Tuesday 20 August 2019

Bringing new life to old traditions

One of the decorations on the hawthorn tree in Ballindaggin. BELOW: The local community gathers for the celebration outside the Holy Grail in the village.
One of the decorations on the hawthorn tree in Ballindaggin. BELOW: The local community gathers for the celebration outside the Holy Grail in the village.

Adults and children of all ages descended on the green outside the Holy Grail in Ballindaggin village on May 1 at 12 noon, equipped with painted egg shells, bunches of flowers, ribbons and streamers.

The event was the decorating of a bush, a hawthorn tree, which had been erected that morning to be transformed into the Ballindaggin Community May Bush 2017.

Now in its second year, the Community May Bush was organised by Michael Fortune and Aileen Lambert with the support of the Ballindaggin Development Group.

It has proved a great hit with families and people of all ages, with over eighty people turning up to decorate it this year.

While many present remember putting up May bushes in their own yards and gardens when they were young, most had discontinued the practice and this is a lovely way to bring new life to it.

There are, however, a number of people who have been continuing this tradition in their own homes for years. Michael recently introduced Brenda Donohue of RTE Radio One's 'Country Wide' programme to a few when she visited him in Curragraigue to find out more about May customs.

Marie and Mairead Coleman of Curragraigue showed Brenda their May Altar and spoke about the tradition of the May Bush, while Cathy and Jim Byrne of the Forge in Ballindaggin spoke about the tradition of listening out for the Cuckoo in May, cures relating to the forge and showed Brenda their collection of egg shells ready for their May Bush. The programme was aired on April 29 and is available as a podcast on the RTE website.

Michael has been to the forefront of promoting and highlighting our folklore, customs and culture. Last year he released his folklore collection, a set of 22 DVDs, at an event in the NLI at Hallowe'en, which featured talks, screenings, songs and a mumming demonstration.

Last Friday, May 5, he also presented 'A Walk in the May Dew', a day long seminar exploring the folklore and customs surrounding the month of May in Ireland.

The screenings included a short film featuring Ger Murphy of Curragraigue talking about the custom of spreading 'Traan Water' on the crops using a cock's feather and a jar of holy water blessed by the Augustinian Friars, who used to travel around the area on bike, blessing water in exchange for a few coins or a loaf of bread.

This practice was believed to protect the crops and was undertaken during the three 'Rogation Days' at the end of April, or on May Eve.

Michael has stirred such interest in our customs and folklore that he was featured on three shows at the end of April speaking about May Customs; Country Wide on Radio One, the Sean O'Rourke Show on Radio One and Lyric FM's Culture File.

The May Bush is traditionally erected on the Eve of May Day and decorated with ribbons, seasonal flowers and painted egg shells. The bush used in Wexford was a whitethorn or a 'skeagh' as it known locally. It was cut down and stuck up in a prominent place, a cross roads, outside the home or in many cases the dung heap on the farm.

The month of May was a turning point in the old Celtic calendar in Ireland and the month has more folklore and customs associated with it than any other month.

The erection of The May Bush continued to be practiced publicly and privately in communities and homes throughout the county from New Ross to Taghmon and Ballygarrett to Bunclody, although it went into steep decline in the 1960's and 70's.

'The Wexford May Bush Festival' was also initiated by Michael and Aileen. This was simply a call out to people across the county to post pictures of their own May Bush to the Facebook Page 'The May Bush' (search Wexford May Bush to find the right page).

Wexford People

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