British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

A calendar of the traditional customs, practices & rituals of the British Isles.

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270                                     may DAY.                              [May I,
persons in the company. They daub one of these portions all over with charcoal until it is perfectly black. They put the pieces of the cake into a bonnet. Every one blindfold draws out a portion; he who holds the bonnet is entitled to the last piece. Whoever draws the black piece is the devoted person who is to be sacrificed to Baal, whose favour they mean to implore in rendering the year produc­tive of the sustenance of man and beasts. There is little doubt of these inhuman sacrifices having been once offered in this country as well as in the East, although they now omit the act of sacrificing, and only compel the devoted person to leap three times through the flames; with which the ceremonies of this festival are closed.—See N. & Q. 1st. &, vol. viii. p. 281.
At Logierait the 1st of May, old style, is chiefly celebrated by the cowherds, who assemble by scores in the fields to dress a dinner for themselves of boiled milk and eggs. These dishes they eat with a sort of cakes baked for the occasion, and having small lumps raised all over the surface.—Ibid, vol. v. p. 84.
Western Isles of Scotland.
Martin, in his Account of the Western Islands of Scotland (1703, p. 7), speaking of the Isle of Lewis, says that the natives in the village Barvas retain an ancient custom of sending a man very early to cross Barvas river every first day of May, to prevent any females crossing it first; for that they say would hinder the salmon from coming into the river all the year round. They pretend to have learned this from a foreign sailor, who was shipwrecked upon that coast a long time ago.
In the south-eastern parts of Ireland (and no doubt all over the island) a custom used to prevail—perhaps so still —on May-day, when the young people of both sexes, and many old people too, collected in districts and localities, and selected the handsomest girl, of from eighteen to twenty-one years of age, as queen of the district for twelve months. She was then crowned with wild flowers; and feasting, dancing,
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