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Festival of Bealtaine at Navan Centre

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Festival of Bealtaine at Navan Centre thumbnailNavan Fort - Picture courtesy of Patrick Hughes

ON the evening of Sunday, April 30, the festival of Bealtaine (beginning of summer) was celebrated at the Navan Centre, Armagh.
Rea McGonnell (McGrail) of the very famous 'Drumcullen Ceili House' which is over 90 years in existence, staged the event here at the request of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council instead of at her home in Drumcullen.
The evening got underway with a brief account of the origins of 'Bealtaine' and the celebrating of it in Ireland.
There followed a beautiful display of dancing round the 'Maypole' by a team of young dancers directed by Joanne Mullen and Dan Donnelly.
They flawlessly intertwined the coloured ribbons into beautiful patterns as they danced around it in time to the music 'Aoibhneas na Bealtaine' (The Sweets of May).
The magnificent Maypole was made by Dan Donnelly of Blackwatertown a few years ago and he had adorned it with the beautiful ribbons and the mayflower. This flower is the 'Marsh Marigold', the juice of which can be used to get rid of 'warts'.
The name 'Bealtaine' derives from the Old Irish words 'Bel tain' meaning 'bright fire' and it was surrounded by a large number of folk beliefs some of which had possible pagan origins. The Maypole was found mainly in Germany and some other parts of Europe.
Over the past 150 years or so Bealtaine has become a more Christian festival and in Ireland there is a great association with the month of May and Our Lady. Our Lady is termed 'Queen of the May'. In most villages nowadays throughout Ireland and Britain dancing around the Maypole is a community activity bringing people together and rejoicing in the growth of new vegetation. Sometimes a May Queen is crowned.
It is also a tradition in Ireland to put the Mayflower at doors and windows of houses and byres to protect people and animals from the evil spirits.
It was great to hear 90 year old Christina O'Neill, who was there with her family from Pomeroy, speak of her experiences as a young girl growing up in the countryside when these practices were carried out.
She spoke eloquently of these rituals and also of a devout devotion to Our Lady.
Christina has a beautiful grotto devoted to Our Lady, at the back of her home overlooking the hills of Tyrone.
Special bonfires were lit and were believed to have protective powers. The cattle and people would walk around it. Sometimes people would leap over the hot embers.
Cattle may have been driven to the nearest Ring Fort/Fairy Fort and some of their blood spilt on the ground to appease the Spirits.
Witches and Fairies were thought to be particularly active at this time of year. Milk would be poured across the threshold of the house to prevent entry of the 'Wee Folk'.
There was a large gathering of around 80 people in the Navan centre of not only the regular visitors to Drumcullen but people from Austria, Germany, USA, England and neighbouring counties. Veronica Schroeder from Austria, a great friend now of Drumcullen Ceili House, sang a beautiful song and then performed a delightful Austrian dance.
Her mother performed a song in the Czech language. Rea McGonnell also sang beautifully and to a standard that people have come to expect. There was great participation in singing, music and dancing by many others throughout the evening and when the Lord Mayor, Garath Keating, arrived he not only addressed the audience but he also gave a great rendition of an old song entitled 'Johnny McIldoo'.
Everyone reckoned he has the potential to be a rapper and his presence was greatly appreciated.
The Navan Centre was a most suitable venue, especially for the Maypole dance. The staff were so welcoming and hospitable and they served up an absolutely delicious supper.
To bring the night to a close Rea thanked all who came and those who participated to make the celebration of Bealtaine such a wonderful, joyous and friendly occasion.

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