Laa Luanys

by Bernadette Weyde


Is a Gaelic festival marking the beginning of the harvest season that was historically observed throughout the Isle of Man, Ireland and Scotland. Originally it was held on 31 July – 1 August, or approximately halfway between the summer solstice and autumn equinox. However, over time the celebrations shifted to the Sundays nearest this date.

Laa Luanys (Luanys’s Day) is a time when we begin reaping what we have sown throughout the past few months, give thanks for the harvest and recognize that the bright summer days will soon come to an end.

In Man too, there was, within living memory, a great fair in the parish of Santon on the same day. This festival was, according to Professor Rhys, “the great event of the summer half of the year, which extended from the calends of May to the calends of winter.
The Celtic year was more thermometric than astronomical and the Lughnasadh was, so to say, its summer solstice”. The fair has now disappeared but the ancient custom of visiting the highest hills and the sacred wells on this day, cannot be said to be altogether extinct. These wells are usually found near old ecclesiastical sites, as the holy recluses would naturally build their keeills near springs where they would construct wells both for their own personal convenience as well as for baptizing their disciples. Some of these wells were formerly much venerated as their waters were supposed to possess sanative qualities, and to be of special virtue as charms against witchcraft and fairies. The devotees would drop a small coin into the well, drink of the water, repeat a prayer, in which they mentioned their ailments, and then decorate the well, or the tree overhanging it, with flowers and other votive offerings, usually rags. They believed that when the flowers withered, or the rags rotted, their ailments would be cured. These rites have been observed in the Isle of Man within the memory of those now living.

In Ireland the festival is known as Lughnasadh. It is mentioned in some of the earliest Irish literature and is believed to have pagan origins. The festival itself is named after the god Lugh and involved great gatherings that included religious ceremonies, ritual athletic contests (most notably the Tailteann Games), feasting, matchmaking, trading and visits to holy wells. Much of this would have taken place on top of hills and mountains.

The custom of climbing hills and mountains at Lughnasadh has survived in some areas, although it has been re-cast as a Christian pilgrimage. Since the latter 20th century, Celtic neo-pagans have observed Lughnasadh, or something based on it, as a religious holiday. In some places, elements of the festival have been revived as a cultural event.

(source: adapted from Folklore of the Isle of Man by AW Moore (1891) and wiki; artwork ‘Glaneuses’ (gleaners/harvesters) by Julien Dupré

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