Joan to the Maypole

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The song “John (Joan) to the Maypole” dates back at least to 1600, we know several text versions with the same title but also with different titles, (to “May-day Country Mirth”, “The Young Lads and Lasses”, ” Innocent Recreation “,” The Disappointment “) the first printed version dates back to 1630 when the melody is attributed to Felix White, and we find it in the collection” The Pills to Purge Melancholy “by Thomas D’Urfey c. 1720.

17th-century woodblock from the ballad sheet ‘The May Day Country Mirth’

The song describes a typical May Day on the lawn: couples dance around the May Pole to contend for the coveted award, the May garland. The winning couple will become King and Queen of May.
To organize May Day feast we need just a green, that is an open space outside the village, a well planted pole in the middle of the lawn, decorated with flower garlands, some “summer houses” where to sit in the shade and refresh with drinks.
In the painting by Charles Robert Leslie we see a scene celebrating the May with Queen Elizabeth depicted on the right in the foreground while being entertained by a jester. On the expanse of the second floor stands the May pole decorated with green garlands; around the pole the dances are taking place and the characters dressed by Robin Hood, Lady Marian, Fra Tack, but also a seahorse, a dragon and a buffoon (the classic characters of mummers and Morris) are well distinguishable.

Charles Robert Leslie – May Day in the reign of Queen Elizabeth

In the Victorian painting by William Powell Frith we find again the same situation described in the late medieval period: in the distance on the left stands out the profile of a church, not by chance: it was in fact the church that financed the May celebrations; with the beer sold, the parish church was maintained or the alms were distributed to the poor.

William Powell Frith (1819-1909) A May Day Celebration Oil on canvas 40 x 56 inches (101.6 x 142.3 cm) Private collection
William Powell Frith (1819-1909) A May Day Celebration

It is not even so strange that Beltane feast has merged under the control of the Catholic Church, but the Puritans were horrified by all May customs, thus May Pole and related celebrations see moments of obscurantism alternated with moments of tolerance (see more)

The tune is from “Margaret Board Lute Book” (here) the manuscript in the private collection of Robert Spencer, has been dated c1620 up to 1636 (it seems that lady Margaret took lessons from John Dowland).

Toronto Consort  from O Lusty May 1996 
in “The new standard song book”- (J.E.Carpenter) – 1866 with the title: “very popular at the time of Charles I”. A version of nine verses is featured in the broadside titled “The May-Day Country Mirth Or, The Young Lads and Lasses’ Innocent Recreation, Which is to be priz’d before Courtly Pomp and Pastime.” Bodleian collection, Douce Ballads 2 (152a ) and The Roxburghe Ballads: Illustrating the Last Years of the Stuarts Vol. 7, Part 1, edited by J. Woodfall Ebsworth (Hertford: Ballad Society, 1890) (see)

Joan to the Maypole away, let us on,
The time is swift and will be gone;
There go the lasses away to the green,
Where their beauties may be seen
Bess, Moll, Kate, Doll,
All the gay lasses
have lads to attend them,
Hodge, Nick, Tom, Dick,
Jolly brave dancers,
and who can mend them?
Did you not see the Lord of the May
Walk along in his rich array?
There goes the lass that is only his,
See how they meet and how they kiss.
Come Will, run Gill,
Or dost thou list to lose thy labour(1);
Kit Crowd scrape loud,
Tickle her, Tom, with a pipe and tabor!(2).
There is not any that shall out-vie
My little pretty Joan and I,
For I’m sure I can dance as well
As Robin, Jenny, Tom, or Nell.
Last year, we were here,
When Ruff Ralph he played us a bourée,
And we, merrily
Thumped it about and gained the glory.
Now, if we hold out
as we do begin,
Joan and I the prize shall win(3);
Nay, if we live till another day (4),
I’ll make thee lady of the May.
Dance round, skip, bound,
Turn and kiss, and then for a greeting.
Now, Joan, we’ve done,
Fare thee well
till the next merry meeting.

1) the exhortation refers to the musicians who are not yet ready with their instruments to kick off the dance.
2) Pipe and tabor or tabor-pipe is the three-hole flute associated with the tambourine, the flute is played with one hand and with the other one it is accompanied by a tambourine  (see more)
3) the May garland at stake
4) it is not clear whether the election dethroned the previous couple immediately or is the title valid for the following year.

second part


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)

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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.



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May traditions have been preserved in various parts of Europe until the twentieth century: in England it was drastically interrupted at the outbreak of the First World War, it was taken sporadically and kept alive by many Mummers and Morris Dancers, until today.
Generally, as was the ancient tradition, the youngsters of the village went to the woods to pick up the branches of May, (“going a-Maying“), and to bring the May to the country (“the bringing home the May“), mostly dressed up or with costumes extravagant: there were a couple of newlyweds and other figures even more picturesque with special names depending on the place and tradition.

In the nineteenth century the Mummers in Ireland and Brittany took part in the May festival both in the begging songs and to bring May and dance around the May Pole.

Loreena McKennitt from “The Book of Secrets” 1997

(composed by Loreena McKennitt)
When in the springtime of the year
When the trees are crowned with leaves
When the ash and oak, and the birch and yew
Are dressed in ribbons fair.
When owls call the breathless moon
In the blue veil of the night.
The shadows of the trees appear
Amidst the lantern light.
We’ve been rambling all the night
And sometime of this day,
Now returning back again
We bring a garland gay(2).
Who will go down to the shady groves
And summon the shadows (3) there
And tie a ribbon on the sheltering arms
In the springtime of the year?
The songs of birds seem to fill the wood
When the fiddler plays
All their voices can be heard
Long past their woodland days.
And so they linked their hands and danced
Round in circles and in rows.
And so the journey of the night descends
When all the shades are gone.
A garland gay we bring you here(1)
And at your door we stand.
It is a sprout well-budded out
The work of our Lord’s hand.

1) chorus and last verse are part of the traditional May songs
2) May garland
3) the spirits of the forest and the voices of the ancestors

Also in Italy the chronicles of the time in Romagna (italian region)
“… In the springtime of the year on the night electrifying the youth, young people rush for to sing May under the windows of their favorites.At the same time, you can hear a lot of young girls singing songs by placing on their windows and their doors tree branches with flowers, that is they have planted the May “(Placucci – 1818).
“on the first day of May lovers take a branch of acacia in bloom and go early in the morning to plant it or near the door, or near a window of the beloved: sometimes they attach to this branch gifts such as brooches, handkerchiefs or other, then they sing ” (Bagli – 1885) –translated from here

In England throughout the nineteenth century, various may songs dating back to popular tradition are documented: the Mayers began their itinerant beggin in mid-April singing the May, and ended on the evening of April 30th. They was in small groups of five or six men who accompanied themselves in singing with the violin or flute.
These Mayers are the echo of the cheerful brigades that since the Middle Ages brought the May into the houses: a “Queen of the May” was elected among the most beautiful girls in the village and they danced and singed together around the May Pole.

Bringing Home the May, 1862, Henry Peach Robinson
Bringing Home the May, 1862, Henry Peach Robinson

The Mayers wandered both during the night and during the day and had songs for the night and songs for the day often on the same melody. The Night songs were sung on April 30 to leave the May branches at the doors of their neighbors with the request for food and drink. The Day songs were the songs of the 1st of May those more properly of begging in which they asked for coins in exchange for good luck songs.


rasing_maypoleAlso the children were wandering the streets, as for the Wassaling and the Christmas caroling even in spring the children went from house to house for begging, singing a series of verses (learned from the mother): they carried in procession the May garland with a little doll placed between a wreath of flowers and ribbons hanging from a pole (see) and receiving coins and some food-drinks in exchange for the auspicious verses.

Martin Carthy writes  in his album “Holy Heathens and the Old Green Man”, 2006: “There must be dozens of May Day songs from all over the country and the collector Fred Hamer had his own extensive collection, a selection of which was printed in the EFDSS journal* of 1961 along with an article on the subject. He says that a part of the ritual saw Mayers making their feelings known about particular individuals while they were doing their rounds. It was important for people to have the branch of May placed at their doors because a lack of it would certainly be seen as more than just a slight: but indeed it went further. A briar might be left to indicate a liar, and either elder or hemlock and stinging nettles for people of bad moral character; in all probability there were other examples as well.” (* Journal of The English Folk Dance & Song Society)

Cambridgshire, Cheshire,  Essex    
Lancashire, Yorkshire
Flag_of_Cornwall_svgObby Oss Festival
Padstow mayday 
Furry Dance di Helston


LA GHIRLANDA DEL MAGGIO “the bringing home the May”

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

Nel Medioevo prima dello spuntare del giorno di Calendimaggio i giovani del villaggio raccoglievano fiori di campo, rami di biancospino e facevano entrare il Maggio nel paese: cantavano, danzavano, appendevano alle finestre i rami raccolti e donavano i fiori alle fanciulle più graziose. Festeggiare il Maggio era una consuetudine anche dei nobili per tutto il tardo Rinascimento come ci mostrano i molti dipinti dell’epoca.

MayDay_Leslie(Charles Robert Leslie – May Day in the reign of Queen Elizabeth)

Nel dipinto di Charles Robert Leslie è raffigurata proprio una scena celebrativa del Maggio con la Regina Elisabetta raffigurata sulla destra in primo piano nel mentre è intrattenuta da un giullare. Sulla distesa in secondo piano si staglia il palo del maggio impavesato e decorato con ghirlande verdi; attorno al palo si stanno svolgendo le danze e sono ben distinguibili i personaggi vestiti da Robin Hood, Lady Marian, Fra Tack, ma anche un cavalluccio, un drago e un buffone.


Sempre sullo sfondo è raffigurato anche una specie di pergolato ricoperto di fiori e fronde, a forma di grotta dentro il quale si intravede una figura di donna: è la regina del Maggio, la rappresentazione vivente della dea Flora, protetta e appartata rispetto alla zona in cui si svolge la festa, quasi una reliquia, oggetto di ammirazione dei nobili e dei popolani.
Le coppie danzano intorno al Palo del Maggio per contendersi l’ambito premio, la ghirlanda del Maggio, e diventare l’anno seguente il Re e la Regina del Maggio.

Si possono rintracciare tradizioni ancora più remote in questa Fanciulla della Primavera, echi di culti ancestrali ancora impregnati della spiritualità antica in un canto irlandese in gaelico Amhran Na Bealtaine

garlan-may-dayEd ecco che nell’Ottocento in Inghilterra ritroviamo la regina del Maggio effigiata in una bambolina posta tra una corona di fiori e nastri appesa ad un’asta portata in giro dai Mayers (i maggiolanti).

Si tratta della “piccola Bride” la dea triplice celtica la fanciulla del grano confezionata dalle donne a Imbolc (il primo febbraio) con il grano avanzato dall’ultimo covone della mietitura dell’anno passato, ossia la giovane Fanciulla della Primavera, un forte simbolo di rinascita nel ciclo di morte-vita in cui si perpetua la Natura: nella bambolina si era trasferito lo spirito del grano che non moriva con la mietitura.
Le bamboline di Brigid venivano anche vestite con un abito bianco o decorate con nastri e fiori e portate in processione per tutto il paese passando di porta in porta affinchè ciascuno lasciasse un dono. continua

(c) Rushcliffe Borough Council; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation


Come per il Wassaling e il caroling natalizio anche in primavera i bambini andavano di casa in casa per la questua, cantando una serie di versi (imparati dalla mamma) e mostrando la Ghirlanda del Maggio.victorian-art-artist-painting-print-by-myles-birket-foster-first-of-may-garland-day
Nell’Ottocento la connotazione della questua era decisamente più ossequiosa della Chiesa, con versi da penitenti e la bambolina intesa come rappresentazione della Vergine Maria.
Tradizioni che si sono conservate in varie parti d’Europa fino alle soglie del Novecento.

In Italia ad esempio le cronache del tempo riferibili alla Romagna (vedi) “…nella notte d’ingresso di tale mese, elettrizzandosi la gioventù, accorrono i giovani a cantare il maggio sotto le finestre delle loro favorite. Contemporaneamente si sentono torme di giovinette cantare canzoni ponendo sulle finestre ed alle loro porte rami di albero con fiori, come dire di avere piantato Maggio” (Placucci – 1818).

il primo giorno di maggio gli amanti prendono un ramo di acacia in fiore e vanno la mattina per tempo a piantarlo o presso l’uscio, o vicino ad una finestra dell’amata: alcune volte attaccano a questo ramo doni come spille, fazzoletti o altro. Poi cantano” (Bagli – 1885).

seconda parte: Il cantar maggio nel Basso Piemonte continua
terza parte: Il cantar Maggio nelle Isole Britanniche continua


Il Maggio in Irlanda: il canto di Beltane

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Il canto ha molti titoli: Amhran Na Bealtaine, Samhradh, Summertime, Thugamur Fein An Samhradh Linn (We Brought The Summer With Us, We Have Brought The Summer In). Oggi viene comunemente chiamata Beltane Song

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


Il brano potrebbe risalire al tardo Medioevo e la sua prima traccia si trova nei festeggiamenti  popolari per lo sbarco di James Butler Duca di Ormonde nel 1662, nominato Lord Luogotenente d’Irlanda. E’ un canto tradizionale nella parte sud-est dell’Ulster (Irlanda del Nord) ed era cantato da gruppi di giovani che andavano di casa in casa a portare il ramo di Maggio (mummers, mayers- vedi).
Molto probabilmente questo era un canto di questua per ottenere   del cibo o bevande in cambio del ramo di biancospino o del prugnolo  da lasciare davanti alla porta . Con questo gesto benaugurale si proteggono gli abitanti dalle fate. Era convinzione che le fate non potessero superare tali barriere fiorite. continua

Il brano è ancora molto popolare in Irlanda  in particolare nella regione di Oriel (che include parti delle contee di Louth, Monaghan e Armagh) ed è eseguito sia in versione strumentale che cantato.
Edward Bunting afferma che il brano era suonata nell’area di Dublino fin dal 1633.

The Chieftains , questa versione strumentale è un inno alla gioia, un canto di uccelli che si risvegliano al richiamo della primavera: inizia il flauto irlandese appoggiandosi all’arpa, che trilla nel crescendo (a imitazione del canto dell’allodola) ripreso in canone dai vari strumenti a fiato (il flauto irlandese, il whistle e la uillean pipes) e dal violino, grandioso!

ASCOLTA  Gloaming  2012 con il titolo di Samhradh Samhradh (al violino Martin Hayes)

Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin in A Stór Is A Stóirín 1994 

Gelico irlandese
Bábóg na Bealtaine, maighdean an tSamhraidh,
Suas gach cnoc is síos gach gleann,
Cailíní maiseacha bán-gheala gléasta,
Thugamar féin an samhradh linn
Samhradh, samhradh, bainne na ngamhna,
Thugamar féin an samhradh linn.
Samhradh buí na nóinín glégeal,
Thugamar féin an samhradh linn.

Thugamar linn é ón gcoill chraobhaigh,
Thugamar féin an samhradh linn.
Samhradh buí ó luí na gréine,
Thugamar féin an samhradh linn
Tá an fhuiseog ag seinm ‘sag luascadh sna spéartha,
Áthas do lá is bláth ar chrann.
Tá an chuach is an fhuiseog ag seinm le pléisiúr,
Thugamar féin an samhradh linn.
Traduzione inglese*
Mayday doll(1),
maiden of Summer (2)
Up every hill
and down every glen,
Beautiful girls,
radiant and shining,
We have brought the Summer in.
Summer, Summer,
milk of the calves(3),
We have brought the Summer in.
Yellow(4) summer
of clear bright daisies,
We have brought the Summer in.
We brought it in
from the leafy woods(5),
We have brought the Summer in.
Yellow(6) Summer
from the time of the sunset(7),
We have brought the Summer in.
The lark(8) is singing
and swinging around in the skies,
Joy for the day
and the flower on the trees.
The cuckoo and the lark
are singing with pleasure,
We have brought the Summer in.
Traduzione italiana Cattia Salto
La Fanciulla del Maggio
fanciulla dell’Estate
su per ogni collina
e giù per ogni valle
(noi) Belle Ragazze,
solari e splendenti
abbiamo portato l’arrivo dell’estate
Estate, estate,
il latte dei vitelli
abbiamo portato l’arrivo dell’estate.
Gialla estate
di chiare e luminose margherite
abbiamo portato l’arrivo dell’estate
L’abbiamo portata
dai boschi frondosi,
abbiamo portato l’arrivo dell’estate.
Gialla estate
a partire dal tramonto
abbiamo portato l’arrivo dell’estate
L’allodola canta
e sfreccia nel cielo
Gioia per il giorno
e gli alberi in fiore
Il cuculo e l’allodola
cantano con gioia
Abbiamo portato l’arrivo dell’estate

* da qui
garlan-may-day1) la Bábóg è la bambola (fanciulla) di Primavera. Brídeóg era la “piccola Bride“, (Brigit, o Brigantia in Britannia, una dea trina -Vergine, Madre, Crona) tra le più importanti del pantheon celtico, la fanciulla del grano confezionata dalle donne a Imbolc (il primo febbraio) con il grano avanzato dall’ultimo covone della mietitura dell’anno passato, ossia la giovane Dea della Primavera, un forte simbolo di rinascita nel ciclo di morte-vita in cui si perpetua la Natura: nella bambolina si era trasferito lo spirito del grano che non moriva con la mietitura. Le bamboline di Brigid venivano anche vestite con un abito bianco o decorate con pietre, nastri e fiori e portate in processione per tutto il paese affinchè ciascuno lasciasse un dono alla piccola Bride.
La bambolina ricomparirà nelle celebrazioni vittoriane del Maggio, questa volta come vera a propria bambola biancovestita posta tra una corona di fiori e nastri appesa ad un asta e portata in giro per il paese dai Mayers (i maggiolanti). continua
2) samhradh nel contesto è il nome dato alla ghirlanda fiorita portata di casa in casa con l’effige della Bábóg
3)  il latte delle mucche per i vitellini. Il giorno del Maggio è chiamato  na Beal tina ossia il giorno del fuoco di Beal, consacrato quindi al dio Bel o Belenos. Alla vigilia si accendevano grandi fuochi e si faceva passare il bestiame tra di essi – come era l’antica usanza dei Celti – usanza conservata ancora nelle campagne irlandesi con la convinzione che ciò impedisse al Piccolo Popolo- in particolare ai folletti molto ghiotti di latte – di fare brutti scherzi come intrecciare le code delle mucche o rubare il latte
4) i fiori che venivano raccolti erano per lo più gialli per richiamare il colore e il calore del sole. Fiori e rami fioriti erano posti sulla soglia di casa e ai davanzali delle finestre per proteggere gli abitanti dalle fate e come auspicio di buona sorte. Era convinzione che le fate non potessero superare tali barriere fiorite. Tale tradizione era tipica dell’Irlanda del Nord. I bambini soprattutto andavano a raccogliere i fiori selvatici per preparare delle ghirlande, specialmente con fiori dal colore giallo.
5) il greenwood, il bosco più inviolato e sacro sede degli antichi rituali celtici dal quale le ragazze hanno tagliato i rami del Maggio (in altre versioni testuali indicati come branches of the forest) ossia i rami di biancospino o di prugnolo

Bringing Home the May, 1862, Henry Peach Robinson
Bringing Home the May, 1862, Henry Peach Robinson

6) i giovani si recano nel bosco nella notte della vigilia del 1 Maggio al tramonto del sole e quindi sul far del giorno iniziano la loro questua processionale per far entrare il Maggio nel paese (continua)
7) l’allodola è un uccello sacro dal simbolismo solare (vedi simbolismo)
8) il canto del cuculo è foriero di Primavera, anche perchè una volta terminata la stagione dell’amore (fine maggio), il cuculo (maschio) non canta più (continua)

In un’altra versione testuale (vedi)

Cuileann is coll is trom is cárthain,
Thugamar féin an samhradh linn
Is fuinseog ghléigeal Bhéal an Átha,
Thugamar féin an samhradh linn.
Traduziopne inglese
Holly and hazel
and elder and rowan,(1)
We have brought the Summer in.
And brightly shining ash
from Bhéal an Átha,(2)
We have brought the Summer in
Traduzione italiana Cattia Salto
L’agrifoglio, il nocciolo,
il sambuco e il sorbo

abbiamo portato l’arrivo dell’estate
e il bianco frassino
dalla Bocca del Guado,

abbiamo portato l’arrivo dell’estate

1) Il biancospino è una pianta delle fate come l’agrifoglio, il nocciolo, il sambuco e il sorbo, protettiva e benaugurale (probabilmente a causa delle spine molto acuminate). La tradizione del Maggio vuole in particolare che il ramo  di biancospino sia posto fuori dalla casa (appeso alle finestre e accanto all’ingresso) perché se portato in casa, soprattutto quando è fiorito, porta sfortuna. Questa accezione negativa risale al Medioevo quando i rami di biancospino erano usati come amuleti contro il malocchio, le streghe e i demoni e forse si può far risalire al vago odore putrescente dei rami, ma sicuramente è legata al tentativo della Chiesa di assimilare i riti precristiani a pratiche sataniche.  vedi
2) Bhéal an Átha letteralmente la bocca del guado è anche una località oggi nota come Ballina una città sul fiume Moy nella conta di Mayo. L’insediamento è però relativamente recente (fine XV secolo)
Na Bealtaine è più probabile che si riferisca a un toponimo Beulteine così come era chiamato il luogo della festa di Beltane al confine tra la contea di Armagh e quella di Louth, a Kilcurry, oggi ci sono solo un piccolo tumulo con le rovine di una vecchia chiesa. Tutte le versioni raccolte nell’area descrivono un raggio intorno a questa località di circa venti miglia

Bábóg na Bealtaine, altre melodie

La Lugh (Eithne Ní Uallacháin & Gerry O’Connor) in Brighid’s Kiss 1995. Questa versione con il titolo Bábóg na Bealtaine mantiene il testo originale, ma la melodia è composta da Eithne Ní Uallacháin
(strofe I, III,IV, V, VI)

Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin ha reinterpraetato la canzone, già precedentemte pubblicata sulla melodia trascritta da Edward Bunting,  sulla melodia e testo come trascritti da Séamus Ennis dalla testimonianza di Mick McKeown, Lough Ross registrato su cilindo a cera (I, II, III, IV, V, VII)

Samhradh buí na nóiníní gléigeal,
thugamar fhéin an samhradh linn,
Ó bhaile go baile is chun ár mbaile ’na dhiaidh sin,
’s thugamar fhéin an samhradh linn
(Mick McKeown version
Samhradh buí ’na luí ins na léanaí,
thugamar féin a’ samhradh linn;
Samhradh buí, earrach is geimhreadh
is thugamar féin a’ samhradh linn.)
Cailíní óga, mómhar sciamhach,
thugamar féin a’ samhradh linn;
Buachaillí glice, teann is lúfar,
is thugamar féin a’ samhradh linn.
Bábóg na Bealtaine, maighdean an tsamhraidh
suas gach cnoc is síos gach gleann
cailíní maiseacha, bángheala gléasta,
’s thugamar fhéin an samhradh linn
Tá an fhuiseog ag seinm is ag luasadh sna spéartha,
beacha is cuileoga is bláth ar na crainn,
tá’n chuach’s na héanlaith ag seinm le pléisiúr,
’s thugamar fhéin an samhradh linn
Tá nead ag an ghiorria ar imeall na haille,
is nead ag an chorr éisc i ngéaga an chrainn,
tá mil ar na cuiseoga is na coilm ag béiceadh,
’s thugamar fhéin an samhradh linn.
Tá an ghrian ag loinnriú`s ag lasadh na dtabhartas,
tá an fharraige mar scathán ag gháirí don ghlinn,
tá na madaí ag peithreadh is an t-eallach ag géimni
’s thugamar fhéin an samhradh linn.
Samhradh buí ’na luí ins a’ léana,
thugamar féin a’ samhradh linn;
Ó bhaile go baile is go Lios Dúnáin a’ phléisiúir,
is thugamar féin a’ samhradh linn.
Traduzione inglese*
Golden Summer of the white daisies,
we bring the Summer with us,
from village to village
and home again,
and we bring the Summer with us.
I Mick McKeown version
Golden summer, lying in the meadows,
we brought the summer with us;
Golden summer, spring and winter,
and we brought the summer with us.
Young maidens, gentle and lovely,
we brought the summer with us;
Lads who are clever, sturdy and agile,
and we brought the summer with us.
Beltaine dolls,
Summer maidens
Up hill and down glens
Girls adorned in pure white,
and we bring the Summer with us.
The lark making music
and sky dancing
the blossomed trees laden with bees
the cuckoo and the birds
singing with joy
and we bring the Summer with us.
The hare nests on the edge of the cliff
the heron nests in the branches
the doves are cooing, honey on stems
and we bring the Summer with us.
The shining sun is lighting the darkness
the silvery sea shines like a mirror
the dogs are barking, the cattle lowing
and we bring the Summer with us.
Golden summer, lying in the meadow,
we brought the summer with us;
From home to home and to Lisdoonan of pleasure,
and we brought the summer with us.
Traduzione italiana Cattia Salto
Estate dorata delle bianche margherite
 portiamo l’arrivo dell’estate
di villaggio in villaggio
e in ogni casa
portiamo l’arrivo dell’estate
I Versione Mick McKeown
Estate dorata tra i prati
abbiamo portato l’arrivo dell’estate;
estate dorata, primavera e inverno
e abbiamo portato l’arrivo dell’estate
Giovani fanciulle, gentili e amabili
abbiamo portato l’arrivo dell’estate;
con giovani svegli, robusti  agili,
per portare l’arrivo dell’estate
Le Fanciulle di Beltane,
fanciulle dell’Estate
su per ogni collina e giù per ogni valle
ragazze vestite di candido bianco,
portiamo l’arrivo dell’estate
L’allodola canta
e sfreccia nel cielo
gli alberi in fiore carichi di api
Il cuculo e gli uccelli
cantano con gioia
portiamo l’arrivo dell’estate
La lepre fa il nido sul limitare della scogliera, l’airone nei cespugli
le colombe tubano, miele sui rami
portiamo l’arrivo dell’estate
Il sole splendente illumina l’oscurità
il mare argentato brilla come specchio, i cani abbaiano, il bestiame muggisce portiamo l’arrivo dell’estate
Estate dorata nel prato
abbiamo portato l’arrivo dell’estate;
do casa in casa alla Lisdoonan  del piacere
abbiamo portato l’arrivo dell’estate

* tratta da qui e qui

Amhrán na Craoibhe (The Garland Song)