May Altars

By Eamonn Kelly

My memory

When I was a child growing up in Firhouse, Co. Dublin during the 1950s I recall that May Altars were an annual occurrance. The plants used to decorate the Altars that I recall in particular were the flowering hawthorn and the cowslip. The hawthorn was common in the hedgerows in the fields surrounding Firhouse and the cowslips grew in great profusion in fields close to the river Dodder just west of the villiage. It was considered unlucky to bring the hawthorn indoors and for this reason the altars were set up outdoors. They consisted of little more than milk bottles or jampots filled with flowers, sometimes accompanied by a religious statue as well. I seem to recall that the May Altars and the mayflower (hawthorn) in general were associated with the Virgin Mary. I now reside at Damhros, Letter Ard, Cashel, Co. Galway where my inlaw Padraig Keeley, who is around 70 years of age, is a neighbouring farmer in the same townland. He informed me recently that farmers with milk cattle were usually up early on May Day morning in times past, to prevent a hare from entering the field with the cattle for it was believed that the hare would steal the Summer milk.

When did this happen?


Where did this happen?

Firhouse, Co. Dublin and Damhros, Letter Ard, Cashel, Co Galway.


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