Accepted Paper:

Midsummer/Saint John's Feast in Ireland: the old and the new  


Tiziana Soverino ( Dublin City University)

Paper short abstract:

Saint John's Feast is a festival still vibrantly observed in parts of the West of Ireland. However, new trends have emerged in the celebrations in the last few decades. The paper will explore possible reasons and dynamics at the heart of these changes.

Paper long abstract:

Oíche Fhéile Eóin, or 'Bonfire Night', has been observed and celebrated in parts of Ireland for many centuries. This calendrical occasion, which was or is observed in many other parts of Europe and further afield, pushes boundaries and definitions. Even more surprisingly, it challenges the equation between Irish and Celtic, since it is not associated with a pagan Celtic festival, unlike the better-known 'Quarter Days' of Irish tradition.

The earliest documentary evidence of what appears to be the principal custom associated with the Feast of Saint John in an Irish context—the lighting of bonfires on the eve of the feast, 23rd June—dates back to the 17th century. In the West of the country, celebrations seem particularly strong, even in the 21st century. However, as is often the case with folklore in general, and with calendar custom in particular, they had to kaleidoscopically adapt to ever-changing circumstances in order to thrive and survive.

Drawing on a range of different sources—from the unpublished replies to two questionnaires from the National Folklore Collection, to early-twentieth centuries local newspapers, and to the fieldwork carried out in 2008 in parts of Cos. Mayo and Roscommon—I have identified two major changes: the withdrawal of a certain part of the population from the festivities, and the commercialization of bonfires.

The talk will discuss and explore alternative and complementary reasons behind these new trends, and possible ramifications of them.

Panel Reli005
The transformation of traditional rituals: imposed change or natural evolution? (Ritual Year SIEF Working Group panel)