Reflections on rich traditions for the arrival of May

Mayor of Killarney, Cllr Michael Gleeson, draws inspiration from years gone by and rich traditions as he warmly embraces the arrival of the month of May

I HAVE just watched our kindly neighbours’ cows dash headlong for the shelter of trees and bushes that populate and decorate the western ditch. They had good reason to do as a vicious north-west shower of almost hailstone heralded the arrived of May and summer.

No heat in today’s feeble sun, nothing to boost the growth of the early potatoes and brave broad beans. But as the local lore proclaims: A wet and windy May fills the barns with oats and hay.

The arrival of the month of May has brought so much colour and vibrancy and life to Killarney.
Picture: Valerie O’Sullivan

So who am I, in my sedentary years, to decry the munificent black clouds that oft times come our way from the sweeping, wild Atlantic?
But May Day has long been about more than shivering cows and cringing crops. It was and to some extent still is a time hallowed from of yore when druids and piseogs combined to give birth to customs and practices that still linger in special places such as famed Sliabh Luachra.
On May Day a stranger would not be allowed to travel onto the land as it was believed that the visitor’s purpose was to bring misfortune for the rest of the year to the landowners and family.
It was further believed that having one’s animals out in the fields before sunrise would ensure good fortune for the remainder of the year.
It was the practice for young girls to rise early on May morning and dash out into the meadows where they washed their faces with the May morning dew. In later life if complimented that she looked well a woman would reply:

I washed my face in water
That never rained or ran
Then I dried my face with a diaper towel
That was neither woven nor spun.
She meant, of course, that she washed her face with the dew and let it dry in the sun.
On May morning young people went out into to the woods and collected twigs from certain trees and specific flower heads which they brought into the house with the well-known refrain:
Thugamar féin and samhradh linn
Thugamar féin an samhradh linn
Thugamar linn é agus cé is cé bhainfidh dinn é?
Thugamar féin an samhradh linn.

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