Appendix 4: The Four Celtic Feasts

The text below is a fine poem describing the specific foods and drinks ingested on the four Celtic feasts. The poem is preserved in two manuscripts: Bodleian codex Rawlinson B. 512, folio 98b, 2 and in the British Museum MS. Harleian 5280, folio 35b, 2, written in the 16th c. by Gilla Riabach O’Clery, and edited and translated by Kuno Meyer in 1894. In his introduction, Meyer demonstrates that both transcripts are derived from one common source.2502 From the character of the Old-Irish forms, he deduces that the poem goes back to an original composed in the 8th c.

The four Celtic feasts are: Beltaine (May 1st ), which now corresponds to May-Day; Lugnasad (1st Sunday of August), which is now Lammas-Day; Samhain (November 1st), which celebrates the end of summer and the return to cold and darkness, and is now Halloween; and Imbolc (February 1st), which has been replaced by the feast of St Brigit (Candlemas). In the Celtic world, the day begins with the onset of darkness, and thus each of these festivals begins their celebration on the night before the actual (modern) date.

‘Atberim frib, lith saine,
ada buada belltaine:
coirm, mecoin, suabais serig,
ocus urgruth do tenid.
I tell to you, a special festival,
The glorious dues of May-day:
Ale, worts, sweet whey,
And fresh curds to the fire.
Lugnassad, luaid a hada
cecha bliadna ceinmara,
fromad cech toraid co m-blaid,
biad lusraid la Lugnasaid.
Lammas-day, make known its dues,
In each distant year:
Tasting every famous fruit,
Food of herbs on Lammas-day.
Carna, cuirm, cnoimes, cadla,
it e ada na samna[Samhain],
tendal ar cnuc co n-grinde,
blathach, brechtan urimme.
Meat, ale, nut-mast, tripe,
These are the dues of summer’s end [Samhain];
A bonfire on a hill pleasantly,
Buttermilk, a roll of fresh butter.
Fromad cach bíd iar n-urd,
issed dlegair i n-Imbulc,
díunnach laime I coissi is cinn,
is amlaid sin atberim.
Tasting every food in order,
This is what behoves at Candlemas,
Washing of hand and foot and head,
It is thus I say.2503

Meyer, 1894, p. X.


Meyer, 1894, pp. 48-49.