British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

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

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322                                      MIDSUMMER EVE.                          [JUNE 23.
round the fires, the children jump through the flames, and in former times live coals were carried into the corn-fields to prevent blight: of course, people are not conscious that this Midsummer celebration is a remnant of the worship of Baal. It is believed by many that the round towers were intended for signal fires in connection with this worship.— See Gent. Mag. 1795, vol. lxv. pt. ii. p. 124; see Sir Henry Piers's Description of Westmeath, 1682; and The Comical Pilgrim's Pilgrimage into Ireland, 1723 p. 92.
Croker, in his Researches in the South of Ireland (1824, p. 233), mentions a custom observed on the eve of St. John's Day, and some other festivals, of dressing up a broomstick as a figure, and carrying it about in the twilight from one cabin to the other, and suddenly pushing it in at the door. The alarm or surprise occasioned by this feat produced some mirth. The figure thus dressed up was called a Bredogue.
At Stoole, near Downpatrick, there is a ceremony com­mencing at twelve o'clock at night on Midsummer Eve. Its sacred mount is consecrated to St. Patrick; the plain con­tains three wells, to which the most extraordinary virtues are attributed. Here and there are heaps of stones, around some of which appear great numbers of people, running with as much speed as possible; around others crowds of wor­shippers kneel with bare legs and feet as an indispensable part of the penance. The men, without coats, with hand­kerchiefs on their heads instead of hats, having gone seven times round each heap, kiss the ground, cross themselves, and proceed to the hill; here they ascend, on their bare knees, by a path so steep and rugged that it would be difficult to walk up. Many hold their hands clasped at the back of their necks, and several carry large stones on their heads. Having repeated this ceremony seven times, they go to what is called St. Patrick's Chair, which are two great flat stones fixed upright in the hill; here they cross and bless themselves as they step in between these stones, and, while repeating prayers, an old man, seated for the purpose, turns them round on their feet three times, for which he is paid; the devotee then goes to conclude his penance at a pile of stones, named the Altar. While this busy scene is continued
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