Áenach Tailteann and Lughnasadh

Tailtiu was the daughter of the king of Spain. She married Eochaid, of the Fir Bolg who became High King of Ireland when he overthrew Fodbgen. He was the first king to establish a system of justice in Ireland. During his reign no rain fell over the land, but there was dew and a harvest every year. Eochaid loved his wife so much that he named his capital after her (Teltown, County Meath). She became the foster mother of Lugh.

Representation of Tailtiu, Goddess of cultivation and the harvest

When Tailtiu died of exhaustion from clearing the plains of Ireland for agriculture, Lugh honoured her memory by establishing funeral games Áenach Tailteann, in her honour. This took place in the last two weeks of July and were followed with a celebration of the first harvest, Lughnasadh. These games were held continuously until c. 1169-1171 CE when the Normans invaded Ireland. They were revived in 1924.

In 1924 the ancient Celtic Tailteann Games named after Queen Tailte, the foster mother of Ireland’s first High King, Lugh of the Long Arm were revived by the Gaelic Athletic Association. These games were supported by the new Irish Free State, staged in Croke Park and were open to all amateur athletes of Irish birth. The Games were staged again in 1928 and 1932.

During Áenach Tailteann, the dead were honoured, Brehon laws were proclaimed by the Druids, funeral games were played and there was entertainment. The honouring of the dead took place on the first three days. Guests attending would sing Guba (mourning chants) and then skilled Druids would improvise songs in memory of the dead (Cepógs). The dead would then be cremated on a funeral pyre. The Brehon laws were read to the guests by Bards and Druids and then another massive fire was lit. These were a celebration of life, though, and there was rejoicing after the funeral with the Cuiteach Fuait, games of both mental and physical ability.

Similar to the Olympics, games included the long jump, high jump, running, hurling, spear throwing, boxing, sword fighting, archery, wrestling, swimming, and horse drawn chariot racing. For the more intellectual and artistic there were also included competitions in strategy, singing, dancing and story-telling. There were also skilled crafts competitions for jewellery makers, weavers and armourers.

Handfasting ceremony

Young couples who met for the first time would have a handfasting. This was a temporary marriage that lasted up to a year and a day. During that time couples were free to separate, or then make a permanent bond with a second handfasting a year later.

At the end of the two weeks Lughnasadh would be celebrated. There was an offering of the first fruits to the Gods, a harvest feast, a bull was sacrificed, a ritual play was danced portraying Lugh providing a harvest for mankind. Afterward the feast people would climb up hills and mountains.

What about modern times? Since 1953, the annual Rás Tailteann cycle race was established. For over 400 years, the Auld Lammas Fair is a traditional fair held in Ballycastle, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, every year on the last Monday and Tuesday of August. The All-Ireland Senior Football Championship (SFC) (Craobhchomórtas Sinsear na hÉireann sa Pheil) is the premier competition in Gaelige football. An annual tournament organised by the GAA is contested by the county teams and known as the Tailteann Cup, founded in 1887. So, although the games may not have been fully restored, Lugh’s foster mother is commemorated to this day in one way or another. Also, as people return to their pagan roots, disillusioned and uninspired with mainstream religion, throughout the world celebrations of Lammas and Lughnasadh grow each year. Why not include some games as part of your celebrations?

Blessings to all

Filtiarn x

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