, Brigid, who was strong in healing, poetry, crafting of metalwork, wisdom and prophecy.. .
It means 'Bel's fire', the Bel in question being Bilé, another of the important Celtic gods. Bonfires were held on Beltaine as a way of demonstrating triumph over the dark powers.
Lugh and the leprechaunAmong his many skills, Lugh was a master magician. He was also an accomplished smith, and combined these two abilities to forge magic weapons.
Over time, Lugh's story moulded him into a fairy craftsman, typically a shoemaker or tailor. He was known as Lughchromain, meaning 'little stooping Lugh' and was famous for having a cranky, ill-tempered nature. Anglicised, this nickname developed into the word 'leprechaun'.