Bonfire Night (St. John’s Eve) June 23rd

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Bonfire Night is an annual celebration held on the 23rd June (St. John’s Eve). The celebrations take place in towns and villages across the country and centered around the summer solstice.
Report/Photo: Michael Hussey Email: news@youghalonline.com

Bonfire Night ‘The Plot’ Sarsfield Tce. Youghal (1983) Photo: Michael Hussey

Bonfire Night ‘The Plot’ Sarsfield Tce. Youghal (1983) Photo: Michael Hussey

The custom dates back to pagan times. Bonfire Night was always celebrated in Youghal with bonfires in different parts of the town but these customs and traditions are largely ignored nowadays. The embers of this long tradition have become a burning or more accurately a non-burning issue. The photograph shows everybody enjoying the annual spectacle of the bonfire in the plot Sarsfield Terrace back in 1983.

St John’s Eve (or Oiche Fheile Eoin (Bonfire Night) is celebrated in many parts of rural Ireland with the lighting of bonfires. This ancient custom has its roots in pre-Christian Irish society when the Celts honored the Goddess Áine, the Celtic equivalent of Venus and Aphrodite. She was the Goddess Queen of Munster and Christianised rituals in her honour (as Naomh Áine) took place until the nineteenth century on Knockainy, (Cnoc Áine – the Hill of Áine) in County Limerick.

Bonfire Night ‘The Plot’ Sarsfield Tce. Youghal (1983) Photo: Michael Hussey

Bonfire Night ‘The Plot’ Sarsfield Tce. Youghal (1983) Photo: Michael Hussey

During the festival, people would say prayers, asking for God’s blessing upon their crops. They would also take ashes from the fire, and spread them over their land as a blessing for protection for their crops. It was also common to have music, singing, dancing, and games during the festival. The fire was used for destroying small objects of piety (rosary beads, statues, etc.) without disrespecting God. It was also common for people to jump through the flames of the bonfire for good luck.

In Thomas Flanagan’s The Year of the French, the ancient festival of St John’s Eve takes place. The book is set during the Irish rebellion of 1798. Here is an excerpt from The Year of the French:

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 Year of the French

Some regions of Ireland follow a custom seemingly inspired by the activity from which this saint takes his title, Baptist (more accurately, Baptizer). They head to the ocean and immerse themselves in its waters. In this, they imitate the original form of baptism practiced by St John, as well as by the early Christians.

Bonfire Night ‘The Plot’ Sarsfield Tce. Youghal (1983) Photo: Michael Hussey

Bonfire Night ‘The Plot’ Sarsfield Tce. Youghal (1983) Photo: Michael Hussey

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