[Christine O’Keeffe’s May Day Customs]
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May Bonfires

Bonfires are lit on May Eve. Nine men turn their pockets inside out and go and collect sticks from nine different kinds of trees. At the place where the fire is to be built, a circle is cut in the sod, and the sticks are set crosswise. One man takes two sticks of oak and rubs them together until a flame is kindled. This is then applied to the sticks to make a coelcerth: bonfire. The nine men make round cakes of oatmeal and brown-meal, split them into four portions, put them in a flour-bag, and each person takes a piece. The people who get the brown-meal pieces jump over the bonfire
 Jumping over the bonfire is thought to protect, purify, and bless the leaper. The leaper jumps backwards and forwards three times. Jumping over a low fire by women insures a good birth or husband. The fire embers are spread over crops to protect them. In 19th century Ireland, cows were made to leap over straw and wood bonfires in order to save the milk from being stolen by powerful faeries. In Scotland all fires were extinguished and relit from a central fire. A man would be selected as the May hag (Cailleach) and would jump over the fire.(3, 5)

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© 1999. Christine O’Keeffe Ver. 1.0. Sunday, November 10, 2002