The bonfire is a big tradition in Ireland or at least in some parts of Ireland. It is celebrated on the 23rd of June each year, which is also St Johns eve. At sunset, the fire ceremony begins. It is an evening to celebrate summer, the beginning of the school summer holidays, a place to meet family friends and neighbours, dance, sing, play music and be merry.
A time that has some very fond memories to myself personally, and for many others that celebrated and continue to celebrate this ancient tradition of bonfires night. One time, this was a celebrated tradition throughout Ireland but sadly it has diminished to a handful of counties, primarily on the west side of the country and can still be seen in pockets elsewhere.
Originally this was a Pagan midsummer festival – which was then moved to become St Johns Eve. Bonfires night coincides with the June solstice, also referred to as Midsummer. The Christian holy day is fixed at June 24, but, in some countries, festivities are celebrated the night before, on St John’s Eve. Including Ireland, the 23rd was the traditional night for the Bonfire.
This celebratory bonfire was so called because in the past old bones were burned in this fire. Originally, animal and human bones were burned to appease the gods on Bonfire, or Bone fire Night. Later, some people said that Bonfire night became a celebration of the eternal flame of Saint Patrick on the shortest night of the year.
In fact, in the Irish language the bonfire is called “Tine Cnáimh” which literally means fire of bones, and in some cases people actually pronounce it as “Bone-fire”. For several days beforehand, children and young people went from house to house asking for donations for the blessed fire. It was considered very unlucky to refuse.
In fact, at some fires, the names of generous donors were called out and the crowd would cheer. But then, the names of the miserly were also announced and these were greeted with jeers and catcalls, this seems a little radical but none the less it is what history and folklore tells us.
Some people used to take the ashes from the fire on St. John’s morning to scatter them on their fields. At the close of the festival too, around 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.
One of the traditions on bonfires night in some areas of Connacht a special dish called “Goody” was made. This was white ‘shop-bread’ which had been soaked in hot milk and flavoured with sugar and spices. It was usually made in a large pot that was either placed on the bonfire or heated on a smaller fire close by. Revellers brought their own spoons and bowls if they wanted to share in the “Goody.”
Fires were made to be circular in form- a holy shape. Music, dancing and games were popular along with feats of strength. There are many bonfire customs associated with Midsummer celebrations. Bonfires were situated close to a graveyard and or holy/healing wells.
Fires were made from turf, furze bushes and other firewood. The fire and its ashes brought blessings on to the crops. People prayed to the gods to make sure they had a good crop and prayed that bad luck and misfortune would spare them. As mentioned earlier, the bonfire was originally a Pagan festival and a celebration of the Summer solstice, a good harvest, and good health and fortune to go with it. Like everything else from Celtic Pagan time, it became intertwined with Christianity and indeed over-ran by it but, please remember ultimately it was a Celtic Pagan festival as Halloween was and so on. Today we should be very proud to continue this ancient tradition in the best spirits possible and keep the traditions of our ancestors alive and well.
The social aspect of bonfires night is something that should always be kept in our communities, for it may be the only time of the year that we can all come together to celebrate a very important tradition and stay in touch with one another and keep a community spirit intact.
**In Ireland, Bonfire’s night (Bone-Fire), is celebrated on
June 23rd of each year**