May Day Bush

Photo:May Bush Decorated

May Bush Decorated

Mary O'Malley

Photo:May Bush with ribbons and recycled music discs.

May Bush with ribbons and recycled music discs.

Mary O'Malley

Revive the tradition of decorating a May Bush

By Deirdre McGuirk

May 1st is approaching and with it the start of summer. The May Bush was erected in farms, villages and towns around Ireland. Traditionally Hawthorn branches were used for this purpose (other trees and bushes can be used).  The bush was decorated to welcome in the summer for Bealtine. It was decorated with left over eggshells from Easter Sunday which were painted, flowers (usually yellow) coloured paper, candles, ribbons and pictures, and other bright ornaments, basically the more gaudy the tree the better.

The May bush was usually erected on May eve or early in the morning of the 1st May, a festival would coincide with ‘bringing in the May’. The May bush brought about great rivalry in Dublin among groups for the best decorated bush and preparations were made weeks in advance ‘collecting for the May’. Rivals tried to steal bushes, but this was thought to bring bad luck, stealing a year’s luck.

In some area it was traditional to select a May King and Queen who would dress up and parade around the area with the decorated bush, people would give them money, when this was over it was traditional to burn the May bush. The May bush was also associated with fertility, couples trying to conceive would dance around the May bush.

Laws were brought in during the Georgian reign to confiscate May bushes if they were said to cause obstruction on roadways along with fines for stealing May bushes. Victorian times saw an end to the mass revelries of groups ‘bringing in the May’ but the tradition is being brought back in some towns and villages in Ireland.

Hawthorn trees are also used to hang intentions on by tying a rag around a branch to request your intention, this might be a nice idea for people to think about their loved ones at this time. Perhaps as we are all at home during Covid 19 we could all try and decorate a "May Bush" this year to revive this old tradition.  

Citation:

Danaher, K., 1972. The Year in Ireland, Irish Calendar Customs. Cork: Mercier Press.

Evans, E. E., 1957. Irish Folk Ways. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd.

Photo:May Bush, 2020

May Bush, 2020

Aoife Woodward

This page was added by Mary Omalley on 26/04/2020.

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