Thursday, August 01, 2013


The 1st of August is recognised as Lughnasa.  Lughnasa is named for Lugh, the Irish God of the Sun and/or Light.  His Welsh equivalent is Llew.  Lughnasa is the Irish Gaelic word for August.  Lughnasa can be spelt Lughnasadh and is also known as Lammas, or the festival of first fruits.  It marks the start of the harvest season and is celebrated by food, drink, games and ritual offerings.

Truth be told, I haven’t read as much this year as I would like to do, so I don’t feel quite up to speed on the symbolism and traditions of the festival.  Instead, I have been thinking about food and the price of vegetables and fruit, and what we’ve got growing in the garden.

The East of England has had something of a heat wave these past few weeks.  Until July, we’d had a cold, wet and snowy year.  It was miserable.  Plants and trees seemed to flower about 2 weeks late.  Then it got hot.  For several days it was between 26 and 30 degrees, and it stayed like this. We had the odd bit of rain, but that only lasted 20 minutes.  We’ve had precious few thunderstorms and it’s been so warm.  I’ve pretty much forgotten what being cold feels like.  As I write, this, on 31st July, it is predicted to be 20 degrees today and 28 degrees tomorrow, on Lughnasa.  I think this is entirely appropriate.

Perhaps it’s the great heat that has speeded up plant growth, but for the last few weeks the cost of my weekly vegetable shop has dropped by a third to a half.  It’s wonderful.  I haven’t seen much new in, apart from lots of green beans, but it’s great to know everything is getting harvested.

We’ve got raspberry and blackberry bushes in the garden and they started throwing up fruit a few weeks ago.  We’ve been picking them and freezing them ready to put them in a rhubarb crumble, or possibly rhubarb fool.  We haven’t decided yet.

I haven’t really made any celebratory plans for the day tomorrow.  I intend to get up at 6.30 to go out for a run, then I’m at work all day.  In the evening we have family coming over.  This wasn’t timed to go with Lughnasa, but just fell in that way.  I’m sure there will be good food, cake and wine or beer.  I'll try and do some reading.  By the time you read this I will have put out my altar decorations and hopefully have had a few moments to myself to contemplate things.

To finish, I leave you with the lyrics to John Barleycorn, a folk song commemorating the corn harvest, which takes place round about now:

There were three men come from the West
Their fortunes for to try,
And these three made a solemn vow:
"John Barleycorn must die."

They plowed, they sowed, they harrowed him in,
Threw clods upon his head,
'Til these three men were satisfied
John Barleycorn was dead.

They let him lie for a very long time,
'Til the rains from heaven did fall,
When little Sir John raised up his head
And so amazed them all.

They let him stand 'til Mid-Summer's Day
When he looked both pale and wan;
Then little Sir John grew a long, long beard
And so became a man.

They hired men with their scythes so sharp
To cut him off at the knee;
They rolled him and tied him around the waist,
And served him barbarously.

They hired men with their sharp pitchforks
To pierce him to the heart,
But the loader did serve him worse than that,
For he bound him to the cart.

They wheeled him 'round and around the field
'Til they came unto a barn,
And there they took a solemn oath
On poor John Barleycorn.

They hired men with their crab-tree sticks
To split him skin from bone,
But the miller did serve him worse than that,
For he ground him between two stones.

There's little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl,
And there's brandy in the glass,
And little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl
Proved the strongest man at last.

The huntsman cannot hunt the fox
Nor loudly blow his horn
And the tinker cannot mend his pots
Without John Barleycorn.

Happy Lughnasa everyone!

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