May 1st is a new quarter day in the Celtic calendar – Beltaine (say BYEL-tin-uh) – a fire festival to celebrate “the force that drives the green fuse through the flower,” to quote Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. It’s a time of brilliance and heat. It was on Betaine that St Patrick lit a fire on the Hill of Slane near Tara in defiance of the High King as a sign of the New Faith succeeding the old religion.
What is a Shillelagh? If you don't know, you do now!
With such a strong history of Catholicism in Ireland, there is a trove of Holy Week traditions. Completing your “spring cleaning” by Good Friday is important preparation for the priest to visit and bless your home on Easter. The old ban on alcohol this day is still in force in some areas. No work with tools is to be done to avoid bloodshed. You should get your hair cut (to avoid headaches) and shop for new Easter clothes.
This holiday of trickery fits well with the Northern Hemispheric change of season at the Vernal Equinox. Spring weather is nothing if not temperamental and unpredictable. There is much weather lore connected to the vagaries of springtime. Most of us know that if “March comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb” and “April showers bring May flowers.” Here are some Irish maxims: “Thunder in April (or on All Fools’ Day), floods in May.” “A cold April and a full barn.” And “When April blows its horn, ‘tis good for hay and corn.”
The White Rabbit in “Alice and Wonderland” is heard to say, “I’m late, I’m late! For a very important date! No time to say ‘hello, goodbye,’ I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!” (Perhaps he’s from Ireland?)