St John the Baptist celebrations in Irish

The evening of June 23, St John’s Eve, is the eve of celebration before the Feast Day of St John the Baptist. The bible states that John was born about six months before Jesus, therefore the feast of John the Baptist was fixed on June 24, six months before Christmas. St John the Baptist, like Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary, is one of very few persons to have the anniversary of the birth commemorated.

The Feast of St John coincides with the June solstice also referred to as Midsummer. The feast is celebrated in many countries throughout the Christian world. In Ireland this was the traditional night for the Bonfire. In this celebratory bonfire old bones were burned. In the Irish language the bonfire is called “Tine Cnáimh” which literally means fire of bones. Another name for the fire was “Tine Féil Eóin”.

Traditionally, for several days prior to the feast day, children and young people went from house to house asking for donations for the blessed fire. It was considered very unlucky to refuse. At some fires, the names of generous donors were called out and the crowd would cheer. The names of those who refused donations were also announced and these were greeted with jeers and catcalls.

The celebratory fire was lit as the sun was setting and had to be watched and tended until long after midnight. Prayers use to be said to obtain God’s blessing on the crops, then at the peak-point of summer bloom.

In many places, the older people continued the preliminary proceedings with more prayers. Afterwards, the merry-making began. As the flames and sparks shot up, loud cheers would arise from the crowd, horns were blown and some people beat on tin cans. The musicians struck up and the young men asked their partners to dance. In-between sets, songs were sung; stories were told, and soloists – musician or dancer – demonstrated their talents.

By now the fire would be well ablaze. People leapt through the flames for luck in a new endeavour, or marriage, when trying for a baby, for good health and for self-purification. Farmers leapt high so their crops would grow tall. In many places, a young woman and man would join hands and jump together. Onlookers took it for granted that there was some intention of marriage between the pair. Some observers would even go as far as to predicting the outcome of such a union by the way the flames flickered as the couple jumped!

Some people used to take the ashes from the fire then extinct on St. John’s morning to scatter them on their fields. At the close of the festival too about after midnight any man who had built a new house or had nearly completed it took from the bonfire a shovel of red hot sods to his new home so that the very first fire there would be started by the ceremonial bonfire.

Thomas Flanagan in his book “The Year of the French” refers to the traditional Bonfire in Killala, Co Mayo:

“Soon it would be Saint John’s Eve. Wood for the bonfire had already been piled high upon Steeple Hill, and when the night came there would be bonfires on every hill from there to Downpatrick Head. There would be dancing and games in the open air, and young men would try their bravery leaping through the flames. There would even be young girls leaping through, for it was helpful in the search of a husband to leap through a Saint John’s Eve fire, the fires of midsummer. The sun was at its highest then, and the fires spoke to it, calling it down upon the crops. It was the turning point of the year, and the air was vibrant with spirits.”

The first fires of new homes were kindled from the bonfire. Fires lit from the bonfire were lit around houses to keep fairies away. Items were burned so as to inflict loss on an enemy. Fires were both communal and individual. Bonfires were so large that tall ladders were required for their construction.. There was competition to have the biggest and best fire. The fires were lit during the recitation of a prayer:

“In the honour of God and of St. John, to the fruitfulness and profit of our planting and our work, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen”.

Walking sunwise around the fire while praying was considered essential. Youths would toss burning sticks up into the air. Sometimes effigies were tossed on the fire. Food including a special dish called “goody” made of white shop bread soaked in milk and flavoured with sugar and spice was made in Iron pots by the side of the fire.

The tradition of burning bonfire’s on the eve of St John the Baptist is no longer celebrated in Ireland as it was in the past. When I was growing up it was still common for elderly people to sit and share memories of the celebrations and of the customs that were part and particle of their youth. Maybe you spend some time with elderly Irish people and ask them how they celebrated the feast of the St John the Baptist in their youth. You might consider becoming a volunteer with the Irish Chaplaincy Seniors Project. You would be very welcome to be part of our team.

Canon Sydney McEwan and Bring Flowers of the Rarest

Canon Sydney Alfred McEwan (19 October 1908 – 25 September 1991) was a famous Scottish priest who was gifted with an exceptional tenor singing voice, and who sang traditional Scottish and Irish songs. Probably his most famous recording is the Marian hymn ‘Bring flowers of the Rarest’ written by Mary E. Walsh. The hymn was first published as the “Crowning Hymn” in the Wreath of Mary 1871/1883 and later in St. Basil’s hymnal (1889). The hymn is synonymous with Marian processions and devotions in the month of May.

Continue Reading

Looking after our mental health

One in four people will experience mental ill health at some point in their lives, this is a stark reality and there is no doubt that as we get older, loneliness and isolation can feel a constant in our lives. Long winter nights, bad weather, ill health and/or poor mobility can prevent many people from leaving their homes and become the key elements to feelings of isolation and depression. As we grow old, we will have seen many of our close friends and family pass away and we may even find that we are the last surviving member of our generation or family, no doubt this brings with it a great sense of loss which can lead to bouts of anxiety and depression.

Continue Reading

“Beyond The East The Sunrise”

At the end of January I was in Portsmouth for a friend’s birthday celebrations. It’s a place I know well having lived and worked there for eighteen years before moving to London. On the Sunday after the party I took a stroll along Southsea promenade, which was crowded with people of all ages enjoying the winter sunshine.

By coincidence the weekend of the party coincided with the anniversary of my Dad’s death some twenty six years ago. As a family we had dedicated a bench in his memory at Southsea, and so I sat for a time on the bench dedicated to my late Dad, facing the sea, and remembering.

As well as my Dad, I was also thinking of our Irish Seniors who have passed away in recent times. It has been a tough couple of months in the Seniors Project. Since the end of November four of our older clients have died. Patsy, Ellen, Johnny and Julia were well known to us. All were housebound and we visited them regularly, supporting them in a variety of ways. Their passing was made all the more poignant as they all happened so close together.

I reflected that our Seniors were unique individuals with a life story special to them alone. It was a privilege to share the last part of their earthly story with them including their hopes and their fears. Some talked openly about their deaths and shared their questions of what lay beyond. They also asked would we attend their funerals.

Patsy particularly asked would we arrange her funeral and ensure she was buried back in Ireland next to her parents. Just before Christmas, aged eighty one, she was laid to rest next to her Mum and Dad in Longwood Cemetery in County Meath.

With Ellen who so enjoyed our visits to her home and being able to sing and pray with us, there was a special time in hospital during her final illness, on one of our last visits, praying the old prayers from her youth in Cork and singing “Away in a Manger”.

A fellow Liverpool football fan like me, Dubliner Johnny had a dementia for many years and was cared for at home by his wife and family. A fan of rock and roll music, especially Buddy Holly and Billy Fury, we would sing and play these songs to him, and hear the memories of his wife Margaret and how they had met in the London Irish Centre over fifty years ago.

Julia, nearly ninety when she died, and housebound for some ten years before, spoke often of how she valued our visits, phone calls and cards. She always said please come again-and we always did.

And what about my Dad whose name was Ray. A gentle and humble man with a kind word for all he met, he died in 1993, not long after his retirement, far too soon for us who loved him. But isn’t anyone’s passing far too soon for those who love them?

Dad has a simple inscription on the plaque on his bench. It finishes with the words “Beyond the east the sunrise”. This is the opening line from a poem by Gerald Gould, which talks of life as a journey that never ends, and constantly seeking what lies beyond the horizon.

We are on the threshold of mystery as we contemplate the journey from this life into eternity, but seated on Dad’s bench thinking of him, Patsy, Ellen, Johnny and Julia, I believe that they have all found the sunrise they were hoping and striving for.

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/201836-beyond-the-east-the-sunrise-beyond-the-west-the-sea

 

Remembrance-Two Grandfathers And World War One

As a native of Liverpool, with Wexford roots from my maternal grandfather, I grew up with stories of the family farm back in Ferns, and stories of my grandfather, Henry Gahan, a Liverpool man, who was a veteran of the trenches of World War One.

As a member of the Royal Engineers, he would crawl out into no man’s land-that very dangerous space between the British and German trenches-to try and intercept German messages on their telephone lines. However, at the end of 1916, as a result of the wet conditions of the trenches, he became ill and was discharged from the army and returned to his job as a post office telegrapher in Liverpool.

A hundred years ago on 11 November 1918, he was on duty in Liverpool’s main post office, in his role as a telegraphist. He was responsible for receiving and sending messages via morse code-a series of dots and dashes-along radio lines, one of the main methods of electronic communications a century ago.

Continue Reading

Emigrants Walk – Mayo

We are delighted to announce a fundraising walk in aid of our Elderly Campaign, which takes place on Saturday October 6th 2018 in Mayo, Ireland.

Starting at 11 am from the Trailhead in Mulranny to Newport.

All are welcome to join us.  Those taking part will include Alan Brogan (former Dublin Gaelic footballer) who is Ambassador for this campaign to raise funds to support elderly Irish living alone in London.

 

Campaign details are available here.

DONATE.  Choose Elderly Campaign from the list.  Don’t forget to subscribe also to our Newsletter.

For further details please contact admin@irishchaplaincy.org.uk or 0207 482 5528

www.irishchaplaincy.org.uk