Sunday 31st July and Monday 1st August is the festival of Lughnasa. Lughnasa is an old Celtic festival that marks the beginning of the Harvest season.

harvest time NLI Lawrence Collection Irish Life series

The festival is said to be named for the god Lugh, the offspring of of a marriage between Cian of the Tuath Dé Danann and Eithniu, the daughter of Balor of the Fomorians. The reason for the marriage was to create an alliance between the two warring tribes.

The story of Lugh begins before he was ever born. Balor heard a prophecy thathis grandson would be the one to kill, him so to stop this from becoming a reality, Balor imprisoned his daughter in a tower on what is now known as Tory Island.

On the mainland, a man called Mac Cinnfhaelaidh owned a magic cow that produced an abundance of milk. Everyone wanted it, especially Balor. so he changed into the form of a little boy and tricked Mac Cinnfhaelaidh into giving him the cow.

In revenge, Mac Cinnfhaelaidh called on the fairy woman Biróg, who magicked him to the top of the tower where he seduced Eithniu. Eithniu later gave birth to triplets and once Balor heard he gathered them up in a blanket and gave them to one of his men to drown.

In the man’s haste he dropped one child without knowing and carried on to kill the other two. Biróg rescued the surviving child and gave him to Mac Cinnfhaelaidh who placed him in the care of his brother, the smith.

Many years later when Lugh was a man and allied to the Tuath Dé Danann, he was captured in battle by Balor who attempted to kill him by opening his one eye that killed all who looked upon it. Lugh shot a rock into the eye and killed Balor, destroying the Fomorian army. After his victory, Lugh found Bres, the former Formorian king, alone on the battlefield and took him to the Tuath Dé Danann.

Bres begged for his life, offering in exchange, to ensure that the cows in Ireland would forever produce milk, but the they turned him down. Then he offered them four harvests a year which they also refused saying they only needed one. Finally Lugh spared the life of Bres on the condition that he teach the Tuath Dé Danann how to grow and harvest and thus Lugh became ever associated with the harvest season.

One of Lugh’s wives, Buí daughter of Ruadri, King of Britain, is said to buried at Knowth and the county of Louth took its name from Louth village which is named for the god Lugh.

Lughnasa itself was a time of great gatherings and ceremonies, in particular the climbing of mountains. This practice has been adopted by Christianity and the annual pilgrimage to the top of Croagh Patrick on ‘Reek Sunday’, the last Sunday in July, has its roots in the Lughnasa traditions.

[Pic: “Harvest Time” – National Library of Ireland (Flikr), Lawrence Collection, Irish Life Series]


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