Our Celtic ancestors got even more excited about the summer sun than Irish people do today. They meticulously tracked the sun’s movements and celebrated special days such as the solstice and the equinox. These events were so important to them that they built special structures designed to allow the sun’s light to fill the inner chambers only on these occasions. They decorated these structures with intricate carvings in spiral shapes. Now we enjoy their art on a range of Irish gifts such as jewelry and clothing. The summer solstice, which falls on June 21st, is the longest day of the year. Given how much of the year is wet and dark in Ireland, it really is a big deal. It was even more important when people’s lives were consumed with producing food and staying warm. Bonfires were part of most of these events, but it is hard to know exactly what our ancestors did to mark the solstice. Today, these events are again drawing crowds in Ireland. People gather in the places our ancestors did to mark the solstice with celebrations that blend what we know of the past and what we imagine. The winter solstice event at Newgrange in County Meath is the most famous, but smaller summer solstice events are happening across Ireland. Finding creative ways to stay in touch with our deepest roots is one of our Irish gifts. Celebrate the Summer Solstice like a Celt The ancient Hill of Uisneach in County Westmeath is on private land, but the owners are opening it to visitors on the summer solstice. A walking tour and guided meditation will be followed by music, poetry and storytelling. Uisneach lies roughly in the center of Ireland, and it is the legendary burial place of Eiru, the earth goddess, and Lugh, the sun god. In west Cork, people will gather for a “mindful walk” through the woods that ends with a walk through a river. This will be followed by a ritual where they will form a heart with crystals and burn symbolic items in a caldron. And of course, there will be singing. The focus is on connecting with the earth. The Hill of Tara is where people have traditionally gathered at the summer solstice. This year one of Ireland’s largest charities to help the homeless, the Peter McVerry Trust, has organized a fundraising walk to mark the solstice. Participants will walk from the Hill of Tara along the River Boyne to Newgrange and then join a midsummer celebration. Wherever you are, you can celebrate the summer solstice Celtic style. Take a walk with friends, and enjoy some Irish trad music together afterwards. Create art inspired by the swirling spirals you’ve seen on Irish gifts with Celtic motifs. Whatever you do, take a moment and think about how much the sun meant the ancient Celts as they organized their ceremonies and celebrations. It means as much to Irish farmers today from Antrim to Wexford.
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