Bonfires were part of the Halloween celebrations of the past
The Cabragh Wetlands column
“Oh wild west wind, thou breath of autumn being, Thou from whose unseen presence the leaves dead, Are driven like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing.” -Shelley.
This is the bewitching time - a time of ghosts and enchantment, shades and spirits.
We are creatures of rhythm whether it be from sunrise to darkness or the course of the seasons with their changing hours of light and warmth, darkness and cold. Deprived of these rhythms, we lose a little of ourselves.
The coming of electricity, triple glazing, insulaton, LED lighting, central heating etc. have distanced us from the changing seasons. As we become more disconnected from nature, we begin to treat it as a consumable commodity or disregard it altogether.
We forget that we are actually part of nature but celebrating festivals, the turning points of the natural year can restore a sense of connection.
It is interesting to look at celebrations of festivals in the past but those days are gone and we are not these people. Next weekend, Samhain, is a three day festival encompassing All Hallow’s Eve, All Saints Day and All Souls Day.
Within the Christian tradition, it is a time for remembering all those imithe ar shlí na fírinne just as all eras have done from the Stone Age court tomb at Shanballyedmond near Rearcross to the lichen covered slanted indecipherable gravestones in Ballysheehan Cemetery for example.
The original Halloween date was November 11 which is now Martinmas, the feast of St. Martin, an early monastic saint. The old people believed that Halloween marked the night when the thin veil that separated the living from the dead was set slightly aside and for one night the spirits could mingle with the living.
My favourite story is that told by Peter Meskell about the empty space on the far side of Ardmayle Churchyard.
There the spirits emerged and played a hurling match. Now and again they were a few players short and would have to seek a replacement. If you were a goalkeeper or a corner back you had no need to worry as Boherlahan men, Jimmy Maher and Flor Coffey were the first to be pencilled in but if you were a rangy midfielder or a handy corner forward it would be best to stay well clear of Ardmayle Cemetery around Halloween.
Listening to my parents and grandparents as I grew up, it always amazed me that these resilient people that had overcome world wars, economic depressions etc and who were steadfast in the face of hardship and life’s slinging arrows would even entertain this notion of malevolent spirits being abroad or the power of divining the future. Surely our generation who put a man on the moon, gave instant visual communication to billions to any point on the globe from a small glass and plastic box a few millimetres thick or sent a small blue capsule beyond the reaches of the known universe would not be taken in by such seafóid.
Yet, if this article is still being written fifty years hence, surely that generation will wonder how we could have allowed the icecaps to melt, to leave vast areas of sea and land so sterile, to reduce biodiversity to a level that would imperil the survival of the human race, to burn the lungs of the earth or even to reduce Ireland to a vast monoculture green desert. Will they see us as equally as bemused as those who feared the call up for the team of the dead?
In common with most other enterprises and particularly those in the voluntary sector this year, to put it mildly, has been challenging. Our annual community autumn family day, our well attended monthly music night, our summer camps and frequent school visits and art classes have all fallen by the wayside. What have not fallen are our annual fixed costs such as insurance etc. One of our annual projects that has been a mainstay source of income is the annual calendar. Featuring the work of the award winning nature photographer Eamon Brennan and helped by our sponsors, Centenary Co-Op and Tipperary Co-Op, this niche calendar is an ideal gift for the Christmas market particularly for those family members who are away and may not be home.
Good Irish nature photography has been a touchstone of memory and whereas the calendars this year cost €10 for the above reasons, with the generosity of our sponsors the price of every purchase returns in total to Cabragh Wetlands
Níl tuile dá mhéid nach dtránn-nothing lasts forever.
Wash your hands, wear a mask and social distance.
Slán go fóill.