May is upon us again agus ta cead mile failte roimhe. The summer is beginning to show itself with a good brightness in the evening sky ‘til nine and temperatures increasing overall. But like life it’s not all sunshine as plenty of rain is still lurking around the place awaiting each opportunity to shower us and so dampen over enthusiasm betimes. Yes, I like most people, am glad to see the end of those long dreary nights and to arrive after the promise of spring at the season’s portal of long and lingering summer evenings – the warmth of summer so needed to replenish both body and soul. .
Around this time for the past few years, I remind readers that the Bealtaine Festival based at our local library is on its way. Each year in recent times the excellent Waterford City Library service spearheads the Bealtaine Festival events in the month of May, as the name suggests. It is now more of a national movement or flowering. It is the Irish national arts festival celebrating creativity in the older age. In this upcoming May-based festival which takes place on a nationwide basis hundreds of different events are undertaken in every art form. Taking its name from the ancient Celtic festival it celebrates springtime, renewal, creativity and growth in ageing. In your local Ardkeen library there is a full programme throughout the month from art classes to gardening to creative writing, to internet sessions to alternative therapies and more besides.
May is special
So before we tell you about some of this year’s events both locally and nationally, let’s take a look at some of the traditions behind this month and its significance historically. In recent times especially in Europe it has became a form of Labour Day and as such is an EU wide holiday. But May, at the portal of Summer has always been revered and honoured, known as Bealtaine as Gaeilge and generally called Beltane by the Celts, Walpurgis by the Teutons, and Floralia by the Romans, May festivals were a time of “wearing of the green.” Throughout the Northern Hemisphere, the month of May is a time to celebrate renewal of life. May is named for Maia, grandmother, the Goddess of death and fertility. Maia scorns marriage, so it is a good idea to put weddings off until June.
This was a very strong traditional taboo in Ireland up to 30/40 years ago and even more recent in some places when weddings simply did not take place in that month. Although less stern goddesses now oversee May festivities, wreaths and baskets of Hawthorn are still used in some May festivals in Maia’s honour.
The May-pole is the most familiar feature of May festivities, though less so in Ireland, but it has three distinct interpretations. In some cultures, the May-pole represented the world centre, or alternately, the hub of the Wheel of heaven. In ancient times, the intricate dance of weaving cords around the pole was a magical attempt to direct Nature, which had become topsy-turvy over the course of time, back in order. Today the dance is performed by any who wish to participate in weaving the magic.
Celebrated for thousands of years throughout diverse cultures, Mayday could be the most ancient religious festival in the Northern Hemisphere. Ritual human sacrifice to a death/fertility goddess was certainly practised until the 1st Century BCE. As nature became less fearsome, and more cultivated, the nature goddess became less powerful and bloodthirsty. Today, we still celebrate the remnants of an ancient religion, Nature turning on the Wheel of Heaven. So this May Day stuff has great antiquity and in many ways not just another Bank Holiday.
The Festival of Bealtaine
As we said above Bealtaine is the national festival celebrating creativity in older age. Over 55,000 people took part in Bealtaine in 2008, making it one of Ireland’s biggest arts festivals. From dance to cinema, painting to theatre, Bealtaine showcases the talents and skills of both established and first-time older artists and performers. It is a chance to make new and challenging work, a chance to communicate traditions between the generations, a chance to delve a little deeper into a new area of understanding. Bealtaine creates the space to discover talents until now unseen.
The main Bealtaine investors are Age & Opportunity, The Arts Council, Dublin City Council and RTÉ. There are also over 300 partner organisations around the country from Arts Centres, Cultural Institutions and Libraries to Community Groups, Local Authority Arts Offices, Active Retirement Associations and Care Centres. Bealtaine is also supported by the Bealtaine Ambassadors, established older Irish artists, recognised and admired in their field, who lend their support to the festival each year.
Bealtaine is also attracting international attention: the IBK (Institut für Bildung und Kultur) plans to place a student with Bealtaine during the course of the festival. This has come about through our affiliation to Age-culture.net, the pan-European network, which aims to recognise, support and enrich the cultural lives and learning of older people. Also this year, Age & Opportunity will be represented on an international stage when at the ‘Caring for the Arts’ symposium in Cologne, speaking about how ‘Creative Exchanges’ (Age & Opportunity’s Arts in Care programme) promotes the arts as intrinsic to life in residential settings. A delegation will be welcomed this year from Angus Gold, an organisation working with people over 50 in the Angus region of Scotland. A Welsh festival, Gwanwyn (meaning ‘spring’), now in its third year. Gwanwyn is building on the Bealtaine model and is coordinated by Age Concern Cymru. So the movement is a growing and blossoming.
The genius within
I took a fancy to this particular item. If you once played a musical instrument, but abandoned it long ago, come to the National Concert Hall’s ‘Blow the Dust off Your Trumpet’ on 5th May, with your instrument in tow. Whether you join in on the day, consider playing at a later stage, or just come along to listen, you are welcome.
On that day, the NCH Learn & Explore Department hopes to meet interested Bealtaine participants willing to take up their instruments again, and to prepare them for a one-off performance. This is a unique opportunity to revisit your music playing and it comes with coaching from experienced musicians and teachers.
NCH facilitators will explain the overall project, which is broken up into days of jamming, rehearsal days and a final show; they will also welcome ideas, suggestions and questions from participants. ‘Blow the Dust off Your Trumpet’ is an empowering return to the joys of making music but, this time, with an orchestra built ‘from scratch’ preparing for a fresh performance. So, go flex your fingers, strum that guitar, blow your trumpet, beat those drums, bow your violin or double bass, string that harp, for the National Concert Hall wants to hear you! To take part in ‘Blow the Dust off Your Trumpet’, get your instrument down from the attic and come along to the National Concert Hall on 5th May at 2.00pm.
Now that’s all very dandy if you live in the Dublin area but who knows what with ‘free travel’ wouldn’t it be a grand day out? But I mainly give the above example to suggest an idea or two of what could be done locally to expand on their present programme of activities. Check what’s on that programme at your local library. The Bealtaine committee have chosen this poem as their theme for this year’s festival.
OPEN THE DOOR
Go and open the door.
Maybe outside there’s
a tree, or a wood,
or a magic city.
Go and open the door.
Maybe a dog’s rummaging.
Maybe you’ll see a face,
or an eye,
or the picture
of a picture.
Go and open the door.
If there’s a fog
it will clear.
Go and open the door.
Even if there’s only
the darkness ticking,
even if there’s only
the hollow wind,
even if nothing is there,
go and open the door.
– Miroslav Holub