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Celtic holidays – Lá Lúnasa, 1st of August

Lughnasadh or Lughnasa is named after one of the most popular Celtic gods: Lugh.

Seasonal Celtic holidays

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.

A Celtic brooch.
A brooch bearing a Celtic design.

It was one of the major Celtic holidays, sometimes heralding up to 15 days of fairs, markets, wrestling contests and matchmaking.

Lúnasa – Lughnasa or Lughnasagh in Old Irish – is mistakenly thought to be a harvest festival, but it’s 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.

Fields of wheat.
Celtic gods were a rather fiery bunch, much given to unpredicatable temper tantrums. Lugh was no exception and was known to show his anger in violent late summer storms that could wreck delicate crops just before they were gathered.

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.

Lugh and the leprechaun

Among 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'.

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.

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More 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'.

Imbolc falls on 1st February and marks the beginning of Spring, even if the weather doesn't agree!

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.

Beltane is the name for the festival held on 1st May and signals the coming of Summer and some decent warm weather.

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.

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