The Gaelic calendar does not observe the astronomical seasons that begin in the Northern Hemisphere on the equinoxes and solstices, or the meteorological seasons beginning on March 1, June 1, September 1, and December 1. The seasons in Ireland follow the ancient Celtic tradition, which is based solely on daylight and the strength of the noon sun. It is also reflected in the Gaelige word for the month of May, “Bealtaine”, and is the beginning of Summer.
Bealtaine therefore marks the end of the dark part of the year and the welcoming of summer. It is the day that is associated with moving cattle to higher pastures. For individuals and families, it is the day for beginning new projects. It is a time of abundance and fertility, a time to prosper. At this time of year, bonfires would be lit, and their flames, smoke and ashes deemed to have protective powers. At this time, household fires would be doused and then re-lit from the Beltane bonfire. Holy wells are visited, Bealtaine dew, thought to bring beauty and maintain youthfulness.
There are a number of place names in Ireland containing the word ‘Bealtaine’, indicating places where Bealtaine festivities were once held. There are three Beltanys in Donegal; one near Raphoe where the stone circle is, another near Killybegs [Bealtine Bridge] and the third in the parish of Tulloghobegly. Two others are in Tyrone; one near Omagh & Clogher and the other in the parish of Cappagh. In the parish of Kilmore, Armagh, there is a place called Tamnaghvelton/Tamhnach Bhealtaine (“field of the Bealtaine festivities”).
Beltany Stone Circle in Donegal, is a magical place full of the fire energy of Bealtaine. The approach to the circle is up a hill, the lane wild, and the trees forming a canopy above, with the sun peeping through in pinpoints of light. The stone circle dates from around 1400-800 BC and comprises 64 stones around a low earth platform, and sitting atop a hill, almost like a crown. Close up, it is hard to get a sense of the scale of the circle. There is an exhilarating feel to it, making you want to stand in wonder and amazement. There are four distinct energy points at the circle too – see if you can feel them next time you are there.
So, today the first day of is a day of mark the end of the dark days, and to welcome in the light. It is a day for regeneration and for rejuvenation. New beginnings for you, new beginnings for a new season.