Archivi categoria: Usanze e tradizioni/ Folklore

The Pleasant Month of May

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“The haymaker’s song” aka “The Pleasany Month of May”, ‘”Twas in the Pleasant Month of May” or ” The Merry Haymakers” is in the Family Copper’s collection of traditional songs from Sussex (see): in the season of haymaking, starting in May, the farmers went to make hay, cutting the tall grass, with the scythe, putting it aside as fodder for livestock and courtyard’s animals . While hay cutting was a mostly masculine task, women and children used the rake to collect grass in large piles, which were then loaded onto the cart through the use of pitchforks.

George Stubbs - Haymakers 1785 (Wikimedia)
George Stubbs – Haymakers 1785 (Wikimedia)

Mr A. L. Lloyd (“Folk Song in England”, p 234/5) traces a possible source to a broadside of 1695; collected versions seem more in the style of the 18th century and presumably stem from the late broadsides, of which there were one or two. Found in tradition mainly in the South and South East of England, the exception being Huntington, Sam Henry’s Songs of the People(1990) which has an unprovenanced set, Tumbling Through the Hay, presumably noted in Ulster.” (from here)

After the hard work, however, it’s time to have fun and so all the workers are dancing in the middle of the haystacks on the melodies of a piper !!

William Pint & Felicia Dale
from Hartwell Horn 1999 
Jackie Oates from Hyperboreans 2009 
Lisa Knapp from Till April Is Dead ≈ A Garland of May 2017

‘Twas in the pleasant month of May,
In the springtime of the year,
And down in yonder meadow
There runs a river clear.
See how the little fishes,
How they do sport and play;
Causes many a lad and many a lass
To go there a-making hay.
Then in comes the scythesman,
That meadow to mow down,
With his old leathered bottle
And the ale that runs so brown.
There’s many a stout and a laboring man
Goes there his skill to try;
He works, he mows, he sweats, he blows,
And the grass cuts very dry.
Then in comes both Tom and Dick
With their pitchforks and their rakes,
And likewise black-eyed Susan
The hay all for to make.
There’s a sweet, sweet, sweet and a jug, jug, jug(1)
How the harmless birds do sing
From the morning to the evening
As we were a-haymaking.
It was just at one evening
As the sun was a-going down,
We saw the jolly piper
Come a-strolling through the town.
There he pulled out his tabor and pipes(2)
And he made the valleys ring;
So we all put down our rakes and forks
And we left off haymaking.
We called for a dance
And we tripped it along;
We danced all round the haycocks
Till the rising of the sun.
When the sun did shine such a glorious light,
How the harmless birds did sing;
Each lad he took his lass in hand
And went back to his haymaking.

1) sounds that recall the trill of birds: they are the verses that imitate birds singing
2) pipe and drum, in a combination called tabor-pipe: the three-hole flute allows the musician to play the instrument with one hand, while with the other he strikes the tambourine with a shoulder strap. If the combination was very versatile and well suited to street performances of the jester, it was also perfect for the performance of the dances and then in the ancient iconography convivial images are often frequent in the presence of dancers. ((see more)

L’allodola e il cavallante nel mese di Maggio


Lancashire, Yorkshire & Oxfordshire may day carols

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Manchester May Day.
“One tradition was for girls to don mainly white dresses, made from curtains or whatever, and carry around a broomstick representing a maypole. Another tradition was for boys to dress up in women’s clothing and to colour their faces – they were called molly dancers, ‘molly’ being an old expression for an effeminate man. Dr Cass[Dr Eddie Cass, the Folklore Society] says they went round quoting a verse. One such, from the Salford area, was: I’m a collier from Pendlebury brew. Itch Koo Pushing little wagons up a brew I earn thirty bob a week I’ve a wife and kids to keep I’m a collier from Pendlebury brew Dr Cass himself remembers both traditions. The girls would dance round the maypole and sing other songs, such as: Buttercups and daisies Oh what pretty flowers Coming in spring time To tell of sunny hours We come to greet you on the first of May We hope you will not send us away For we dance and sing our merry song On a maypole day (from here)


The version reproduced by Watersons in 1975 is taken from W & R Chamber “Book of Days” – 1869 – with words and music collected by Mr. Job Knight (1861) –  A.L. Lloyd comments
The critical seasons of the year—midwinter, coming of spring, onset of autumn—were times for groups of carollers to go through the villages singing charms for good luck, in hope of a reward of food, drink, money. This one was sung on May Eve or thereabouts in Yorkshire and Lancashire, but it’s much like similar songs from any other county.”

This song is  titled “Drawing Near the Merry Month of May” and the text is also reported in Edwin Waugh’s book “Lancashire Sketches” (1869)
The area of reference is Yorkshire and Lancashire and “Swinton” was a small borough, then Salford city now become a part of Manchester (England)

The Watersons from For Pence and Spicy Ale -1975

Brass Monkey from Flame of Fire – 2005

The two melodies are different, the version of the Brass Monkey recalls the Padstow May Song, another song of springtime still popular ritual in the town of Padstow, Cornwall.
As reported in Chambers’ Book of Day (1869), Swinton’s two songs were the Old May song and the New May song. The Old May Song was a so-called Night song that was sung during the night by groups of mayers accompanied with various musical instruments.


All in this pleasant evening together
come has we
for the summer springs so fresh and green and gay.
We’ll tell you of a blossom and a bud on every tree
Drawing near to the merry month of May
Rise up, the master of this house all in your chain of gold
For the summer springs so fresh and green and gay
We hope you’re not offended with your house we make so bold
Drawing near to the merry month of May
Rise up, the mistress of this house with gold all on your breast
For the summer springs so fresh and green and gay
And if your body is asleep we hope your soul’s at rest
Drawing near to the merry month of May
Rise up, the children of this house, all in your rich attire
For the summer springs so gresh and green and gay.
And every hair all on your head shines like a silver wire
Drawing near to the merry month of May
God bless this house and arbor, your riches and your store
For the summer springs so fresh and green and gay
We hope that the Lord will prosper you both now and evermore
Drawing near to the merry month of May
So now we’re going to leave you in peace and plenty here
For the summer springs so fresh and green and gay
We will not sing you May again until another year
For to drive you these cold winter nights away

Charles Daniel Ward: Processing of Spring -1905
Charles Daniel Ward: Processing of Spring -1905

We heve a direct testimony in the book”Memoirs of Seventy Years of an Eventful Life  from Charles Hulbert (Providence Grove, Near Shrewsbury:1852), pg 107
With feelings of indescribable pleasure, I still call to my remembrance various customs and scenes familiar to my early years. Still present is the delight with which I hailed the approach of May-day morning, when a select company of the musical Rustics of Worsley, Swinton and Eccles, would assemble at midnight to commence the grateful task of saluting their neighbours with the sound of the Clarionet, Hautboy, German Flute, Violin, and the melody of twenty voices. On this occasion the leader of the band would commence his song under the window or before the outer door of the family “he delighted to honour” with
O rise up Master of this House, all in your chain of gold,
For the summer springs so fresh, green and gay;
I hope you’ll not be angry at us for being so bold,
Drawing near to the merry month of May.
In this strain, including some encomiums or happy allusion to the various qualifications of all the other branches of the family the whole were saluted: after which a purse of silver or a few mugs of good ale were distributed among the company; thus they proceeded from house to house, tilling the air with their music and happy voices, till six o’clock in the morning.
Among the drinks with which the singers were refreshing their throat in addition to the inevitable beer there was also the Syllabub prepared with milk cream. see more



CMB-009Here is the transcription of a 19th-century May song sung by Swalcliffe’s children, clearly a Day Song
Swalcliffe (pronounced sway-cliff) is a village near Banbury in North Oxfordshire. The words of this carol were noted by Miss Annie Norris around 1840 from the singing of a group of children in the village. The words were passed onto the collector – and Adderbury resident – Janet Blunt in 1908, and she finally collected a tune for the song from Mrs Woolgrove of Swalcliffe, and Mrs Lynes of Sibford, at Sibford fete, July 1921.” (from here)

Magpie Lane from The Oxford Ramble 1993

Awake! awake! lift up your eyes
And pray to God for grace
Repent! repent! of your former sins
While ye have time and space
I have been wandering all this night
And part of the last day
So now I’ve come for to sing you a song
And to show you a branch of May
A branch of may I have brought you
And at your door it stands
It does spread out, and it spreads all about
By the work of our Lord’s hands
Man is but a man, his life’s but a span
He is much like a flower
He’s here today and he’s gone tomorrow
So he’s all gone down in an hour
So now I have sung you my little short song
I can no longer stay
God bless you all both great and small
And I wish you a happy May

LINK making_history/makhist10_prog5d.shtml swintonmaysong.html oxford_ramble/may_day_carol.htm week-88-swalcliffe-may-day-carol/

Cambridgeshire & Hertfordshire may day carols

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The tune is known as “Arise, arise” and the carols of Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire are very similar, even in the lyrics.

Ruth Barrett & Cyntia Smith from  “Music of the Rolling World” (1982) I really like the processional gait cadenced by the drum

Arise, arise, you pretty fair maids
And take your May Bush in
For if it is gone before tomorrow morn
You would say we have brought you none.
All through the night before daylight
There fell the dew and rain.
It sparkles bright on the May Bush white;
It glistens on the plain.
Oh, the hedges and fields are growing so green,
as green as grass can be.
Our Heavenly Mother watereth them
With her heavenly dew so sweet (1).
A branch of May we’ll bring to you
As at your door we stand.
It’s not but a sprout, but ‘tis well budded out,
The work of Our Lady’s hand.
Our song is done,
it’s time we were gone
We can no longer stay.
We bless you all, both great and small
And we send you a joyful May.

1) This carol lets us glimpse, among the tributes paid to the Virgin Mary, some pre-Christian rituals practiced in May Day: in addition to the May branch also the bath in the dew and in the wild waters rich in rain. The night is the magic of April 30 and the dew collected was a real panacea able to awaken the beauty of women!

Shirley Collins, Cambridgeshire May Carol

Arise, arise, you pretty fair maids,
And take your May bush in,
For if that is gone before tomorrow morn/ You would say we had brought you none.
Oh, the hedges and fields are growing so green,
As green as grass can be;
Our heavenly father watereth them/With his heavenly dew so sweet..
I have got a little purse in my pocket
That’s tied with a silken string;
And all that it lacks is a little of your gold
To line it well within.
Now the clock strikes one,
it’s time we are gone,
We can no longer stay;
So please to remember our money, money box
And God send you a joyful May.



Collected in 1900 in the Peterborough area
Mary Humphreys

Good  morning, lords and ladies,
It is the first of May;
I hope you’ll view the garland,
For it looks so very gay.
To the greenwood we will go.
I’m  very glad to spring as come
The sun is shine so bright
The little birds upon the threes
Are singing with delight
The  cuckoo(1) sings in April,
The cuckoo sings in May,
The cuckoo sings in June,
In July she flies away.
The  roads are very dusty
The shoes are very thin
We have a little money-box
To put a money in

SOURCE: Fred Hamer: Garners Gay (1967)
“Mrs. Johnstone [Margery” Mum “Johnstone] learned this carol from her grandmother who came from Carlton and seems to have been popular in some villages close to the Northamptonshire border.The same melody with similar words is spread throughout the south-east of the Midlands ”

Lorraine Nelson Wolf (Bedford carol) 

Good   morning lords and ladies
it is the first of May,
We hope you’ll view our garland
it is so bright and gay
For it is the first of May,
oh it is the first of May,
Remember lords and ladies
it is the first of May.
We gathered them this morning
all in the early dew,
And now we bring their beauty
and fragrance all for you
The cuckoo comes in April,
it sings its song in May,
In June it changes tune,
in July it flies away
And now you’ve seen our garland
we must be on our way,
So remember lords and ladies
it is the first of May


Also known under the title “The Sweet Month of May” is a popular song in Cheshire. The text presents many similarities with the Swinton May song to which reference is made for comparison see more

The Wilson Family

All on this pleasant morning, together come are we,
To tell you of a blossom that hangs on every tree.
We have stayed up all evening to welcome in the day,
Good people all, both great and small, it is the first of May.
Rise up the master of this house, put on your chain of gold,
And turn unto your mistress, so comely to behold.
Rise up the mistress of this house, with gold upon your breast,
And if your body be asleep, we hope your souls are dressed.
Oh rise up Mister Wilbraham, all joys to you betide.
Your horse is ready saddled, a-hunting for to ride.
Your saddle is of silver, your bridle of the gold,
Your wife shall ride beside you, so lovely to behold.
Oh rise up Mister Edgerton and take your pen in hand,
For you’re a learned scholar, as we do understand.
Oh rise up Mrs. Stoughton, put on your rich attire,
For every hair upon your head shines like the silver wire.
Oh rise up the good housekeeper, put on your gown of silk,
And may you have a husband good, with twenty cows to milk.
And where are all the pretty maids that live next door to you,
Oh they have gone to bathe themselves, all in the morning dew.
God bless your house and arbour, your riches and your store.
We hope the Lord will prosper you, both now and ever more.
So now we’re going to leave you, in peace and plenty here,
We shall not sing this song again, until another year.
Good people all, both great and small, it is the first of May.


So many carols have been Christianized, shifting the homage to the ancient deities to God and Our Lady, as in the next examples. These verses were also documented in the newspapers of the time, for example in the parish of Debden and in the village of Saffron Walden in Essex it was sung:
‘I been a rambling all this night,
And sometime of this day;
And now returning back again,
I brought you a garland gay.
A garland gay I brought you here,
And at your door I stand;
‘Tis nothing but a sprout, but ‘tis well budded out,
The works of our Lord’s hand.
So dear, so dear as Christ loved us,
And for our sins was slain,
Christ bids us turn from wickedness,
And turn to the Lord again.’

Each verse was sometimes also interspersed with a refrain::
‘Why don’t you do as we have done,
The very first day of May;
And from my parents I have come,
And would no longer stay.’

Jean Ritchie

I’ve been a-wandering all the night
And the best part of the day
Now I’m returning home again
I bring you a branch of May
A branch of May,
I’ll bring you my love,
Here at your door I stand
It’s nothing but a sprout, but it’s well budded out
By the work of the Lord’s own hand
In my pocket I’ve got a purse
Tied up with a silver string
All that I do need is a bit of silver
To line it well within
My song is done
and I must be gone
I can no longer stay
God bless you all both great and small
And send you a joyful May

1) la strofa è a volte preceduta da questa
Take a bible in your hand
And read a chapter through
And when the day of judgment comes
The Lord will think of you

In the “Nooks and Corners of English Life, Past and Present”, John Timbs, 1867: “At Saffron Walden, and in the village of Debden, an old  May-day song is still sung by the little girls, who go about in parties carrying garlands from door to door. The garlands which the girls carry are sometimes large and  handsome, and a doll is usually placed in the middle, dressed  in white, according to certain traditional regulations : this doll represents the Virgin Mary, and is a relic of the ages of Romanism.”


William Hone in his “The Every Day Book”, describes in a letter dated May 1, 1823 the mummers of May Day to Hitchin who cheer the passers-by with their dances: they are “Moll the crazy” and her husband (with the face blackened by smoke and clothes of rags, “she” holding a big ladle and he a broom), “the Lord and the Lady” (dressed in white and decorated with ribbons and gaudy handkerchiefs, with the gentleman holding a sword) and five/six others  couples of dancers and some musicians- they are all men because the ladies were not allowed to mummers mix: they dance grimaces, chase people with the broom and make the audience laugh.

Always William Hone tells us that the Mayers went from house to house to bring May already at the first light of the day (starting at 3 am) singing “Mayer’s Song” and William Chappell in The Ballad Literature and Popular Music of the Olden Time, 1859 also transcribes the melody, more or less the same as “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman.”

Hitchin May Day Song

‘Remember us poor Mayers all,
And thus we do begin
To lead our lives in righteousness,
Or else we die in sin.
We have been rambling all this night,
And almost all this day,
And now returned back again,
We have brought you a branch of May.
A branch of May we have brought you,
And at your door it stands;
It is but a sprout, but it’s well budded out
By the work of our Lord’s hands.
The hedges and trees they are so green,
As green as any leek,
Our Heavenly Father he watered them
With heavenly dew so sweet.
The heavenly gates are open wide,
Our paths are beaten plain,
And, if a man be not too far gone,
He may return again.
The life of man is but a span,
It flourishes like a flower;
We are here to-day, and gone to-morrow,
And we are dead in one hour.
The moon shines bright, and the stars give a light,
A little before it is day;
So God bless you all, both great and small,
And send you a joyful May!’

Sedayne, live The Heavenly Gates (a may carol)

not exactly the same verses, some stanzas are missing
We’ve been rambling all the night, the best part of this day,
we are returning here back again to bring you a garland gay.
A bunch of May we bare about, before the door it stands;
it is but a sprout but it’s well budded out; it is the work of God’s own hands.
Oh wake up you, wake up pretty maids, and take the may bush in –
for it will be gone e’er tomorrow morn and you will have none within.
The heavenly gates are open wide to let escape the dew;
it makes no delay, it is here today & it forms on me & you.
The life of a man is but a span, he’s cut down like the flower;
he makes no delay, he is here today & he’s vanished all in an hour
And when you are dead & you’re in your grave, all covered with the cold cold clay,
the worms they will eat your flesh good man & your bones they will waste away.
My song is done I must be gone, I can no longer stay;
God bless us all both great & small & wish us a gladsome May.

LINK NonChristmas/bedfordshire_may_day_carol.htm 7/73/1908_32_Bedfordshire_May_Day_Carol.pdf

Helston Flora Day (Cornwall)

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In Helston, Cornwall it takes place every year on 8 May the Furry Dance (Flora or Floral dance) in the Feast of St. Michael. The meaning of Furry is found in the root of the gaelic  fer = fair. Inside the program of the tipical dance there is a sacred representation with historical and mythical theme, which unfolds in a procession that starts from the church: the characters are Robin Hood and his brigade, Saint George and Saint Michael, which announce the arrival of Spring.



The dance is a very long promenade of young couples (and not really young) parading behind the band: they are for the most part walking (or hopping step) alternating a couple of turns with their partner. There are two shows, one in the morning and the second in the midday with more formal dresses (long dress and elaborate hat for ladies, tight and top hat for gentlemen: of British origin, the tight or taitè also called morning dress because worn during the day, it is the male dress in public ceremonies and for all occasions concerning the English royal family.)


In the late Middle Ages the “Robin Hood Games” were practiced during the May Day. It began with a parade of the various characters of the legendary Robin Hood, the masks of the horse and the dragon and the May pole brought by the oxen. The May pole was then raised and a dance took place around it. After the buffoon performances of the horse and dragon masks the competition began: the challenge of archery.
At the end people dancing around the May pole until late. Tradition has lasted until the end of the nineteenth century




More commonly known under the title “Hal an tow” is the main song in the representation of mummers at Flora Day in Helston.
The Watersons live (I, II, VII)

Shirley Collins & The Albion Country Band from ‘No Roses’ 1971( (III, IV IV, V)
Oysterband from Trawler 1994 (II, III, IV, VII) arranged in rock version has become very popular among the groups of the genre celtic-rock


Hal-an-Tow(1), jolly rumble-O
We were up long before the day-o
To welcome in the summertime
To welcome in the May-o
For summer is coming in
And winter’s gone away
Since man was first created
His works have been debated
We have celebrated
The coming of the Spring
Take the scorn and wear the horns(2)
It was the crest when you were born
Your father’s father wore it
And your father wore it too
Robin Hood and Little John
Have both gone to the fair-o
We shall to the merry green wood
To hunt the buck and hare-o (3)
What happened to the Spaniards(4)
That made so great a boast-o?
They shall eat the feathered goose
And we shall eat the roast-o (5)V
As for Saint George(6), O!
Saint George he was a knight, O!
Of all the knights in Christendom,
Saint George is the right, O!
In every land, O!
The land where’er we go.
But for a greater than St. George
Our Helston has the right-O
St. Michael with his wings outspread
The archangel so bright-O
Who fought the fiend-O
Of all mankind the foe
God bless Aunt Mary Moses(7)
With all her power and might-o
Send us peace in England
Send us peace by day and night-o

1)  The translation of Hal an tow could be “May day garland” (halan = calende) and the same name was attributed to the groups of youths who, early in the morning, went into the woods to cut the branches of the May and brought them to the village dancing and singing for the arrival of Spring.
But many scholars tend to refer to the meaning of “heel and toe,” referring to the dance step of the Morris dancing.
Another interpretation translates it as “pulling the rope” (from the Dutch “Haal aan het Touw” derived from the Saxon) referred to the work of the sailors on the ships but also to the game of tug of war, one of the few survivors from the May Games by Robin Hood. Some interpret all the stanzas in a seafaring key, as if the song were a sea-shanty and explain the term “rumbelow” as the rum in the vessel at the time of the pirates!
What shall he have that kill’d the deer? His leather skin and horns to wear. Then sing him home; Take thou no scorn to wear the  horn; It was a crest ere thou wast  born: Thy father’s father wore it, And thy father bore it: The horn, the horn, the lusty horn Is not a thing to laugh to scorn.How do you deny the reference to the deer god and, more generally, to the symbolism of the deer as a sacred animal, the bearer of fertility? see more
3) Shirley Collins:
To see what they do there-O
And for to chase-O
To chase the buck and doe
4) What happened to the Spaniards: the image is ironic about the Spaniards who eat goose feathers by english arrows to whom the roast goose is mockingly due as the winners
5)  Shirley Collins:
And we shall eat the roast-O
In every land-O
The land where’er we go
6) St George day in many populations of the Mediterranean rural world, represents the rebirth of nature and the arrival of Spring, the Saint has inherited the functions of a more ancient pagan deity associated with solar cults: St. George defeating the Dragon became the solar god who defeats the darkness. see more
7) Aunt Mary Moses: Our Lady  Originally, therefore, the invocation was a prayer referring to the goddess of spring. In other versions the sentence becomes”The Lord and Lady bless you” 

Lisa Knapp from Till April Is Dead ≈ A Garland of May 2017


PADSTOW May Day Songs

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On May 1, in Padstow, a characteristic event called “Obby Oss Festival” is celebrated, centered on the Hobby Horse dance; Padstow is a small fishing port of North Cornwall on the mouth of the river Camel, now a tourist destination. (first part)

In this second part I’m going to bring back a couple of songs incorporated in the Padstow Oss tradition but that have been written more recently in the 20th century!


Dave Webber, founder with his wife Anni Fentiman of the Beggar’s Velvet group, wrote a May Song inspired by the oss tradition for their debut album “Lady of Autumn” released in 1990. The song was so convincing that it was adopted among the celebrations for the Padstow May, also known as the “Drink To The Old ‘Oss” (see more)
Magpie Lane from Jack in the Green 1998

by Dave Webber 1990
Winter time has gone and past-o,
Summer time has come at last-o.
We shall sing and dance the day
And follow the ‘obby ‘orse that brings the May.
So, Hail! Hail! The First of May-o!
For it is the first summer’s day-o!
Cast you cares and fears away,
Drink to the old horse on the First of May!
Blue bells(1) they have started to ring-o,
And true love, it is the thing-o.
Love on any other day
Is never quite the same as on the First of May!
Never let it come to pass-o
We should fail to raise a glass-o!
Unto those now gone away
And left us the ‘obby ‘orse that brings the May!

1) The Hyacinthoides of Spanish origin is sometimes called Spanish Bluebells to distinguish it also in the vulgar name from the Hyacinthoides non-scripta, known as English Bluebells.


In 1982 Larry McLaughlin dedicated this song to his wife Maureen on their silver wedding! Here is a tasty anecdote about it told by Larry McLaughlin’s son: “Dad and I were playing in Padstow one night and, inevitably, we did ‘Queen of the May.’ Afterwards, a woman of middle years and a rich Cornish accent came up to us and said to Dad, ‘’Ere boy, you got the words wrong.’ ‘Oh really,’ Dad replied, ‘But I wrote it.’ ‘So you’re the bugger,’ she replied. “But her husband shouted across, ‘’E didn’t write that, I remember my father singing it.’ To which some else joined in with, ‘You don’t even know who your [bleep]ing father was.’ And such was a typical evening in Padstow. “And in many ways the song has been absorbed into the traditions of Padstow. But we should never forget that it is Mum’s song; its original title is ‘Maureen’s Song.’ A treasured gift from Dad to celebrate their Silver Wedding Anniversary, as he says—without having to spend any money!”

by Larry McLaughlin 1982
Winter is over and summer has come
And the Obby Oss waits in his stable for dawn
Rise up my love early and deck yourself gay
And I’ll take you to Padstow today
Chorus: And put your arms round me. I’ll dance you away
For you are my Queen of the May
Skip out o’er the fields and the woods and the dells
Pick primroses, daises, cowslips and bluebells
And from the green woods cut a sycamore spray
And I’ll take you to Padstow today
We’ll breakfast on ale and an old chorus song
Musicians will come with accordion and drum
We’ll meet the old Oss and we’ll welcome the May
When I take you to Padstow today
When the years have rolled on love and we are both old
And the stories of May day and Padstow are told
And though I’m old and feeble you’ll still hear me say
I’llt take you to Padstow today


Obby Oss Festival

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On May 1, in Padstow, a characteristic event called “Obby Oss Festival” is celebrated, centered on the Hobby Horse dance; Padstow is a small fishing port of North Cornwall on the mouth of the river Camel, now a tourist destination.

padstow oss
Oss and his teazer

The Oss are two, one of the Red group(the old horse) and the other of the Blue group (a more recent addition of the Victorian era): the masks are identical, looking fierce and black dressed , which emerge from a characteristic round shape (a circle of 2 meters) edged to the ground by the black fabric: the horses are led by their “teazers” a jugglers with a characteristic stick followed by a cortege of dancers and musicians (mostly drums and accordions): the dominant color in the parade is the white with red or blue depending on the group.

The Oss during his dance – revolving on himself and kicking – seems to war with the teazer or he is courting the young women, who if dragged under the mantle of the oss will become pregnant within the year (or they will get married by the year if they are still young maids)!

Alan Lomax and Peter Kennedy and filmmaker George Pickow collected footage at Padstow in 1951


It is not easy to find the origins of the ritual that is celebrated in Padstow, some indications come from the history of the village: the first settlement was the monastery built by St. Petroc in his mission of evangelization (VI century), but it was destroyed by a Viking raid in 981. Thus the monks moved further inside to Bodmin. Some hypothesize that the ceremony took place on that occasion as an extreme attempt at defense.
obby_oss_sHistorical references of the Oss date back to the late Middle Ages (early 1500) with traces still in the Victorian era: in 1803 is documented the presence of a horse made with the skin of a stallion with a man inside who sprinkled water on the crowd.

Some scholars trace the ritual to pre-Christian celebrations, connected with the Celtic festival of Beltane. Donald R. Rawe compare the oss to thehobby  horses of the Morris dances that are associated with the May fertility rites. (see also the Robin Hood games for the May day). The branches of the May brought into the village, the symbolic coupling with the young women kidnapped under the skirts by the oss, the death and rebirth of the same oss are clear references to fertility that are part of the May Celtic celebrations. However little else can be affirmed with certainty and the verses of the “daytime” singing are rather obscure.
Equally numerous are the references to the winter rituals of Samain that began at the end of October and ended after about twelve days. During the Christmas period the disturbing mask of a horse (hodden or hooden horse), is led through the streets of the village by a “tamer” who held it by the bridle: the children tried to mount the horse and people throw sweets or coins into the mouth of the animal as propitiatory offers. see more


In the singing the Padstow May Song (mostly they repeats the first verse) at some point the music stops the Oss collapses to the ground, the teaser caresses him with his characteristic bat and they sing a kind of dirge funeral
Oh where is Saint George? Oh where is he-O?
He’s out in his longboat, all on the salt sea-O.
Up flies the kite, down falls the lark-O.
Aunt Ursula Birdhood, she had an old ewe,
And she died in her own park-O.
The oss dies then the “teaser” screams “Oss Oss” and the crowd answers “We Oss” thus the Oss comes back to life and gets up again to resume the dances..

Death-Resurrection of the Oss

Once between the two Oss was engaged a dance-fight, now the two parades march through the streets without ever meeting until late in the evening around the May Pole, before returning to their respective stables.



The parade lasts all day from the morning around 11 am until evening and obviously several men alternate to play the Oss. At the end of the festival the Farewell to the Oss is sung with the phrase:
Farewell farewell my own true love
Farewell farewell my own true love

How can I bear to leave you
One parting kiss I’ll give you
I’ll go what ‘ere befalls me
I’ll go where duty calls me
No more will I behold thee
Nor in my arms enfold thee
With spear and pennant glancing
I see the foe advancing
I think of thee with longing
Think though while tears are thronging
That with my last faint sighing
I whispered soft whilst dying

NIGHT SONG : Drink To The Old ‘Oss

The ritual of the oss begins, however, the night of May 1, at the stroke of midnight and until about two o’clock, with the Night Song, a clear song of begging, in which the youngsters are alerted to go into the woods to cut the branches of May: whoever sings asks in exchange for good phrases (prosperity, health, happiness) a little beer!

Unite and unite and let us all unite,
For summer is a-come unto day,
And whither we are going we will all unite,
In the merry morning of May.
I warn you young men everyone
For summer is a-come unto day,
To go to the green-wood and fetch your May home
In the merry morning of May.
Arise up Mr. —- and joy you betide
For summer is a-come unto day,
And bright is your bride that lies by your side,
In the merry morning of May.
Arise up Mrs. —- and gold be your ring,
For summer is a-come unto day,
And give to us a cup of ale the merrier we shall sing,
In the merry morning of May.
Arise up Miss —- all in your gown of green
For summer is a-come unto day,
You are as fine a lady as wait upon the Queen,
In the merry morning of May.
Now fare you well, and we bid you all good cheer,
For summer is a-come unto day,
We call once more unto your house before another year,
In the merry morning of May

Steeleye Span live (they have recorded the song several times)

Unite and unite, and let us all unite
For summer is a-comin’ today.
And whither we are going we all will unite,
In the merry morning of May.
The young men of Padstow, they might if they would,
For summer is a-comin’ today.
They might have built a ship and gilded it with gold
In the merry morning of May.
The young women of Padstow, they might if they would,
For summer is a-comin’ today.
They might have built a garland with the white rose and the red
In the merry morning of May.
Oh where are the young men that now do advance
For summer is a-comin’ today.
Some they are in England and some they are in France
In the merry morning of May.
Oh where is King George? Oh where is he-O?
He’s out in his longboat, all on the salt sea-O.
Up flies the kite, down falls the lark-O.
Aunt Ursula Birdhood, she had an old ewe,
And she died in her own park-O.
With the merry ring and with the joyful spring,
For summer is a-comin’ today.
How happy are the little birds and the merrier we shall sing
In the merry morning of May.

Lisa Knapp from Till April Is Dead ≈ A Garland of May 2017

Unite and unite
For summer is a-come unto day,
Unite and unite,
In the merry morning of May.
With the marry ring
For summer is a-come unto day
Adieu the marry spring
In the merry morning of May
Arise up Mr. …
In the merry morning of May.
Unite and unite and let us all unite,
For summer is a-come unto day,
And whither we are going we will all unite,
In the merry morning of May.
Oh where is King George?
Oh where is he-O?
He’s out in his longboat,
all on the salt sea-O.
Up flies the kite,
down falls the lark-O.
Aunt Ursula Birdhood,
she had an old ewe,
And she died in her own park-O.


The May branches brought into the village, the symbolic coupling with the young women kidnapped under the skirts from the oss, the death and rebirth of the same oss are clear references to fertility that are part of the May Celtic celebrations. However little else can be affirmed with certainty and the verses of the “daytime” singing are rather obscure.
The young people who build a ship and cover it with gold, could symbolize the solar ship, and the theme of rebirth in a new afterlife it is the journey of purification of the soul of the deceased to the Hereafter.
The garland of red and white roses of young women (the colors of Beltane) symbolizes the union of the masculine principle with the feminine one and takes up again the theme of fertility propitiation. Even the last stanza is a clear reference to the lark, a messenger between the human and the divine, representation of youthful exaltation, a sacred and solar bird, symbol of good luck.
The interpretation of the verse already mentioned on the occasion of the funeral dirge in which the apparent death of the Oss is represented is very problematic!
Oh where is King George? Oh where is he-O?

The reference to the Hanover dynasty would start any historical dating to 1700, but on closer inspection the king is actually Saint George: it is precisely at this point when the Oss is about to die killed by the jester, that is Saint George who defeats the dragon, he is the solar god, who defeats the darkness, the Spring that defeats Winter.
But the most enigmatic of all is Aunt Ursula Birdhood with her old sheep! And here is the fantasy gallops and a local legend recalls an old woman who brought together the women of Padstow to drive away the Viking raiders (in another version become French) while the men were all out to sea to fish: disguised with the Obby Oss and guiding the women in a dancing procession to the beach Orsola has managed to get rid of the marauders convinced to see a monster!!
Some scholars see Birdwood as a mispronunciation of Birdwood and then link it to the figure of Robin Hood extensively connected to the celebration of May since the Middle Ages. Others recall the pagan myth concerning the goddess Freyja (or Sant’Orsola) who, with the name of Horsel or Ursel, welcomed the dead girls into the aftermath.

 second part


Staines Morris to the Maypole haste away

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In the TV series “The Tudors” an outdoor May Day has been set up, with the picturesque dancers of the Morris Dance, their rattles and handkerchiefs, the archery, the fight of the roosters, the dances with the ribbons around the May pole, performed by graceful maidens with flower crowns in their hair. The background music is titled “Stanes Morris”, in the video follow two reproductions, the first of  Les Witches group, the second a little slower of The Broadside Band.

The May poles in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were very tall and decorated with green garlands, ribbons or two-color striped paintings: the tradition is rooted in England, Italy, Germany and France, a real focal point of the rousing activities at his feet , symbolic fulcrum of the group of dancers.

John Cousen: Ballando intorno al palo del Maggio in epoca elisabettiana


The melody is a dance reported in “The English Dancing Master” by John Playford, first edition of 1651, but already danced at the court of Henry VIII or in the Elizabethan era. In the video it is a Morris Dance while Playford describes it as a country dance (for instructions see)
Morris Dance version
It was William Chappell in his “Popular Music of the Old Time” of (1855-56) to combine the Tudor melody with the text “Maypole song” written in 1655 by Robert Cox for the comedy “Actaeon and Diana” . So Chappell writes “This tune is taken from the first edition of The Dancing Master. It is also in William Ballet’s Lute Book (time of Elizabeth); and was printed as late as about 1760, in a Collection of Country Dances, by Wright.
The Maypole Song, in Actæon and Diana, seems so exactly fitted to the air, that, having no guide as to the one intended, I have, on conjecture, printed it with this tune.

The text invites young people in following Love to dance and sing around the May Pole.
Martin Carthy & Dave Swarbrick from ‘Prince Heathen.’ 1969 (simply perfect!)

Shirley Collins from Morris On, 1972, the folk rock experiment of a group of excellent trad musicians John Kirkpatrick, Richard Thompson, Barry Dransfield, Ashley Hutchings  and Dave Mattacks.

Lisa Knapp & David Tibet from Till April Is Dead ≈ A Garland of May 2017  (amazing version with a further step ahead of the 70s rock rework)

Come, ye young men, come along
with your music, dance and song;
bring your lasses in your hands,
for ‘tis that which love commands.
Then to the Maypole haste away
for ‘tis now a holiday,
Then to the Maypole haste away
for ‘tis now a holiday
‘Tis the choice time of the year,
For the violets now appear:
Now the rose receives its birth,
And pretty primrose decks the earth.
Here each bachelor may choose
One that will not faith abuse
Nor repay, with coy disdain
Love that should be loved again
And when you are reckoned now
For kisses you your sweetheart gave
Take them all again and more
It will never make them poor
When you thus have spent your time,
Till the day be past its prime,
To your beds repair at night,
And dream there of your day’s delight.

second part: JOAN TO THE MAYPOLE

Traditional Music (con spartito)

Bedfordshire May Day carols

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The Lord and the Lady and the Moggers
On 1st May several customs were observed. Children would go garlanding, a garland being, typically, a wooden hoop over which a white cloth was stretched. A looser piece of cloth was fastened at the top which was used to cover the finished garland. Two dolls were fastened in the middle, one large and one small. Ribbons were sewn around the front edge and the rest of the space was filled with flowers. The dolls were supposed to represent the Virgin Mary and the Christ child. The children would stop at each house and ask for money to view the garland.

Another custom, prevalent throughout the county if not the country, was maying. It was done regularly until the outbreak of the First World War and, sporadically, afterwards. Young men would go around at night with may bushes singing May carols. In the morning a may bush was attached to the school flag pole, another would decorate the inn sign at the Crown and others rested against doors, designed to fall in when they were opened. Those maying included a Lord and a Lady, the latter the smallest of the young men with a veil and bonnet. The party also included Moggers or Moggies, a man and a woman with black faces, ragged clothes and carrying besom brushes. (from here)

VIDEO Here is a very significant testimony of Margery “Mum” Johnstone from  Bedforshide collected by Pete Caslte, with two May songs

Maypole dancers dance during May Day celebrations in the village of Elstow, Bedfordshire, in 1952 (Edward Malindine/Getty)

From the testimony of Mrs Margery Johnstone this May Garland or “This Morning Is The 1st of May” was transcribed by Fred Hamer in his “Gay Garners”

Lisa Knapp in Till April Is Dead ≈ A Garland of May 2017

This morning is the first of May,
The prime time of the year:
and If I live and tarry here
I’ll call another year
The fields and meadows
are so green
so green as any leek
Our Heavenly Father waters them
With His Heavenly dew so sweet
A man a man his life’s a span
he flourishes like a flower,
he’s here today and gone tomorrow
he’s gone all in an hour
The clock strikes one, I must be gone,
I can no longer stay;
to come and — my pretty May doll
and look at my brunch of May
I have a purse in my pocket
That’s stroll with a silken string;
And all that it lacks
is a little of your money
To line it well within.

* una trascrizione ancora parziale per l’incomprensione della pronuncia di alcune parole


The carol is known as “The May Day Carol” or “Bedford May Carol” but also “The Kentucky May Carol” (as preserved in the May tradition in the Appalachian Mountains) and was collected in Bedfordshire.
A first version comes from  Hinwick as collected by Lucy Broadwood  (1858 – 1929) and transcribed into “English Traditional Songs and Carols” (London: Boosey & Co., 1908).

Lisa Knapp & Mary Hampton from “Till April Is Dead – A Garland of May”, 2017

I’ve been rambling all the night,
And the best part of the day;
And now I am returning back again,
I have brought you a branch of May.
A branch of May, my dear, I say,
Before your door I stand,
It’s nothing but a sprout, but it’s well budded out,
By the work of our Lord’s hand (1).
Go down in your dairy and fetch me a cup, A cup of your sweet cream, (2)
And, if I should live to tarry in the town,/I will call on you next year.
The hedges and the fields they are so green,/As green as any leaf,
Our Heavenly Father waters them
With His Heavenly dew so sweet (3).
When I am dead and in my grave,
And covered with cold clay,
The nightingale will sit and sing,
And pass the time away.
Take a Bible in your hand,
And read a chapter through,
And, when the day of Judgment comes,
The Lord will think on you.
I have a bag on my right arm,
Draws up with a silken string,
Nothing does it want but a little silver
To line it well within.
And now my song is almost done,
I can no longer stay,
God bless you all both great and small,
I wish you a joyful May.

1) the hands become those of God and no more than Our Lady, as in Cambridgshire, the contaminations with the creed of the dominant religion are inevitable
2) this sweet and fresh cream in a glass is a typically Elizabethan vintage-style drink-dessert still popular in the Victorian era, the Syllabub. The Mayers once offered “a syllabub of hot milk directly from the cow, sweet cakes and wine” (The James Frazer Gold Branch). And so I went to browse to find the historical recipe: it is a milk shake, wine (or cider or beer) sweetened and perfumed with lemon juice. The lemon juice served to curdle the milk so that it would form a cream on the surface, over time the recipe has become more solid, ie a cream with the whipped cream flavored with liqueur or sweet wine (see recipes) 

Philip Mercier (1680-1760) – The Sense of Taste: in the background a tray full of syllabus glasses

3) the reference to the dew is not accidental, the tradition of May provides a bath in the dew and in the wild waters full of rain. The night is the magic of April 30 and the dew was collected by the girls and kept as a panacea able to awaken the beauty of women!! (see Beltane)

Shirley Collins  live 2002, same tune of Cambridgeshire May Carol (not completely transcribed)

A branch of may, so fine and gay
And before your door it stands.
It’s but a sprout, it’s well-budded out, for the work of our Lord’s hand(1).
Arise, arise, you pretty fair maid
And take the May Bush in,
For if it is gone before morning come
You’ll say we have never been.
I have a little bird(?)
If not a cup of your cold cream (2)
A jug of your stout ale
And if we live to tarry in the town
We’ll call on you another year.
For the life of a man it is but a span
he’s cut down like the flower
We’re here today, tomorrow we’re gone,
We’re dead all in one hour.
The moon shine bright,
the stars give a light
A little before this day
so please to remember ….
And send you a joyful May.

1) the hands become those of God and no more than Our Lady..
2) Syllabub (see above)
3) the stanza derives from “The Moon Shine Bright” version published by William Sandys in Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern (1833) see


Magpie Lane from “Jack-in-the-Green” 1998 ( I, II, III e IX) with The Cuckoo’s Nest hornpipe (vedi)  
The song is reproposed in the Blog “A Folk song a Week”   edited by Andy Turner himself in which Andy tells us he had learned the song from the collection of Fred Hamer “Garners Gay”
Fred collected it from “Chris Marsom and others” – Mr Marsom had by that time emigrated to Canada, but Fred met him on a visit to his native Northill, Bedfordshire. Fred’s notes say “The Day Song is much too long for inclusion here and the Night Song has the same tune. It was used by Vaughan Williams as the tune for No. 638 of the English Hymnal, but he gave it the name of “Southill” because it was sent to him by a Southill man. Chris Marsom who sang this to me had many tales to tell of the reception the Mayers had from some of the ladies who were strangers to the village and became apprehensive at the approach of a body of men to their cottage after midnight on May Eve.”

Martin Carthy & Dave Swarbrick from “Because It’s There” 1995, ♪ (track 2 May Song)
Martin Carthy writes in the sleeve notes “May Song came from a Cynthia Gooding record which I lost 16 years ago, words stuck in my head.” (from II to VIII)

Arise, arise, my pretty fair maids,
And take our May bush in,
For if it is gone by tomorrow morrow morn,
You’ll say we have brought you none.
We have been rambling all of the night,
The best(and most) part of this day;
And we are returning here back again
And we’ve brought you a garland gay (brunch of May).
A brunch of May we bear about(it does looked gay)
Before the (your) door it stands;
It is but a sprout and it’s all budded out
And it’s the work of God’s own hand.
Oh wake up you, wake up pretty maid,
To take the May bush in.
For it will be gone and tomorrow morn
And you will have none within.
The heavenly gates are open wide
To let escape the dew(1).
It makes no delay it is here today
And it falls on me and you.
For the life of a man is but a span,
He’s cut down like the flower;
He makes no delay he is here today
And he’s vanished all in an hour.
And when you are dead and you’re in your grave
You’re covered in the cold cold clay.
The worms they will eat your flesh good man
And your bones they will waste away.
My song is done and I must be gone,
I can no longer stay.
God bless us all both great and small
And wish us a gladsome May.
The clock strikes one, it’s time to be gone,
We can no longer stay.
God bless you all both great and small
And send you a joyful May.

1) according to the previous religion, water received more power from the Beltane sun. Celts made pilgrimages to the sacred springs and with the spring water they sprinkled the fields to favor the rain.

Kerfuffle from “To the Ground”, 2008

ARISE, ARISE (Northill May Song)
Arise, arise, you pretty fair maid
And bring your May Bush in,
For if it is gone by tomorrow, morrow morn,
You’ll say we have brought you none.
We have been wandering all this night
And almost all of the day
And now we’re returning back again;
We’ve brought you a branch of May.
A branch of May we have brought you,
And at your door it stands;
It’s nothing but a sprout but it’s well budded out
By the work of our Lord’s hand.
The clock strikes one, it’s time to be gone,
We can no longer stay.
God bless you all both great and small
And send you a joyful May.



Amhrán Na Craoibhe

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Amhrán Na Craoibhe (in englishThe Garland Song)  is the processional song in Irish Gaelic of the women who carry the May branch (May garland) in the ritual celebrations for the festival of Beltane, still widespread at the beginning of the twentieth century in Northern Ireland (Oriel region).

The song comes from Mrs. Sarah Humphreys who lived in the county of Armagh and was collected in the early twentieth century, erroneously called ‘Lá Fhéile Blinne‘ (The Feast of St Blinne) because it was singed in Killeavy for the Feast of St Moninne, affectionately called “Blinne“, a clear graft of pre-Christian traditions in the Catholic rituals.
The song is unique to the south-east Ulster area and was collected from Sarah Humphreys who lived in Lislea in the vacinity of Mullaghban in Co. Armagh. The air of the song from Cooley in Co. Louth survived in the oral tradition from my father Pádraig. It was mistakenly called ‘Lá Fhéile Blinne’ (The Feast of St Blinne) by one collector. Though it was sung as part of the celebrations of Killeavy Pattern it had no connection with Blinne or Moninne, a native saint of South Armagh, but rather the old surviving pre-Christian traditions had been incorporated into Christian celebrations. The district of ‘Bealtaine’ is to be found within a few miles of Killeavy where this song was traditionally sung, though the placename has been forgotten since Irish ceased to be the vernacular of the community within this last century. Other place names nearby associated with May festivities are: Gróbh na Carraibhe; The Grove of the Branch/Garland (now Carrive Grove) Cnoc a’ Damhsa; The Hill of Dancing (now Crockadownsa).” (Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin, 2002, A Hidden Ulster)
St Moninna of Killeavy died in 517-518, follower of St Brigid of Kildare, her names “Blinne” or “Moblinne” mean “little” or “sister” (“Mo-ninne” could be a version of Niniane, the “Lady of the Lake” of the Arthurian cycle); according to scholars her name was Darerca and her (alleged) tomb is located in the cemetery of Killeavy on the slopes of Slieve Gullion where it was originally located her monastery of nuns, become a place of pilgrimage throughout the Middle Ages along with her sacred well, St Bline’s Well.


It seems that the name of Baptism of this virgin, commemorated in the Irish martyrologists on July 6th, was Darerca, and that Moninna is instead a term of endearment of obscure origin. We have her Acta, but her life was confused with the English saint Modwenna, venerated at Burton-on-Trent. Darerca was the foundress and first abbess of one of Ireland’s oldest and most important female monasteries, built in Killeavy (county of Armagh), where the ruins of a church dedicated to her are still visible. He died in 517. Killeavy remained an important center of religious life, until it was destroyed by the Scandinavian marauders in 923; Darerca continued to be widely revered especially in the northern region of Ireland (translated from  here)


The Slieve Gullion Cairns

Slieve Gullion ( Sliabh gCuillinn ) is a place of worship in prehistoric times on the top of which a chamber tomb was built with the sunlit entrance at the winter solstice. (see).
According to legend, the “Old Witch” lives on its top, the Cailleach Biorar (‘Old woman of the waters’) and the ‘South Cairn’ is her home also called ‘Cailleach Beara’s House‘.
the site with virtual reality
On the top of the mountain a small lake and the second smaller burial mound built in the Bronze Age. In the lake, according to local evidence, lives a kelpie or a sea monster and it’s hid the passage to the King’s Stables. (Navan, Co. Armagh)

Cailleach Beara by Cheryl Rose-Hall

The Hunt of Slieve Cuilinn

The goddess, a Great Mother of Ireland, Cailleach Biorar (Bhearra) -the Veiled is called Milucradh / Miluchradh, described as the sister of the goddess Aine in the story of “Fionn mac Cumhaill and the Old Witch“, we discover that the nickname of Fionn (Finn MacColl) “the blond”, “the white” comes from a tale of the cycle of the Fianna: everything begins with a bet between two sisters Aine (the goddess of love) and Moninne (the old goddess), Aine boasted that he would never have slept with a gray-haired man, so the first sister brought Fionn to the Slieve Gullion (in the form of a gray fawn she made Fionn pursue her in the heat of hunting by separating himself from the rest of his warriors), then turned into a beautiful girl in tears sitting by the lake to convince Fionn to dive and retrieve her ring. But the waters of the lake had been enchanted by the goddess to bring old age to those who immersed themselves (working in reverse of the sacred wells), so Fionn came out of the lake old and decrepit,and obviously with white hair. His companions, after having reached and recognized him, succeed in getting Cailleach to give him a magic potion that restores vigor to Fionn but leaves him with white hair! (see)

The Cailleach and Bride are probably the same goddess or the different manifestations of the same goddess, the old woman of the Winter and the Spring Maid in the cycle of death-rebirth-life of the ancient religion.

The ancient path to St Bline’s Well.

On the occasion of the patronal feast (pattern celebrations) of the Holy Moninna (July 6) a procession was held in Killeavy that started from St Blinne grave, headed to the sacred well along an ancient path, and then returned to the cemetery. A competition was held between teams of young people from various villages to make the most beautiful effigy of the Goddess, a faded memory of Beltane’s festivities to elect their own May Queen. During the procession the young people sang Amhrán Na Craoibhe accompanied by a dance, whose choreography was lost, each sentence is sung by the soloist to whom the choir responds. The melody is a variant of Cuacha Lán de Bhuí on the structure of an ancient carola (see)

One of the most spectacular high-level views in Ireland.
On a clear day, it’s possible to see from the peak (573 mt) as far as Lough Neagh, west of Belfast, and the Wicklow Mountains, south of Dublin.

Páidraigín Ní Uallacháin from“An Dealg  Óir” 2010

Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin & Sylvia Crawford live 2016 


English translation P.Ní Uallacháin*
My branch is the branch
of the fairy women,
Hey to him who takes her home,
hey to her;

The branch of the lasses
and the branch of the lads;
Hey to him who takes her home,
hey to her;

The branch of the maidens
made with pride;
Hey, young girls,
where will we get her a spouse?
We will get a lad
in the town for the bride (1),
A dauntless, swift, strong lad,
Who will bring this branch (2)
through the three nations,
From town to town
and back home to this place?
Two hundred horses
with gold bridles on their foreheads,
And two hundred cattle
on the side of each mountain,
And an equal amount
of sheep and of herds (3),
O, young girls, silver
and dowry for her,
We will carry her with us,
up to the roadway,
Where we will meet
two hundred young men,
They will meet us with their
caps in their fists,
Where we will have pleasure,
drink and sport (4),
Your branch is like
a pig in her sack (5),
Or like an old broken ship
would come into Carlingford (6),
We can return now
and the branch with us,
We can return since
we have joyfully won the day,
We won it last year
and we won it this year,
And as far as I hear
we have always won it.
Irish gaelic
‘S í mo chraobhsa
craobh na mban uasal
(Haigh dó a bheir i’ bhaile í
‘s a haigh di)

Craobh na gcailín is
craobh na mbuachaill;
(Haigh dó a bheir i’ bhaile í
‘s a haigh di).

Craobh na ngirseach
a rinneadh le huabhar,
Maise hóigh, a chaillíní,
cá bhfaigh’ muinn di nuachar?
Gheobh’ muinn buachaill
sa mbaile don bhanóig;
Buachaill urrúnta , lúdasach, láidir
A bhéarfas a ‘ghéag
seo di na trí náisiún,
Ó bhaile go baile è ar
ais go dtí an áit seo
Dhá chéad eachaí
è sriantaí óir ‘na n-éadan,
Is dhá chéad eallaigh
ar thaobh gach sléibhe,
È un oiread sin eile
de mholtaí de thréadtaí,
Óró, a chailíní, airgead
is spré di,
Tógfa ‘muinn linn í suas’
un a ‘bhóthair,
An áit a gcasfaidh
dúinn dhá chéad ógfhear,
Casfa ‘siad orainn’ sa gcuid
hataí ‘na ndorn leo,
An áit a mbeidh aiteas,
ól is spóirse,
È cosúil mbur gcraobh-na
le muc ina mála,
Nó le seanlong bhriste thiocfadh ‘steach i mBaile Chairlinn,
Féada ‘muinn tilleadh anois
è un’ chraobh linn,
Féada ‘muinn tilleadh,
tá an lá bainte go haoibhinn,
Bhain muinn anuraidh é
è bhain muinn i mbliana é,
è mar chluinimse bhain
muinn ariamh é.
May Garland

1) it is the May doll, but also the Queen of May personification of the female principle of fertility
2) the may garland made by women
3) heads of cattle in dowry that is the animals of the village that will be smashed by the fires of Beltane
4) after the procession the feast ended with a dance
5) derogatory sentences against other garlands carried by rival teams “a pig in a poke” is a careless purchase, instead of a pig in the bag could be a cat!
6) Lough Carlingford The name is derived from the Old Norse and in irsih is “Lough Cailleach”

7005638-albero-di-biancospino-sulla-strada-rurale-contro-il-cielo-bluThe hawthorn is the tree of Beltane, beloved to Belisama, grows as a shrub or as a tree of small size (only reaches 7 meters in height) widening the branches in all the directions, in search of the light upwards.
The branch of hawthorn and its flowers were used in the Celtic wedding rituals and in the ancient Greece and also for the ancient Romans it was the flower of marriage, a wish for happiness and prosperity.
The healing virtues of hawthorn were known since the Middle Ages: it is called the “valerian of the heart” because it acts on the blood flow improving its circulation and it is also used to counteract insomnia and states of anguish. see


The flowers are small, white and with delicate pinkish hues, sweetly scented. In areas with late blooms for Beltane the “mayers” use the branch of blackthorn,same family as the Rosaceae but with flowering already in March-April.


Amhrad Na Beltaine


Irish May Day (Beltane)

Leggi in italiano

May day is called in Ireland the “na Beal tina” or “the day of the fire of Beal” consecrated to Bel or Belenos. On the eve large fires are lit and the cattle are passed between them – as was the ancient custom of the Celts – custom still conserved in the Irish countryside with the belief that this preserves cows from diseases and from Good People (wee folk).

All hearths were extinguished at sunset and rekindled with the embers of the collective bonfire only the next day (and still today in Ballymenone county of Fermanagh).
The cattle were then taken to the summer pastures, where they remained until Samahin, watching by a buachaill.


Fee74aBeltane is a crucial day in the season (Winter ends and Summer begins) and fairie can more easily make contact with the world of humans. The eve is a day in which you have to pay the most attention, because the fairy people (Good People for the Irish) can be very spiteful and even the malefics are more effective. So no Irish woman would ever taking her newborn for a walk outside so as not to risk finding a challenger in return. In particular, youth and beauty can arouse the envy of fairies and therefore even the beautiful girls are indoors.
In general it is popular belief that illnesses or injuries occurring on the May Eve are the most difficult to cure. So it is a good idea to always leave the house with an iron amulet around your neck or in your pocket and leave an offer of food to the fairies!


Mummers were typical beggars during the nineteenth century, masked figures equivalent to the English Morris dance. Thomas Crofton Croker in “The Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland” (published in 1825) reports many Irish traditions of May and describes precisely the May Mummers; in short, Croker tells us that during his trip to the south of Ireland he witnessed the May festival, which is the favorite of the Mummers: a group of girls and boys from the village or neighborhood who march in procession in a row for two, the men are dressed in white with brightly colored jackets or waistcoats and carry colored ribbons on their hats and on their sleeves and even the women are dressed in white or in light colors. A pair of girls carries a holly bush for each, decorated with many colored ribbons with hanging many new hurling balls (a popular sport that begins in May), a May gift for young people in the village. The procession is preceded by musicians, bagpipes or pipes and drums. There is a clown wearing a scary mask and bearing a long pole with scraps of fabric on top (like a broom) that plunges into the water and shakes it around the crowd to keep the little ones entertained.
The masks parade through the villages or go from house to house dancing to receive money and spend the evening with a cheerful and colossal drink.

The Procession of the May Queen Herbert Wilson Foster (1846–1929)


May Pole and the dances around the pole are quite common in Ireland, Holywood town in Northern Ireland is famous for its May tree erected in the middle of a crossroads: according to local tradition it dates back to 1700 (taken from the mast of a ship) and is still a place for dances to the annual May festival.

Holywood Pole

But the most typical custom is to cut a branch of hawthorn (or rowan) and plant it next to the door or put it on outside the door, making a garland with yellow flowers (primroses, marigolds and buttercups) and colored ribbons.
From this tradition was born the May basket crafted by the childrenand and filled with fresh flowers, to be left – secretly – next to the door of the neighbors or beloved one. With this auspicious token, the inhabitants are protected from fairies, because fairies cannot overcome these flowered barriers.


The herbs harvested before sunrise in May Day have better healing properties especially to treat warts. When butter production was a homemade churning process, the first butter produced with milk from May Day was considered the best to prepare ointments.

Another custom of the eve was a good whipping with nettles and the children went around running with a bunch of nettles to hit the comrades or the unfortunate bystanders; their task was to collect the shoots of nettles to bring home to the kitchen pantry. Known as a purifying and detoxifying herb since ancient times, nettle was in fact used in the preparation of soups and the Irish rural tradition recommended eating nettles in May to treat or prevent rheumatism. Even in ancient Rome it was recommended to those who suffered from rheumatism or rheumatoid arthritis to roll in the nettle. see more

Nettles once rivaled linen and hemp as weaving fiber, for sails, clothes and household linen.