Lúghnasah: Ireland’s Celtic Pre-Harvest Festival

In Celtic culture, the first of August signals the start of the fire festival, Lughnasa, a celebration of the harvest. / Photo by Vadim Sadovski on Unsplash

by Ann V. Quinlan, Founder, Spiral Journeys 

Ireland’s ‘Fire Festival’ begins on August 1

As the Sun descends a little lower over the land, daylight shortens and the hard labor of tilling and planting is complete for one more year. Lovingly tended crops ripen into their fullness as food and fodder for the long winter days, ahead. Autumnal trees and fields assume a fringe of shimmering gold, migrating birds lead their fledglings a little further South and Spring lambs sport a full-bodied coat of wool.

Approximately six weeks prior to Autumn harvest the great Lúghnasagh (pro. loon-ass-sa) fire festivals begin. Each year, over most of Ireland a hill or highest point of land is chosen, then broadcast and published throughout the region. Around August 1st the gathering begins. People, neighbors and families arrive in campers, cars, trucks and mini-vans laden with food, firewood and musical instruments. Travelers settle in, night descends. It is time to ignite the first fire. For the next three nights (and days) flames leap to the sky and visible for miles around.

Silver badge with Celtic designs

How Lúghnasagh is Celebrated 

As the fourth festival on the Celtic calendar, Lúghnasagh has continued to assimilate well into Ireland’s 21st century culture. Over three days of festivities, all forms of business are now the norm through trading, deal-making, sale of livestock, displays of the latest labor-saving farm equipment along with local political campaigns.

Lúghnasagh is also celebrated beyond Ireland’s shores through theater, film and books. Irish playwright, Brian Friel’s play, Dancing at Lúghnasagha, set in the Summer of 1936 in the village of Ballybeg, Donegal had a long run on Broadway. The impending festival of Lúghnasagh plays a pivotal role as the play uncovers the relationships and events within one family. The film, Dancing at Lúghnasagha, starring Meryl Streep, was released in 1998.

While little is known of the earliest days of this ancient Celtic festival perhaps not much has changed, we can imagine our ancestral clans traveling great distances with horse and oxen-drawn carts laden with food, crafts and wares to sell or trade, happy babies bundled on their backs. It was a time for clans to meet, choose a new Chieftain, trade pottery, crafts, tools and livestock, do a little matchmaking as children listened to folktales around the fire. The great fire circle is imbedded in our DNA.

How could we not love this ancient festival of Lúghnasagh?

Ann Quinlan an Irish native who has led women’s tours to Ireland for over 30 years with her company Spiral Journeys, which is featured in our Women’s Travel Directory. 

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