Lughnasa - The Celtic Harvest Festival

Celtic Symbol

The last Celtic Feast day of the year is Lughnasa, the harvest festival named after the Celtic God Lugh. God of the sun, light and harvests, Lugh was a great warrior. According to the Ulster Cycle he fathered the legendary Cú Chulainn and is linked to a number of sites in Ireland. Lugh spent part of his childhood in the Isle of Man where he was trained by Manannán mac Lir, said to be first ruler of the Isle of Man. Legend has it that Lir fostered and trained Lugh on Man before Lugh was sent back to Ireland. Lugh is always portrayed as youthful, handsome and athletic.

Traditionally celebrated on the first of August, Lughnasa is the fourth and last of the Feast days of the Celtic year. The three Celtic Feast days preceding Lughnasa include the Celtic New Year of Samhain (Halloween) on November 1st, Imbolg on February 1st which has become the Feast Day of St. Brigid but was originally the day of devotion to the Celtic Goddess of the same name and Beltane celebrated on 1st of May. Beltane is viewed by most scholars as being unique amongst the Celtic feast days in that Beltane observances have survived in essentially archaic form in to modern times due in part to its simplicity in that the celebrations historically included the lighting of bonfires.

Lughnasa is the least known of the four feast days and is described by James MacKillop in his “Dictionary of Celtic Mythology" as follows:

Lughnasa may be the least perceptible in the industrial, secular society, but we know more about its ancient roots than any of the other three. The significance of Lughnasa began to fade and the date on which the shadows of the ancient harvest festival was celebrated began to be moved to suit its connection with modern, often Christian, celebrations observed at about the same time of year. The Christian Church did not oppose the continuation of the festival marking the beginning of the harvest…..but the different names applied to it obscured its pagan origin.

Faeries, Fraud and Frenzies: The Oxford Dictionary of Celtic Mythology by Dr James MacKillop

Book of Kells

Celtic Mythology is a foundation stone supporting, along with the language, music and dance, our collective Celtic identity.  “The Oxford “Dictionary of Celtic Mythology” by Dr. James MacKillop can be considered one of our primary reference texts. The author is a former Professor of English at Syracuse University, former visiting Fellow in Celtic Languages at Harvard University and is past president of the American Conference for Irish Studies.

Published by Oxford University Press in 1998, this work boasts over 4,000 alphabetised entries on deities, sacred places and the personalities associated with the Celtic revival and ancient texts. The entries are presented in a range from succinct definitions to comprehensive narratives. Included is a brief and lucid “Pronunciation Guide” to the modern Celtic languages. The modern Celtic tongues have branched  over the millennia in to two language groups.  This guide sets apart the Goidelic pronunciations of Manx, Scottish Gaelic and Irish versus that of the Brythonic pronunciations of Cornish, Breton and Welsh.

Celtic Mythology is rooted in the Oral traditions of the six Celtic nations and in surviving manuscripts.  Too few texts have survived the savagery and wanton destruction directed at the Celts over the centuries during the emergence of the modern nation states of England and France. The surviving written Celtic source documents are due to accidents of history and geography, mainly Irish and Welsh in origin.  The reasons for this are deftly placed into context by MacKillop in the introduction: “The phrase ‘Celtic texts’ in this volume refers primarily to those written in the Irish and Welsh languages.  Irish is the oldest written vernacular in Europe, with a literary tradition possibly beginning in the sixth century, with the coming of the Christian scribes, that has produced hundreds of narratives. Written Irish-language literary traditions survived the coming of the Anglo-Normans (1169), the flight of the native aristocracy (1607), Cromwellian pogroms (the 1650s) and in to the eighteenth century. Welsh literary traditions, for all its artistic splendour begins several centuries later, long after Christianity was well established and exists in much smaller volume.  A third, much more modest written tradition exists in Gaelic Scotland, related to old Irish...and continued by distinguished seventeenth and eighteenth century bards.”

The Thistle - Scotlands Proud Floral Emblem

Scottish thistle

The purple thistle has been Scotland's national emblem for centuries. Amongst the identifiable symbols of things associated with Scotland the thistle probably ranks alongside tartan. Heather is also thought of as a symbol of Scotland and wearing a sprig of heather is believed to bring good luck. However, the thistle is used by all kinds of organisations across Scotland as an emblem. It has also been seen as a royal symbol since James III used it on silver coins in 1470. James III (10 July 1451 – 11 June 1488) was proclaimed King of Scotland at the age of 8, following the death of his father James II. He was killed at the Battle of Sauchieburn in Stirlingshire on 11 June 1488. Common throughout the highlands, islands and lowlands of Scotland, the thistle has earned a special place in the heart of Scottish people.

The Isle of Man and Cornwall join forces for major presentation in Brittany this August

Festival Interceltique poster

Press Release from Culture Vannin:

It's a huge year for the Isle of Man at Europe’s largest Celtic festival, Festival Interceltique Lorient in Brittany this August. Sharing the status of ‘honoured nations’ with fellow Celtic nation, Cornwall, this is the first time that the Isle of Man has been the main focus of the 45 year old festival. Isle of Man volunteer delegate, Ealee Sheard, has been working with the main financial supporter on the Island, Culture Vannin, to prepare an impressive showcase of all things Manx. IOM Arts Council has also provided a grant to ensure that the presentation is of the highest quality. The majority of the funding for the performers is coming from the Festival’s own budget and the whole presentation is a partnership between the Isle of Man and Cornwall.

A delegation of over 100 musicians & dancers will represent the Isle of Man, including Barrule, Ny Fennee, Ruth Keggin, Rushen Silver Band, Caarjyn Cooidjagh, Russell Gilmour, Strengyn, Mec Lir and many others. Attracting over 800,000 visitors and 325 journalists from all over Europe, the 2015 festival will centre around a pavilion and stage presented by the Isle of Man and Cornwall. Key events are televised to millions across France. Peter Young from Event Management Solutions is managing the pavilion presentation for Culture Vannin, and has been working with the Cornish delegation to design a venue which will represent both the unique and shared qualities of our two nations through food and drink, culture, heritage, language, arts and crafts, and tourist information. The pavilion stage will have a packed schedule of Manx and Cornish acts, some of which will also be involved in officially programmed performances in other festival venues. There will be two major Manx/Cornish gala events in the Grand Theatre and Espace Marine, and a featured segment within the popular Nuits Interceltiques – an extravaganza of music, dance, film and fireworks. The Festival committee has also planned a TT themed event, which will attract riders from the region, so a really broad cross-section of Manx culture will be promoted. Angela Byrne, Head of Tourism, visited the festival last year:

Just walking around the festival, it’s the energy, it’s the whole eclectic mix of so many different nations that have come together under a common theme – it’s fantastic, I’ve never been to anything like it!

Korrigans - Sirens of Breton Mythology

Korrigans

In the rich Celtic mythological tales of Brittany, the Korrigans form a group of female entities who are associated with rivers and wells. Sometimes they are described as fairy like creatures with beautiful golden hair. They are seen in some tales as changelings who can alter their shape. 

In the 1911 seminal work “The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries” by W.Y. Evans-Wentz, the author describes the origins of the Korrigan myth: “In lower Brittany, which is the genuinely Celtic part of Amorica (Breton Peninsula) instead of finding a widespread folk-belief in fairies of the kind existing in Wales, Ireland and Scotland we find a widespread belief in the existence of the dead, and to a less extent in that of the Korrigan tribes. It is the Korrigan race, more than fairies, (which) forms a large part of the invisible inhabitants of Brittany”.

From a folklore tale cited by Evans-Wentz, we have a window into the rich oral tradition of Celtic myth in Brittany:

Towards midnight I was awakened by a terrible uproar; there were a hundred Korrigans dancing around the fountain. I overheard one of them say to the others; I have news to report to you , I have cast an evil spell upon the daughter of the King and no mortal will ever be able to cure her, and yet in order to cure her, nothing more would be needed than a drop of water form this fountain.

The Lost German on the Isle of Man TT Course: A Ghost Story from the Isle of Man

Isle of Man TT logo

One of the world's great sporting events and the ultimate motorcycle race, The Isle of Man TT 2015 Practices and Races Schedule runs from 30th May to 12th June.

Cascading down the steep slopes of Snaefell Mountain, the bank of dark fog shrouded everything in its path. At first an advanced guard of wispy light grey cloud trailed over the Mountain TT circuit and rolled down towards the Laxey Valley below.  A sombre damp blanket of darkness soon followed.  These mountain fogs could arrive quickly and sometimes without warning. They were a feature of the famous Manx motorcycle road course, the best and most challenging motorbike race in the world. When the mountain mists descended visibility was reduced to zero and all racing came to a halt until it lifted, at times almost as soon as it had arrived.

Jim Quayle had been stationed as a Marshall on the ‘Verandah’ section of the course. He had volunteered as a Marshall every year for 10 years. The 37¾ mile course needed just over a minimum of 500 Marshals stationed around the course in various sectors. At its highest point the course rose to 1,385ft (422 metres) above sea level. Jim liked to be stationed on the mountain section of the course. Although it could be frustrating at times; like today, when the fog descended and you just had to wait until ‘Manannan’ decided he would be prepared to lift his cloak of mist. ‘Manannan’ was the Celtic sea god from where the Isle of Man (Manx: Mannin) derived its name. The legend being that he would use the rolling mists to hide the island from its enemies and protect it.

Glen Innes 2015 Australian Celtic Festival Resounding Success

Emmanuel College Pipe Band

This year saw the 23rd Australian Celtic Festival at Glen Innes. Record numbers flocked to the New South Wales town of Glen Innes to experience this very unique festival celebrating the music, song, dance and culture of all the Celtic Nations. The main events of the festival took place between the 30th April to 3rd May. Glen Innes is a town known for its friendly people and welcoming atmosphere. Celts from all over Australia celebrated along with locals and tourists from abroad. A street parade, concerts and events taking place all over Glen Innes demonstrate how much this warm hearted town has embraced this wonderful festival of all things Celtic. Each year there is a featured Celtic Nation and this year it was Wales (Cymru). Next year 2016 will celebrate the Isle of Man (Mannin).

The Fairy Flag And The Chiefs Of Clan MacLeod

Fairy flag

The Fairy Flag (Am Bratach Sìth) is a flag which is said to have magical properties; it belongs to the chiefs of the Clan MacLeod. It is located in Dunvegan Castle, which is close to the town of Dunvegan (Dùn Bheagain) on the Isle of Skye in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. The fragile silk flag is about 18 inches squared. The origins of the flag are not clear and there are a number of legends which say that the flag was a gift from the fairies.

One such story was that a young chief of the Clan MacLeod fell in love with a fairy princess and proposed marriage. The King of the Fairies initially forbade his daughter’s betrothal to a mortal, but relented on seeing her distress. However, he stipulated that the marriage should last no more than a year and one day, at which time she should return to the Fairy Kingdom with no human possessions. The couple were much in love and had a son. On the day that the marriage was ordered to end the sad couple were rendered apart. One version of the story is that she presented her husband with the fairy flag for protection at the nearby “Fairy Bridge” from where she re-entered the Fairy Kingdom. Another version is that the fairy princess told her husband to look after their son well and not to let him cry as she would hear and it would break her heart.

Albannach: Scottish-Celtic Culture Warriors

Albannach

To celebrate the Scottish National Party's landslide victory in the UK's 2015 General Election, we are re-featuring some of our favourite Scottish articles. This is our 2013 article on the mighty Scottish band Albannach, including an exclusive interview with the band's leader Jamesie Johnston.

Transceltic attended the 2013 Saint Augustine Celtic Music & Heritage Festival in Florida. The organisers proudly announced to us that the Headline act was the Scottish band "Albannach". Being curious to see this band which was unfamiliar to me and sensing the excitement of the crowd eagerly awaiting Albannach's arrival on stage, I watched as the band set up as the first performance of the festival. The only way to describe the impact when the performance began is as an assault on the senses. The energy of the drums juxtaposed against expert piping of band member Donnie MacNeil was transfixing. Not to put too fine a point on it I was stunned and the 30 minute set seemed to pass in an instant and at the conclusion the crowd went nuts. Having always suffered from a genetic predisposition to becoming slightly unbalanced at the sound of the Pipes, the ricochet of the pulsing tribal drum beat against the soaring mastery of the Piper left me spellbound. The organisers had placed Albannach as the first and last act for each of the two days which I soon realised was a successful tactic to build the excitement into the evening hours and the keep the crowds to the last.

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