Summer Solstice Traditions in Celtic Ireland
In the times before Saint Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland, pagan beliefs and traditions held sway. Celtic pagan festivals were celebrated throughout the year according to the cycles of The Sun. The spring and fall equinoxes and of course the shortest and longest days of the year held particular significance.
In Christian times, Midsummer’s Eve is celebrated as Saint John’s Eve, but in Pagan Ireland the solstice was dedicated to the Goddess Etain, while in France she was called Epona. It was a time of celebration and The Celts also believed that evil spirits and demons could be banished at mid-summer.
In Gaelic, Solstice is ‘Grianstad‘, literally ‘sun-stop’. This refers to the fact that in the few days before and after the solstice, the sun appears to rise and set at the same point on the horizon.
Traditionally bonfires were lit in celebration atop the sacred hills of Ireland, the most important being on The Hill of Tara, the ancient seat of the High Kings of Ireland.
Throughout Ireland are a scattering of megalithic monuments which are aligned with the solar cycle. The most famous is the passage tomb at Newgrange which is filled with the light of the rising sun on the morning of the winter solstice. The most significant monument aligned with the summer solstice is the Grange Stone Circle, the largest in the British Isles, found on the shores of Lough Gur in County Limerick.
Celtic Cross and Pagan Sun Worship
We can even see traces of our pagan past in the design of the Celtic cross. It is thought that the of the circular element of the Celtic cross was used by early Irish monks to explain Christ’s halo and the faith of Christianity to a pagan people familiar with the worship of the sun.