Lughnasa, the Celtic Harvest Festival


The Autumn quarter of the Celtic year is Lughnasa (LOO’-nas-ah). It marks the beginning of the end of summer. Lughnasa ushers in the dark half or the dying half of the year.


Lughnasa is named for the Irish god Lugh (LOO’kh), the “many gifted one” of the Tuatha De Danann. This quarter-day Celtic harvest festival goes by Lughnasadh in Ireland, Lunasdál in Scotland, Laa Luanys in the Isle of Man, and in Wales, Lughnasa is known as Gwl Awst (GOOil-oust), the August Feast. While Lughnasa is named for Lugh, the “funeral games” are actually in honor of his step mother, Taltiu (TAWL-too). She died after the effort of singe-handedly clearing the forests in Ireland to enable cultivation and grazing so that her people could be fed.


It was Taltiu’s dying wish that festival games be held to remember her sacrifice each year. She promised that “as long as these games were held, Ireland would not be without song.” A medieval poem details the entertainments, and describes the market place and feasting that were part of Lughnasa including "Trumpets, harps, hollow-throated horns, pipers, tireless timpanists, unwearied fiddlers, gleemen, bone-players and bag-pipers; a rude crowd, noisy, profane, roaring and shouting." One should not do these things in small measures. 


The people took this obligation in earnest as Lughnasa festival celebrations are still found today, though they go by various names. As with many Celtic traditions, the Christian Church in Ireland adopted Lughnasa and renamed it Lammas (Loaf Mass), when a loaf made with the first ripe grain was taken to church and blessed. Originally held on August 1, Lughnasa festival celebrations moved to the Sunday nearest August 1 so that working people could devote an entire day to the festivities.


Lughnasa is the first of three Celtic harvest festivals. The second comes with the Autumnal Equinox on September 21 and the biggest of all – Samhain on October 31. The harvest season continues until the last sheep and cattle are brought in from their highland pastures. Those first precious heads of wheat, oats and barley along with the new potatoes are held in joy and gratitude. There was a time when the bounty of Lughnasa had to sustain the people through the dark months ahead.


Are you ready to do your part to make certain that Ireland is never without song? Great! We have all you need to create the proper atmosphere for your Lughnasa celebration. Open a tin of imported sponge cake or bake up your own loaf of soda bread. No potatoes to dig up? No problem with our Potato or Potato & Leek soup mixes. If you prefer your grain in a glass, we have a remarkable selection of rye in the Whiskey Snug. There is no better time than Lughnasa to be grateful for the bounty of the season.

Lori McAlister
Wrangler of Cultural Affairs

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