If you are in Connemara in the few days before the 23rd of June you will notice piles of old pallets, branches and other fire making materials appearing at various locations. On afternoon of the 23rd June you may also see little groups of children gathering fuel, like ants bringing it back to the nest.
These are part of one of the most popular traditions that is still followed in Connemara, Saint Johns Night.
This celebration takes place on the evening 23rd of June which is also the summer solstice, the mid point of the year when the sun is at its highest and the days are at their longest.

In common with many Celtic traditions, (such as Christmas, the winter solstice) the festival has been linked to a Christian event, in this case the birth of Saint John.This is one of the very few feast days marking a saint’s birth, rather than their death.
It is hardly a coincidence that these fires are lit so close to the Summer Solstice and it suggests that the custom may have ancient roots.

June 23rd, is St. John’s Eve, or as it is known in many parts of Ireland, Bonfire Night. It was traditionally marked by the construction of large fires throughout the countryside. These were lit at sundown and were the focal point of communal festivities. People gathered to dance and sing, while young men proved their bravery by leaping through the flames.
The night was also rich in folklore, much of it concerned with fertility. Prayers and rhymes were recited to ensure a plentiful harvest. Indeed, the fire itself was thought to have magical powers. Burning weeds in its flames would prevent arable fields from becoming overgrown, while scattering its ashes would guarantee the land’s fertility.

Similarly parading through the fields with lighted branches from the bonfire would protect the crops from disease and pestilence. It was also deemed particularly lucky to bring the ashes home to light the kitchen hearth.
Although most of these customs are no longer practised, lighting St. John’s bonfires still takes places in many parts of Ireland (especially Connemara)

If you drive around Connemara on Bonfire Night you will see bonfires appearing all over the area almost like signal fires. Many people have their own fires but lots of the villages have a Bonfire organised, often with a spectacular blaze at its center.

So if you are in Connemara this Sunday why not take a tour and join in with this ancient Celtic tradition.