Gàidhlig / English
Là Buidhe Bealltainn

Là Buidhe Bealltainn

Posted by Calum on 1st June, 2020
I would like to say “Happy May-Day” (or Beltane) to you all! It is, and was, a very special day in the Gael’s calender, celebrated in Scotland, Ireland, Mann and England repectively. In this blog we will have a look at traditions, practices and words connected to this particular day.

The word “Bealltainn” comes from “Beal teine” [Baal’s fire], recognising the old god “Baal” from centuries ago, with building great fires on his behalf. Baal, as a god, came from the Phoenicians. In “An Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language” by Alexander MacBain, it is written that the day would be marked on the behalf of Belenos and Belisama, from the Gaulish gods they had. Other people believe that the word “belo-” is connected to the words “bale” in English, connected to something that is white-hot with heat, such as a fire.

The weather is somewhat topsy-turvy around Beltane time; this is shown with the phrases “Glaisein cumhach na Bealltainn” or “caisean-cumhach na Bealltainn” meaning just how cold the weather could be and apparently “sneachda mu bhial na Bealltainn” [“snow at the start of Beltane”] with the cold around this time. We have many other words connected to Beltane in “Fieldwork”, here are some of them: “Balt Bealtainn,” “Garraiseach na Bealltainn,” “Glaisean clumhag na Bealltainn” and “Rotach Bealltainn”.
The night before Beltane it was believed that witches would adopt the form of a hare in order to steal the produce of the cows. In order to keep the produce from the witches urine would be sprinkled behind the ears of the cows and the barn or the byre would be decorated with rowan sticks.

As we know already the Gaels are extremely fond of the cuckoo, this is shown in many proverbs and phrases about it. The cuckoo would be celebrated when it appeared with the phrase “‘Gug-ùg’ ars a’ chuthag latha buidhe Bealltainn” [“‘Cuckoo’ cried the gowk on yellow Beltane day”]. It is about this time that the cuckoo appears commonly.

There is a practise around this time when two bonfires, after extinguishing and smooring every fire in the community, and cattle would be driven between two fires. According to “The Gaelic Otherworld”, by John Gregorson Campbell, the cows were to jump over an ignited straw bundle. The two practises come from from the centuries when people used to belive in Baal and the gods of old. People and animals would have been put in the fire as sacrifices for the year. But since the centuries past the practise now is for “cleaning” them and “purifying” them from evil and agus “ealtraigh” ["mischance"] and “dosgaidh” ["murrain"]. After driving the cattle between the two bonfires a “fàd” or a “caor” (sod) from one of the fires and the the fires of the houses of the town would be banked with the flame. A “Beannachadh Bealltainn” [“Beltane Blessing”] would be said about this day, consecrating everything that would go between, or around, the two fires. Here is three verses from the Blessing recoded in Carmena Gadelica vol. 1, by Alexander Carmicheal:

“Beannaich, a Thrianailt fhioir nach gann,
Mi fein, mo cheile agus mo chlann,
Mo chlann mhaoth ’s am mathair chaomh ’n an ceann,
Air chlar cubhr nan raon, air airidh chaon nam beann,
Air chlar cubhr nan raon, air airidh chaon nam beann.
[“Bless, O Threefold true and bountiful,
Myself, my spouse and my children,
My tender children and their beloved mother at their head.
On the fragrant plain, on the gay mountain sheiling,
On the fragrant plain, on the gay mountain sheiling.”]
Trath threigeas buar am buabhal bho,
Trath threigeas cuanal an cual chro,
Trath dh’ eireas ceigich ri beinn a cheo,
Treoir na Trianaid bhi triall ’n an coir,
O treoir na Trianaid bhi triall ’n an coir.
[“What time the kine shall forsake the stalls,
What time the sheep shall forsake the folds,
What time the goats shall ascend to the mount of mist,
May the tending of the triune follow them,
May the tending of the Triune follow them”.]
A Thi a chruthaich mi air tus,
Eisd is fritheil rium aig lubadh glun,
Moch is anamoch mar is iul,
A d’ lathair fein a Dhe nan dul,
A d’ lathair fein a Dhe nan dul.”
[“Thou Being who didst create me at the beginning
Listen and attend me as I bend the knee to thee,
Morning and evening as is becoming in me,
In Thine own prescence, O God of life,
In Thine own prescence, O God of life.”]

In the same book there is a proverb to be found that recognises the labour of the practise: : “A Mhoire! Mhicean, bu dora dhomhsa sin a dhèanamh dhuit na dhol eadar dhà theine mhòir Bheall!” [“Ah, Mary! Sonnie, it were worse for me to do that for thee, than to pass between the two great fires of Beall.”] MacBain has “Eadar dà theine Bhealltuinn” [“Between two fires of Beltane”] likewise.

A trip would be taken to holy wells, such as Chibbyr Baltane in Mann, where the sacred water would clean people from sicknesses, diseases and the water would keep the people beautiful for the year to come. As a gift to the well money or clouts or rags would be left at the well. There are many practises in Mann at Boaldyn. A “croish cuirn” would be created in order to act as protection from bad spirits and the “mooinjer beggey” [“little people”, the fairies] for the remainder of the year.

It is very clear to you all that there is an abundance of tradition and practises regarding this special day of the year. They were so abundant that I wasn’t able to fit every bit of tradition in this blog but let us know on facebooktwitter and our website about other Beltane traditions and practises!
Your comment has been submitted for moderation
There are no comments for this post