Pagan Holidays (Holy Days) worldwide are coming back to a more general use and understanding, with folk often asking questions about whether Christmas is a Pagan Holiday (it is, sort of), and observing the 8-fold Wheel of the Year.
The current Neo Pagan calendar (and its primarily Wiccan holidays) is ostensibly based off the ‘Celtic Wheel of the Year’, as the early creators and authors of our modern traditions were very fond of their romantic notions of Celtic culture, and very sure that it was ok to just… take what they wanted, and change or use it however they wanted.
*cough* Coilíní *cough*
The problem with this (one of the problems) is that we now have a sort of tangled, much mangled, view of the original pre-christian Irish Pagan festivals, that even many Irish Pagans adhere to.
In this post, I’d like to break this down a bit, and clarify some of the basics, so that we can (hopefully), start fresh. With a somewhat cleaner slate for Irish Pagan practice. Le do thoil.
To begin with, the ‘traditional’ eight Pagan Holidays, are actually 2 sets of four. So the wheel of the year is maybe 2 wheels, rotating side by side.
This can be a little confusing if you’re not used to considering things this way, but I do remember being quite frustrated back in my baby Pagan days by how the festivals seemed to just be copies of each other. Like, within the Wiccan traditions, there’s not a huge difference between how you’re celebrating the Summer Solstice (Litha) and Beltane, for example.
In my native practice, I break the focus, themes or concerns out as follows:
The Pagan Calendar names I use are in modern Irish, and the associated Gaeilge video is also my schoolgirl modern Irish pronunciation, to be clear.
Irish is a living language, and while I’m the first one to honour the Primitive Irish and Old Irish source material, they are different languages. We have modern Irish terminology for every single Pagan Holiday name, and a wealth of associated folklore and traditions within our living memory in Irish communities. So let’s use that.
Admittedly now, some of the folklore has gotten crossed over and shifted around with the Christian influences, eg. Summer Solstice bonfires now happen on St. John’s Eve, on the 23rd June, and the animal sacrifice tradition has moved from Samhain to St. Martin’s Day, on the 11th November. But that’s ok too.
At least the traditions still exist, and have grown and moved with the communities as we did.
Focus on Community, Hearth & Home, the Otherworld (an Saol Eile).
When people first walked this land, there were 2 seasons: summer and winter. They signified the change and move between camping grounds, as theirs was a Hunter/Gatherer lifestyle.
These times of moving and changing were dangerous and uncertain, and this still holds true in the primary Irish Pagan holidays of Bealtaine, and Samhain, which remain times of great change and uncertainty.
When the people settled, and began to farm the land, the seasons of Growth and Harvest were marked, with Imbolg and Lúnasa, and so began the 4 Fire Festivals.
[Download this Chart as a PDF Below]
Personally, I use the name Imbolg for this festival. That’s from the Irish i mBolg, meaning ‘in the belly’, for the pregnancy aspects (animals as well as humans, because if we get pregnant at Bealtaine we give birth around now). Imbolc is commonly used too though, and may have associations with washing or a ‘spring clean’ after winter, from Folc, meaning ‘bathe or wash’. I’m honestly not sure which language the term Oimelc comes from, though it’s been given to mean ‘ewe’s milk’. That would be Bainne na Caoirigh in modern Irish though, which doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
We have this clearly in old Irish as Belltaine (with various other spellings, the manuscripts weren’t always precise or standardised), meaning the month of May, or even ‘the month of the beacon-fire) according to the eDIL. It may have associations with an Old Celtic God Boleros, ‘the flashing one’ (Ó hÓgáin) or Balar/Balor in Ireland, he of the single, blazing destructive eye (often thought to be symbolic of the sun), and form the word Bealtaine from Balor’s Fire (tine).
There are multiple spellings out there, and I know some of them are based on the Gaelic language of Scotland, which I don’t speak. But as we still use the word Bealtaine in modern Irish for the month of May, and again – this is a living language, and it’d be great not to have to deal with bastardised or anglicised versions of it anymore please and thank you – let’s go with that eh?!
Irish Language Resource – https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/Bealtaine
You’ll often see this written as Lughnasadh, and indeed, I’ve done so myself. As above though, I prefer the modern Irish spelling, and in Gaeilge, Lúnasa is the word for the month of August. I mean, I wasn’t joking about these Pagan holidays still being a part of our culture.
You’ll see references too, to Lammas, which we don’t have in modern Irish. My basic exploration of Old Irish suggests it MIGHT be a version of a ‘fine, handsome or excellent hand’ (from n. Lám and adj. Mass?)… but be warned, that is a very rudimentary look at a compound word! I definitely don’t use it as a Pagan Holiday name anyway.
Irish Language Resource – https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/Lúnasa
It’s not pronounced Sam-Hane. Never. I don’t care what your esteemed Elders passed down to you not-so-very-long-ago (in the grand scheme of things).
This is a LIVING LANGUAGE. Respect it, and the people who still speak it every day. Stop that Sam-Hane shit immediately.
It probably comes from the Old Irish samfuin, meaning ‘death of Summer’: eDIL. Samhain in modern Irish is the word for the month of November.
So yes, we know how to pronounce it properly. (Are you getting a sense for how many times I’ve had U.S. Pagans correct my pronunciation? Like, I’m not sure how to even communicate how infuriating that is, especially when it happens consistently!)
Irish Language Resource – https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/Samhain
Focus on Community, Land & Sovereignty, this World (an Saol Sin – or Seo).
We know these times were important to our ancestors due, at least, to the sacred sites they constructed and used to observe and celebrate them. Massive monuments all over the island still attest to the power and value that was placed upon aligning ourselves, our communities, and our leadership, with these turning times of the Pagan year.
Please note: the common names Ostara, Litha, Mabon, and Yule, are at best culturally appropriated and co-opted into Neo Paganism, and at worst, carry entirely fabricated pseudo histories. I’m looking at you, Mabon.
They have NO place in native Irish paganism.
The Irish names below are simply the names of our seasons, as Gaeilge, and have always suited my personal practice around the Irish Pagan Holidays best.
[Download this Chart as a PDF Below]
The balance of day and night.
Irish Language Resource – https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/Earrach
Mid Summer, the longest day.
Irish Language Resource – https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/Samhradh
The balance of night and day.
Irish Language Resource – https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/Fómhar
Mid Winter, the longest night.
Irish Language Resource – https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/Geimhreadh
If you’d like more detail on any of the Irish Pagan Holidays, comment below and let me know. There’s already extensive sections in my books (see Publications – coming soon), but I can try and get some more blog posts and YouTube videos together for them if there’s an interest, and maybe even a wee course through our Irish Pagan School.
Let me know which of the Pagan holidays you want to see more on?!
Most of us will know, or at least know of, a child who attends a gaelscoil. These Irish language medium schools are those which function in accordance with the usual rules of the Department of Education, just like a regular school, except that Irish is the language of instruction and the language of communication amongst teachers, children and management.
In short, everybody speaks ‘as Gaeilge’, all the time. To quote the web site of the voluntary national organisation ‘Gaelscoileanna’;
“Irish is the living language of Irish-medium schools, both within the classroom and without.”
There were more than 30,000 pupils receiving all-Irish education in 158 primary schools and 36 post-primary schools (outside the Gaeltacht regions) in Ireland in 2006. With the opening of Gaelscoil Liatroma in County Leitrim, on 1st September 2005, all-Irish education at primary level was finally available in every county.
The first gaelscoil – Scoil Bhríde, in Ranelagh – opened it’s doors in 1917, and is still one of the 29 primary and 8 secondary gaelscoileanna which operate in Dublin.
What is the attraction of education through the Irish Language? I spoke to parents, teachers and pupils from around the country, to find out…
[Note: this article was first published in our national press, 2006]
In Ulster, 23 year old Community Artist Seán Pól Ó Fhlannigáin started attending an Irish nursery school in 1984. The primary school he attended was the only one in Northern Ireland at that time. Bunscoil Phobail Feirste is in west Belfast, where it first opened in 1971.
Seán was also a pupil at an Irish language secondary – Meanscoil Feirste, located on Bóthar na bhFal, or the Falls Road as it is more commonly known, from 1991 on. When it first opened it’s doors, there were 9 pupils. There are now over 600. Catering for an eclectic mix of races, religions and creeds, the Meanscoil is described as “a mixed school of non-denominational religion”.
Now receiving grant aid and state backing, Irish language schools in the North have come a long way from their beginnings. Like other gaelscoileanna, the first ones in Ulster were started by determined parents. As well as paying fees to cover the teacher’s salaries, buildings, and equipment, the parents did most other things within the schools.
This included driving and supervising on school buses, cooking for the pupils, and cleaning the schools. One resolute family made the journey from their home in Derry to the gaelscoil in Belfast every day, a round trip of 150 miles.
Seán says he knew growing up that his school was different, but that he always thought it to be different in a good way.
He would hear his peers complain about their teachers, and give them nick-names – while in his school the teachers were known by their first names. Although discipline was important, there didn’t seem to be the same animosity or rancour between teachers and pupils in the Gaelscoil.
His teachers also had huge interest in folk music and traditional sports, and so the extra curricular activities available were rich in Irish culture. He remembers little trouble arising from attending an Irish language school, even though Gaeilge is considered a foreign language in Northern Ireland, and there was a time when speaking it would have said more about your affiliations than your linguistic skills.
The UK government has now recognised that many of its citizens wish to educate their children through Irish, and has granted financial aid and status accordingly.
Seán finds his extra language skills to be a definite bonus to his teaching career, and he enjoys the ability to express himself in what he considers to be his native tongue. He still meets with friends who are also fluent Irish speakers, and can often be heard engaged in a comhrá when in his local pub.
In Munster, Catriona Ní Fhiachra has a 6 year old daughter, whom she decided to send to the local Gaelscoil Philib Barún, in Tramore, County Waterford.
She gives her reasons for choosing this school above others in the area; “There are small class sizes, which is important because it imparts a feeling of family and community. We get a good range of extra curricular activities, and there is better equipment and facilities than in a lot of other schools. There is the option, later on, of my daughter doing her Leaving Cert through Irish, and gaining extra points. And besides the benefits of gaelscoil educated children being able to pick up foreign languages very quickly, because they are used to multi-lingual study – it is important to keep our own language alive.”
Though not educated in a gaelscoil herself, she says the Irish she does have is all coming back to her now.
Catriona is very pleased with the caring attitudes of teachers, and with her daughter’s progress in the school. She says she wants her daughter to go to a school where “everybody knows your name.”
In Connacht, Orla Ní Chuinneagáin was interested in gaelscoileanna even before the new Roscommon bunscoil advertised for a principal in 1999. Having written her college thesis on Irish-medium schools, she was already aware of how things operated when she applied for, and won, the position.
She explained the process involved in starting up the gaelscoil; “There was a founding committee, of about 6 or 7 people, who were parents or would be parents. Just ordinary local people with an interest in Irish. With the bare minimum requirement of students, and temporary use of the Girl Guide’s centre as a premises, they raised funds through raffles and events, and received loans from parents (which have now been re-paid) to get things off the ground. The committee visited existing schools, and spoke to those who ran them, in Longford and Ballinasloe. The first planning meeting was in October 1999, they advertised for teachers in July 2000, and the school opened in September 2000.”
There is no government aid available until there are a minimum of 17 pupils and a premises, and even then it is only a temporary sanction at first – they help with 75% of the rent.
For anybody wishing to start a gaelscoil in their area, Orla offers the following advice; “Talk to parents who have already done it. Look around established schools, and get advice and aid from the ‘Gaelscoileanna’ organisation (www.gaelscoileanna.ie). You will need to apply a year in advance of your proposed opening date. Make sure you have the numbers required, and meet the government standards – they are getting stricter on that now.”
Gaelscoil de hÍde, County Roscommon, moved to a new premises with a long term lease, and proudly opened its doors to 98 pupils in September 2005.
In Leinster, Cillian Ó Síaghail recently graduated from Scoil Oilibhéir in Dublin. Although the school is only 5 minutes from his house, the closest one available, there was just one other child from his housing estate in attendance with him.
When asked if he ever got a hard time from other kids about going to a Gaelscoil, he replied; “They just asked me if we had to do everything in Irish. I’d say that we do, and they’d just say – hate that! They thought Irish was really hard.”
And yet, having grown up with an older sister and brother who also attended the Gaelscoil, he was quite used to the language and didn’t find it a problem. In fact, he feels quite confident about his future Junior and Leaving Cert exams in the subject.
I was dying to know, after his total immersion, did Cillian actually LIKE Irish? His response speaks volumes; “I’m glad that I know the nation’s real language.”
Pádraig Pearse maintained that a country without language is a country without soul – “Tír gan teanga, tír gan anam”. He might rest easier knowing that at least 30,000 children are more comfortable with our nation’s language, thanks to their Gaelscoileanna.
It’s been suggested a couple of times that I should get on ‘the other side of the interview’, and talk about my own Irish Spirituality, and Pagan or magical practices. So recently I queried my Community for their questions on Irish Paganism and Spirituality (or my history/practice in particular). Then I went on FB Live and recorded the Video, which you’ll see below.
Morgan Daimler what is your favorite subject to teach or write about and why?
Morgan Daimler What do you think is the best way for someone to get started with Irish Spirituality, and how can a person (anywhere) avoid the usual pitfalls of bad information while building an understanding of the spirituality and the Gods and spirits?
Mac Tíre Would you have any advice specifically with regards to connecting to deity (even more specifically An Morrigan) E.g. like what you were saying in your interview with Oein DeBhairduin about contracts. Also appropriate offerings and what NOT to do.
Cat O’Sullivan Sometimes no matter how hard you try to avoid it you end up having to deal with the other crowd (the Good Neighbours, The Sidhe, the Irish Fairies). What would you recommend. Bargain, banter or banish?
Teididh McElwaine Question: Could you recommend how to wisely pursue like-minded, serious people in our respective communities? Thanks! (eg. Pagan community building)
Victoria Danger Yay! What parts of your devotion/practice/spirituality are centered on joy? Tell us about the parts that are fun or feel good 😊
Gemma McGowan Apart from teaching, writing and political activism (which I know is already a lot!!!) what other areas do your Gods ask you to actively work in e.g. Devotional practice, ritual, healing, specific types of magical work?
Cheryl Baker What does daily/weekly/monthly practice look like for you?
Marocatha Bodua Brigiani I’d love to hear you talk about magic vs religion in Irish spirituality – are those pieces separate for you, are they not separate, how do they integrate or not in your practice.
Branwen Stephanie Rogers Aside from the lore and researching, what do you consider foundational to your practice and spiritual well being?
J-me Fae What is a practice that you, personally, would like to see folks outside of Ireland integrating into their work on Irish Spirituality? What do people do that most honors the gods and land you love?
SallyRose Rivers Robinson What altar items do you see as making up an Irish Spiritual altar? Is there specific things that should be there? Specific things that shouldn’t? Is it strictly personal choices?
Pamela Holcombe Question: I hear you say you found yourself Wondering around the Otherworld many times throughout your life before you understood the way of traveling there so curious what your most profound experience was there or scary interesting experience was? Also I find that I sometimes end up on my island in my dreams and travel around in the other world in my dreams do you do that also and do you think it’s pretty much like a journey we do awake?
Izzy Swanson What Carl Jung book would you read first? I printed a list of his collected works. My head may explode. I am most interested in his definition of the psychopomp.
Darla Majick What do you think about The Morrigan whiskey? I have it on our Morrigan Altar and love the bottle. Its not the best whiskey out there but it’s definitely not the worst. Ive blessed and cleansed ours before just putting in on Her altar. WE did ask her if she liked it and we did not get a negative response from her
Alanna Butler GallagherHave you ever tried to draw what you saw (in the Otherworld, ref. Pamela’s Q above)? That experience illustrated sounds like it would be a learning point for other people to not do that type of thing for the craic 🤔
J-me Fae Do you have any specific recommendations for parents looking to support their kids in building authentic connection with Ireland? I read the stories to them, share *some* of what I am doing with them (but I’m wary there), and we are all learning Irish together, but at least one of them is hungry for more
It’s not that hard, really.
Us Irish actually have the toughest time of it, with our outdated dinosaur curriculum forced-by-nuns-and-christian-brothers system of learning the Irish or Gaeilge, from the age of 4 or 5 until we leave school at 17 or 18. There’s many an Irish person who’s done over 13 years of schooling here, with Irish lessons most days, only to firmly believe that they can’t speak a damn word of it past ‘how are ya’, and the ubiquitous ‘póg mo thóin’.
But see if we could spend that much time learning it like any other language is taught? We’d be a nation of Gaeilgeoirí once more.
Learning to speak Irish is no more difficult than learning any other language, with the right tools and tricks up your sleeve. That’s where this blog post comes in!
When a friend (check her out, she’s awesome) asked me for some tips and tricks recently, this is what shot off the top of my head…
Then Kass returned the favour by showing me this: List of Resources for Learning Irish.
I found a Book Proposal from 13 years ago, that I had agreed to write before life took a different turn for me – a ‘Who’s Who of Irish Mythology & How to Work with Them’.
I may or may not turn it into a book at some stage…?! But for now it may as well be out in world as sitting on my computer.
WARNING: It’s an unedited old photo of my thoughts and practice 13 years ago. So, be aware.
I will also mention the use of the Irish language in ritual, and generally when working with the Powers of Ireland or at the ancient sites.
Yes, they do understand you if you speak English. They would understand you if you spoke to them in Tahitian, Mongolian, or the sign language you and your sister made up when you were kids.
Intent matters – they can hear and feel what is truly in your heart.
Of course, how the Powers choose to interpret and use that intent and anything you hand over to them, depends very much on who you are dealing with; not all are good and pure and looking out for your best interests, by any means.
Be clear, focused and a little cautious. Otherworldly entities don’t think or feel the same way we do, nor do they have the same sense of right and wrong as most mortals.
They understand intent, and whatever language you speak natively… but, Irish is their language.
It is the language of the ancestors, the continuity of the people, our connection to the past and an expression of our souls that makes them sing.
Modern Irish is quite different to the Irish our ancestors spoke, but it is a development of it, and a lot closer than English.
So many Irish people don’t seem to care about their own native tongue, and it is a huge personal worry of mine that Irish is being lost or disregarded. Even as I type there is a fight in Europe to get our national language recognised as an official EU language. (Note: it has been recognised since writing this.)
Although the issue was ignored for quite a long time, our government now seems to recognise, for once, a matter of national importance.
The use of Irish language terminology through my writing has been praised by some and highly criticised by others.
I have even seen it suggested that I skip the actual Irish words altogether and just give the phonetic sounds, as the pronunciation guides seem to annoy, or the Irish terms overwhelm some people.
Well, they are staying. The language is real, it is still vibrant and developing in many areas of our society. Although it may seem difficult to learn, in reality it is no more challenging than French or German.
Irish Gaeilge (pron. Gayl-gah) is an important part of Irish magic and spirituality. I know quite a few people who would have originally considered the use of Gaeilge in magic to be at best unnecessary, and at worst pretentious – but on having actually experienced for themselves the response it evokes from the Powers and the extra dimension it can add to a ritual, they now see the value.
As I said, it is not that the Powers don’t understand other languages, but they certainly do understand the respect (and often the effort or hard work) it shows to speak to them in their own tongue, or as close to it as we have.
So I do encourage you to at least try using Irish in your rituals or magical/spiritual practices.
I will continue to provide the terminology and pronunciation guides for those who wish to incorporate it, and I will be providing it in actual Irish format, not just some dumbed down phonetic version for those who are too lazy or too stubborn to at least look at the language of a culture they profess to have an inclination towards.
National Anthems come about, not because of the suitability of the particular words or notes, but because they are adopted generally by the nation. That is exactly how the “Soldiers’ Song” became a National Anthem in this country. It happened to be the Anthem on the lips of the people when they came into their own and when the outsiders evacuated the country and left the insiders here to make the best or the worst of the country. It was adopted by the people here before ever it was adopted by the Executive Council.
Did you know there are 3 whole other verses to ‘Amhrán na bhFiann‘, which has been the national anthem of the Republic of Ireland since 1926 (officially)? What we generally hear is just the chorus – which is the only part of the song that’s the official Irish anthem, mind you – but many of my generation don’t even know the words to that much.
When I was growing up, you’d hear it on the telly when the stations were shutting down for the night. Yeah, they used to do that, genuine downtime – weird isn’t it? You’d hear it after the show in cinemas and theatres, and at the end of every disco or dance.
It was written in 1907 by Peadar Kearney and Patrick Heaney, called “A Soldier’s Song”, and first published by ‘Irish Freedom’ – a monthly publication by the Irish Republican Brotherhood – in 1912. The Irish Volunteers sang it on the march, in the internment camps, and the rebels sang it in the GPO during the Easter Rising.
Most of the versions you’ll see online will be just the chorus, but you can Click Here to Get the Full Vocals. If anybody wants to link to a more, shall we say, pleasant sounding or better quality version, please do in the comments below. Or y’all who can sing could sing it out for us, and upload or send it over to me. Ideal!
Most of us though, should learn the words as best we can. It’s not just a political formality – this is the song your ancestors sung for their freedom. The lyrics to the national anthem of Ireland are as follows, in Irish and English… but nobody sings it in English.
Seo dhibh a cháirde duan oglaidh
Caithréimeach, br’oghmhar, ceolmhar.
ár dteinte cnámh go buacach táid,
`S an spéir go min réaltógach.
Is fionmhar faobhrach sinn chun gleo
‘S go tiúnmhar glé roimh tigheacht do’n ló,
Fa ciúnas chaoimh na h-oidhche ar seol,
Seo libh, cana’dh amhrán na bhFiann.Curfa
Sinne Fianna Fáil atá fé gheall ag Éirinn
Buion dár slua thar toinn do ráinig chugainn
Fémhóid bheith saor. Seantír ár sinsir feasta
Ní fhagfar fé’n tiorán ná fé’n tráil
Anocht a théam sa bhearna bhaoil,
Le gean ar Ghaeil chun báis nó saoil
Le guna screach fé lámhach na bpiléar,
Seo libh, canaídh Amhrán na bhFiann.2.
Cois banta réidhe, ar árdaibh sléibhe.
Ba bhuadhach ár rinnsear romhainn,
Ag lámhach go tréan fá’n sár- bhrat séin
Tá thuas sa ghaoith go seolta;
Ba dhúthchas riamh d’ár gcine cháidh
Gan iompáil riar ó imirt áir,
‘Siubhal mar iad i gcoinnibh rámhaid
Seo libh, canaidh amhrán na bhFiann.Curfa
(seriously, NOBODY sings it in English)
We’ll sing a song, a soldier’s song
With cheering, rousing chorus
As round our blazing fires we throng,
The starry heavens o’er us;
Impatient for the coming fight,
And as we wait the mornings light
here in the silence of the night
We’ll chant a soldier’s song.Chorus
Soldiers are we, whose lives are pledged to Ireland
Some have come from a land beyond the wave,
Sworn to be free, no more our ancient Ireland
Shall shelter the despot or the slave;
tonight we man the Bearna Baoghal
In Erin’s cause. Come woe or weal;
‘Mid cannon’s roar and rifle’s peal
We’ll chant a soldier’s song.2.
In valley green or towering crag
Our fathers fought before us,
And conquered ‘neath the same old flag
That’s floating o’er us,
We’re children of a fighting race
That never yet has known disgrace,
And as we march the foe to face,
We’ll chant a soldier’s song.Chorus
Chorus (repeat as if life depends on it)