Bealtaine is one of the oldest known festival days in Ireland and marks the beginning of summer in the old Celtic calendar. An astronomical event known as a cross-quarter day, Bealtaine marks the halfway point between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice. Nowadays Bealtaine is most commonly celebrated on the 1st of May, although the actual astronomical event falls on the 5th of May this year.
To the ancient Irish, the year was divided into a light half and a dark half. Just as the day was seen as beginning at sunset, so the year was seen as beginning with the arrival of the darkness, at Samhain (Halloween). Bealtaine celebrated the end of the darkness and the coming of Summer and just like Samhain, it was marked with the lighting of great bonfires.
In fact, the Old-Irish name for Bealtaine was ‘Cét-samain/Cétamain’ from the proto-Celtic ‘*kentus *samos’ meaning ‘beginning of summer’.
The word Bealtaine itself, is generally thought to derive from the Proto Indo-European *bʰelH-, Proto Celtic *belo, meaning ‘bright or shining’ and the Old-Irish word ‘Teine’ meaning fire – Beal-taine (Bright Fire).
However, directly translated, Bealtaine means “mouth of fire” coming from the Gaelic ‘Béal’ (mouth) and tine (fire). The word ‘Béal’ is often found in Irish placenames to depict an opening or entry, giving us the related word ‘bealach’ (gap, passage, way, path).
Therefore, Bealtaine may also be translated as the ‘Passage/Pathway of Fire’ which would tie-in with the tradition that cattle would be led around the fire for purification and protection, before being put out to their summer pastures.
Bealtaine was also believed to be a time when the bounds between the human and supernatural worlds were temporarily lifted and the Aos Sí (People of the Otherworld) could roam freely.
According to Irish mythology, the first Bealtaine fire was lit on the Hill of Uisneach, at the very centre of Ireland. A verse in the ‘Dindshenchas’ (Lore of Places) tells us that the fire was lit on the hill by the druid Míde (meaning ‘middle’ – the eponym of Meath). “The fire burned for seven years and across the land, every chief’s hearth was lit from its flame”.
Interestingly, while there is no definitive translation of the word ‘Uisneach’, it is thought to derive from the proto-celtic words: *us-tin-ako- meaning ‘place of the hearth’.
As the centuries progressed, the great fire became the catalyst for the Bealtaine festival when tribal leaders, chiefs, kings, queens and high kings would gather at Uisneach for the ritual celebration. At sunset a huge fire was lit on the summit of the hill, which is visible for over a quarter of the country. Upon seeing the light from the fire at Uisneach, fires were then lit on all the other fire hills of Ireland to usher in the first dawn of summer.
In recent times the tradition of the Bealtaine fire at Uisneach has been revived. In 2017, President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins became the first head of state to light the Bealtaine fire since the last High King, to do so, over a thousand years ago.
The Bealtaine Fire Festival on the Hill of Uisneach takes place this year on Saturday the 7th of May.
Tickets for the event are now sold out
Source: Monumental Ireland
Taken From Nana Herouni