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Beltane Narsilion

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Published on May 18, 2008

Beltane is the anglicized spelling of Bealtaine (Irish pronunciation: [b-al-t-ən-ə]) or Bealltainn (Template:IPAgd) the Gaelic names for either the month of May or the festival that takes place on the first day of May.

In Irish Gaelic the month is known as Bealtaine and the festival as Lá Bealtaine ('day of Bealtaine' or, 'May Day'). In Scottish Gaelic the month is known as either an Cèitean or a' Mhàigh and the festival is known as Latha Bealltainn or simply Bealltainn.

As an ancient Gaelic festival, Bealtaine was celebrated in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. There were similar festivals held at the same time in the other Celtic countries of Wales, Brittany and Cornwall. Bealtaine and Samhain were the leading terminal dates of the civil year in Ireland though the latter festival was the most important. The festival survives in folkloric practices in the Celtic Nations and the diaspora, and has experienced a degree of revival in recent decades
For the Celts, Beltane marked the beginning of the pastoral summer season when the herds of livestock were driven out to the summer pastures and mountain grazing lands. Due to the change from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, Bealltainn in Scotland was commonly celebrated on the 15th of May while in Ireland Sean Bhealtain / "Old May" began about the night of the 11th of May.[citation needed] The lighting of bonfires on Oidhche Bhealtaine ('the eve of Bealtaine') on mountains and hills of ritual and political significance was one of the main activities of the festival. In modern Scottish Gaelic, Latha Buidhe Bealtuinn ('the yellow day of Bealltain') is used to describe the first day of May. This term Lá Buidhe Bealtaine is also used in Irish and is translated as 'Bright May Day'. In Ireland it is referred to in a common folk tale as Luan Lae Bealtaine; the first day of the week (Monday/Luan) is added to emphasise the first day of summer.

In ancient Ireland the main Bealtaine fire was held on the central hill of Uisneach 'the navel of Ireland', one of the ritual centres of the country, which is located in what is now County Westmeath. In Ireland the lighting of bonfires on Oidhche Bhealtaine seems only to have survived to the present day in County Limerick, especially in Limerick itself, as their yearly bonfire night, though some cultural groups have expressed an interest in reviving the custom at Uisneach and perhaps at the Hill of Tara.[3] The lighting of a community Bealtaine fire from which individual hearth fires are then relit is also observed in modern times in some parts of the Celtic diaspora and by some Neopagan groups, though in the majority of these cases this practice is a cultural revival rather than an unbroken survival of the ancient tradition.

Another common aspect of the festival which survived up until the early 20th century in Ireland was the hanging of May Boughs on the doors and windows of houses and the erection of May Bushes in farmyards, which usually consisted either of a branch of rowan/caorthann (mountain ash) or more commonly whitethorn/sceach geal (hawthorn) which is in bloom at the time and is commonly called the 'May Bush' or just 'May' in Hiberno-English. Furze/aiteann was also used for the May Boughs, May Bushes and as fuel for the bonfire. The practice of decorating the May Bush or Dos Bhealtaine with flowers, ribbons, garlands and colored egg shells has survived to some extent among the diaspora as well, most notably in Newfoundland, and in some Easter traditions observed on the East Coast of the United States.

Bealtaine is a cross-quarter day, marking the midpoint in the Sun's progress between the spring equinox and summer solstice. Since the Celtic year was based on both lunar and solar cycles, it is possible that the holiday was celebrated on the full moon nearest the midpoint between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. The astronomical date for this midpoint is closer to May 5 or May 7, but this can vary from year to year.

Placenames in Ireland which contain remnants of the word 'Bealtaine' include a number of places called 'Beltany' - indicating places where Bealtaine festivities were once held. There are two 'Beltany's in County Donegal, one near Raphoe and the other in the parish of Tulloghobegly. Two others are lcoated in County Tyrone, one near Clogher and the other in the parish of Cappagh. In the parish of Kilmore, County Armagh, there is a place called Tamnaghvelton/Tamhnach Bhealtaine ('field of the Bealtaine festivities'). Lisbalting/Lios Bealtaine ('fort or enclosure of Bealtaine') is located in Kilcash Parish, County Tipperary. Glasheennabaultina ('the Bealtaine stream') is the name of a stream joining the River Galey near Athea, County Limerick.

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