Ireland has at least 3,000 wells that are, or were at least up until recently, looked upon as holy or blessed.
Each morning the sun rolls across the sky. In Estonia it was the hatched egg of the enchanted swallow bird, an emu’s egg bursting into flames in Australia, and a golden piece of bacon for the Nama people of South Africa. In the evening, it descends into the sea, as a bridegroom or warrior, golden rays transformed into spears or robes of light, hissing with heat as the waters close over it, before swimming back to the east. Sometimes in gloom-shrouded nights, we may imagine it will never return and we will be plunged into unyielding darkness, but still it rises and always will, at least for the next five billion years or so!
In Cork, on May morning before sunrise, a person went out and brought back a branch of hazel, holly and mountain ash and returned to the house singing the above verse to ‘bring in the summer’. In Ireland, as in many parts of Western Europe, May marked the beginning of summer…
The early sirens, the ones Odysseus encountered, were not fish at all but bird-women, but they had those great siren qualities – bewitching songs and the will to lure the unwitting to a bad end.
St Patrick’s Day, 17th March, is a key fixture in the Irish calendar, and indeed in many other places throughout the world. It may not have the wealth of traditions associated with the traditional Irish quarter days but its popularity and the festivities associated with it make it central to the Irish year.