Friday, May 1, 2015

Bealtaine: An Irish springtime celebration of optimism

Bealtaine is the Irish word for the month of May, and also the word used to denote the springtime celebrations and festivals that take place in Ireland on the first of May — Lá Bealtaine or May Day — and throughout the month of May. All around the world you will find many countries in which there are celebrations of May Day as the beginning of a new cycle of life.

According to historians, in Ireland the month of May has long been a time for celebrations of the optimistic variety, going all the way back to the time of the ancient Celts. The people would hold festivals with music and dancing, and build huge bonfires for purification and renewal. All this was done in praise of the natural world in order to optimistically welcome the planting season, and with it renewed hope for a successful future harvest.

These days during the month of May, all over Ireland there are festivals that mark with optimism the coming of spring. has a lovely PDF you can download featuring information about May Day traditions around Ireland.

Here are just a few of the festivals and events going on in Ireland in the month of May:

The 'Bealtaine Festival: Celebrating creativity as we age', is a festival that inspires young and old to reach their full potential, with events held from the 1st to the 31st day of May in many locations throughout Ireland.

Even Glasnevin Cemetery is in on the festivities with the Bealtaine Festival 2015 Literary Tour on the 10th day of May.

The Féile na Bealtaine Arts Festival in Dingle town, County Kerry, from the 30th of April to the 4th of May is a celebration that 'aims to extend and broaden the community's artistic horizons' while entertaining locals and visitors alike.

The Punchestown Horse Racing Festival at Punchestown, just south of Naas, County Kildare and not far from Dublin City, runs from 28th of April to the 2nd of May. Not strictly a spring festival as such, Punchestown is one of the highlights of the Irish horse racing calendar. It is very much a family affair, with music and all sorts of entertainment. The perfect place to don a beautiful hat, walk out in your Sunday best, and watch the races.

With springtime celebrations in mind I was thinking about what it is that makes me feel optimistic, and which images might express that optimism. On this Lá Bealtaine (Law B-yel-teh-ne), in celebration of optimism, here are a few of my favourite images that make me feel hopeful.

Shona Lá Bealtaine go léir!
Happy May Day to All!

Observing people together, just having fun and enjoying life, sparks the light of optimism, whether it's family traipsing through St. Stephen's Green on the occasion of a wedding, or buskers on Grafton Street, enthusiastic football fans on the train from County Mayo, or skilled polo players in the Phoenix Park. All of these remind me that people are basically good, and want to enjoy life and make each other happy, and that definitely makes me feel optimistic.

Seeing the beauty of stained glass windows makes me feel optimistic. At times it seems as though some people are only capable of wreaking havoc and causing ruination; however, the fact that others chose to skillfully apply their hand to crafting intricate pieces such as these, for the enjoyment of their fellowmen, just has to make you feel hopeful. These windows are from St. Mary's Church in Westport, County Mayo.

Looking over the grandeur of the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, with the ocean waves crashing at their base in perfect rhythm, reminds me of the fact that we humans are a small part of the whole picture. We have been given the privilege of living in this big and beautiful world, and that always makes me feel optimistic.

On a morning flight travelling back from Ireland in 2011, the plane flew in a parabolic arch, cruising over Greenland. The mountainous region of the land was perfectly visible in the light of the morning sun. I shot these images out of a small round window in the front galley of the plane. The natural splendour of Greenland, and the colour from this perspective, was awe inspiring. Seeing it made me hopeful that no matter what happens in the world, nature will prevail, and that makes me feel optimistic.

Being able to coax this exquisite bloom out of a hibiscus plant in my back garden a couple of summers ago makes me feel optimistic, because of the possibility that, if I find my green thumb, it might just happen again.

What makes you feel optimistic?

Click on images to view larger versions.
To hear pronunciations of Bealtaine visit Forvo.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Magic Mike

Our 'Magic Mike', 26 December 2014.
Click on image to view larger version.
Sorry Channing Tatum fans, this post is not about that buff fellow in the movies. Instead, it is about a Mike with more magic in his spirit than any other Mike I have ever known. The Mike I am writing about is my elder brother Michael. Today is the one year anniversary of the day on which my brother suffered a serious heart attack which resulted in him having quadruple bypass surgery. 

The most shocking thing about this is that for most of his life — since he was about nine years old — Mike has been a dedicated athlete and a long distance runner. He ran track, and was on cross country teams in both elementary and secondary school.

Mike has run all of the major marathons, including those in Dublin, Boston, New York City and Toronto. For years he was also a cyclist, competing in races from coast to coast. He takes good care of himself and doesn't drink or smoke.

Mike is a nurse in the highly specialized field of Nephrology, and he is very fortunate in that he suffered his heart attack at work. Instantaneously, his shocked workmates went into rescue mode and brought Mike back into the land of the living.

The magic about Mike lies in the fact that within four months of his surgery he was back out running again. The thing about Mike is that he has an indomitable spirit. No matter what happens, he does not allow anything to defeat him; Mike just picks himself up and keeps on going. This is one of the things I most admire about him.

The photo I've included above is of Mike crossing the finish line at a 10 mile race the day after this past Christmas. Just over three weeks after this race Mike celebrated his 60th birthday, and he just keeps on running. That's our Magic Mike.

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