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The Lammas Fair, or as Mr. John McAuley wrote in his famous song ‘ the Oul' Lammas Fair’, takes place on the last Monday and Tuesday in August. The Lammas Fair is famed for having an 'unbroken history', having taken place annually for the past 300 years but it origins go back to the legends and myths of Ireland. The name of Lammas originated from the 'Feast of Lughnasadh' or Lugh (Lu) and comes from one of the legends of Ireland - one interpretation and there are as many as there are ways of spelling the name, is as follows:- Lugh was in legend a Sun God who had a mortal foster mother called Tailtiu, who in turn was a queen or princess in the firbolgs. The firbolgs (Meaning of the word is ‘Men of Bags’) were early inhabitants of Ireland and are said to have come from Greece or Spain - after settling in that country they were put into servitude and forced to carry soil from the fertile plains to the higher ground. To do this they devised leather bags and became known as the ‘men of bags’ (firbolgs), eventually they became tired of this servitude and made coracles or boats from their leather bags and set sail -arriving in Ireland.They lived here until invaded and ruled by the people of Dana (Tuatha de Danna).
The Dana forced Tailtiu to clear a large area of woodland for the planting of grain and she died of exhaustion in the process. She was buried under a great mound which was called the ‘Hill of Tailtiu’ and Lugh instructed that each year a festival be held to commemorate his foster mother’s death, where there should be games and the feasting on the first fruits of the harvest. We find references in Ireland to the ‘Tailthiu Games’ and the ‘Games of Lugh’.
Perhaps we can surmise that the Gillaspach or Gallaspick, son of Colla MacDonnell (who resided at Kenbane Castle during the fourteenth century)and who was killed fighting a bull in ‘games’ in Ballycastle may have been taking part in the Lammas Fair. For the celebration of ‘Lu’ became known for games of athletic abilities too. It is believed that the tradition of the festival of Lugh expanded into events and celebration through many cultures, we find the Lammas in Saxon times, in the West Indies and today we can find Lammas Fairs being celebrated throughout the world. With the arrival of Christianity to Ireland and its dominance as a faith, we find the festival of Lugh changing and adopting more Christian symbolisms, loaves of bread baked from the first harvest grain are placed on the church altar.
The ‘Christianised’ name for the festival of Lugh becomes Lammas which means ‘loaf mass’. In medieval times we find references to the Lammastide, when craft fairs and pageants would be held. It is also thought to have been the time when Saint Catherine was celebrated, who gave rise to the term‘ The Catherine Wheel’. This came from Pagan worship when a wagon wheel would be tarred, taken to the top of a hill, set on fire and rolled down, symbolizing the decline of the Sun God ( Autumn Equinox). It is well known that the Catholic Church were never too comfortable with Saint Catherine. Feeling that she bordered too much on the side of myth, mystics and the old beliefs, they changed her day of celebration frequently and also at one point tried to de–saint her.
Today’s Lammas is a time of stalls, buying and selling, traditional music and horse trading, a local tradition exists of eating yellow candy called ‘Yellow Man’ and eating ‘Dulse’, a reddish sea weed of the variety ‘Palmaria palmata’ which has been eaten and used in medicine for centuries in Ireland. The ‘Oul Lammas Fair’ attracts people in their thousands from all over the world and is well worth a visit if your in the vicinity.