LUGHNASA is held on August Eve, and is the festival at the middle of the Celtic summer preceding the harvest.
Lughnasa is the second of the four great Celtic fire feasts, starting with Beltaine, and the months following the festival see in the harvest and the onset of Autumn after September's equinox. The festival is best known from the Irish Tailtiu games held annually each August (1), and also from Emain Macha, with its famous horse races, and Morvah in Cornwall (2). A festival was also held annually at Lugdunum, 'Lug's fortress'- modern Lyon - in Roman Gaul (3).
Quatrains on Beltaine, &c.
"Lugnassad, tell of its dues
Of every distant year:
To taste of every famous fruit,
Food of herbs on Lugnasaid"
- 16th century - based on Kuno Meyer's translation in Studies in Early Celtic Nature Poetry (p.169).
In 'The History of Ireland', originally published in 1723, the section 'Of the kings of the Tuatha Dé Danann here, and of the length of their sovereignty over Ireland'(1) tells us of the origin of the Lughnasadh:
"Lúgh Lámhfada, son of Cian, son of Dianchéacht, son of Easar Breac, son of Néd, son of Iondaoi, son of Allaoi, held the kingdom of Ireland forty years. It is this Lúgh who appointed the Fair of Taillte at first as a yearly commemoration of Taillte, daughter of Madhmór, i.e. king of Spain, who was wife to Eochaidh, son of Earc, last king of the Fir Bolg, and who was wife after that to Eochaidh Garbh, son of Duach Dall, a chief of the Tuatha Dé Danann. It is by this woman Lúgh Lámhfada was fostered and trained till he was fit to bear arms; and it is as an honourable commemoration for her Lúgh instituted the games of the Fair of Taillte a fortnight before Lúghnasadh, and a fortnight after it, resembling the games called 'Olympiades': and it is from that memorial which Lúgh used to make Lúghnasadh is given (as name) to the first day (or) to the Calends of August, i.e. the násadh or commemoration of Lúgh, (on which is now the feast of St. Peter's chains). He fell by (the hand of) Mac Coll at Caondruim."
Such was the importance of Lugos in Gaul that when it became a Roman Province, her sixty-four states (corresponding to the original Gallic touta) were organised with the Roman colonia Lugdunum built in Aeduan territory as the caput Galliarum capital of Gaul. Here, at an altar to Rome and Augustus, an annual council of delegates met and in an act echoing the druid delegates of the former touta who met at Cenabum in the touta of the Carnutes at the then centre of Gaul, the election of a sacredos Galliarum 'chief priest of Gaul' was made (4). Lugh's name is celebrated across Celtic Europe in place names originally called 'Fortress of Lugos', Lugodunum and now known as Lyon, Loudon and Leon in Gaul, as Gloucester and Carlisle in Britain, and as Leignitz in Silesia, and when referred to as 'The Fair One', Uinos, Find, Gwyn, he is celebrated in such places as Vienna (Uindobona) (3).
James Frazer, in his 'The Golden Bough' (5) recorded that as a prelude to the harvest, the custom of preparing a toasted bannock is recorded from the Highlands: oats - not yet ready for harvest - are gathered and laid in the sun to dry; they are husked, winnowed, ground in a quern, and the flour kneaded into a bannock which is toasted over a fire and broken for consumption among the family gathered. In a classical blend of Celtic tradition and Christian belief, the bannock was called the Moilean Moire, and prayers made to Mary for her blessing. At the end of the harvest a common practice was to emphasis the final stalks cut, and with many variations, led to the creation of a 'corn doll' of plaited stalks, referred to as the Cailleach (Old Wife) or Wrach (Hag), or Carly, and kept in or around the home as a charm against the winter.
The deity presiding over this feast is Lugos, the bright heroic god skilled in craftsmanship known over the entire Celtic world. In Caesar's list of Celtic deities, he refers to the important Gaullish god 'Mercury' who was the inventor of all the arts. Lugh was known in Ireland by the epithet Iolhanach, "of the many skills", and Lleu Llaw Gyffes means "of the skilful hand" in Welsh. Iberian Lugo was also a craftsman and had a dedication inscribed to him by shoemakers. The craftsman Lugh has become diminished over time and through the influence of Christianity, becoming Lugh chronain - "stooping Lugh", which is known in anglicised form as 'leprechaun' (6).
Australia and the Southern Lands experience the seasons off-set half a year to the Celtic homelands. Celebrating the Fire feasts with the progress of the southern seasons presents a dilemma, for at Beltaine on May eve, the southern seasons are turning to the winter; at Samhain on November eve, the southern seasons are at the time of rebirth at the start of summer.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
(1)The History of Ireland (BOOK I-II), SECTION XII, 'Of the kings of the Tuatha Dé Danann', published by CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of University College, Cork - http://www.ucc.ie/celt/online/T100054.html.
(2) Ellis, P.B. A Brief History of the Celts (1998). Robinson, London; Moffatt, A. The Sea Kingdoms (2001). HarperCollins, London.
(3) Dillon, M. and Chadwick, N.K. The Celtic Realms, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London.
(4) Morris. J. 2005. Londinium: London in the Roman Empire. Revised ed. London: Phoenix Press.
(5) Frazer, J. The Golden Bough (1922: 1993) Wordsworth, Ware, Hertfordshire.
(6) Ellis, P.B. A Brief History of the Celts (1998). Robinson, London; Joyce, P.W. Old Celtic Romances (1907: 2000). Wordsworth, Ware, Hertfordshire/The Folklore Society, London.
© Caer Australis 2011: From Coogee in Sydney's eastern beaches NSW Australia
The Celtic Fire FeastsFire Feast Introduction AD433: Patrick's fire Beltaine Lughnasa Samhain Imbolc Southern hemisphere
LughnasaNúada held the kingship over the Túatha de Danaan and held a great feast, to which came Lug the son of Cían son of Dían Cécht and of Ethne daughter of Balor, and foster son of Tailtiu and Eochaid Garb.