May Day Customs

By Lorna Elms & Michael Gannon FIPF

The National Museum of Ireland-Country Life in Castlebar, Co. Mayo is undertaking a collaborative heritage project with the Linenhall Arts Centre. May On Our Doorstep is a celebration of traditional May Day Customs in Ireland.

‘As in much of northern Europe, May Day in Ireland was a celebration and welcome of the summer. Here, it is rooted in the pre-Christian festival of Bealtaine. Bealtaine embraces the summer, bidding farewell to the dark winter half of the year. Flowers, dancing, and bonfires featured strongly in the festivities. People also sought protection for themselves, their homes and livestock against supernatural forces. Traditions associated with May include May Bushes, May Flowers, May Boughs, May Poles and May Bonfires. All are associated with luck and protection.’ (Clodagh Doyle, Curator Irish Folklife Division)

We are inviting people to share their memories of May Days Past and to contribute to a national survey which aims to find out how and where people are still ‘welcoming the summer’ in the 21st century. To participate, and for more information about this project visit and follow the link to ‘Welcoming the summer’ May Customs.

May Days Past: We are interested in collecting personal stories about May Eve and May Day in years gone by. Recollections of older people in the community can greatly contribute to the Museum’s knowledge in this area. Examples of customs include: May Altars, flowers left on the doorstep, flowers or branches hung above the threshold of house and byre, May Eve bonfires, May Poles, Queens and Parades.
We are particularly keen to uncover photographs depicting May celebrations and customs as these are relatively rare. Alternatively, a photograph of the person recollecting May would be welcome.
Memories can be submitted via our online form; scanned or digital photographs can be emailed to

‘Welcoming the summer’: An Ireland-wide survey of 21st century May customs

A series of heart-warming images capturing the tradition of leaving flowers on the doorstep were taken in a number of Co. Mayo towns on May Day 2011. This led to the idea of conducting a survey to find out just how widespread the practice of celebrating ‘the coming of summer’ is in modern, technological Ireland. Photographs and information documenting what is happening and where this May, can be added to the survey via 

Schools: We would also love to get you involved. Students can record the May Day memories of their parents, grandparents and neighbours and submit them online or, if your school decorates a May Altar, why not add this to the survey?

Photographers: We are challenging photographers across Ireland to ‘Capture Tradition’ Research, find and document customs on May Eve, May Day and during the month of May. Images submitted to the survey will form an online exhibition reflecting the living history of Ireland and a connection with age old beliefs that many thought were truly in the past.

Thank you for helping to celebrate and record our nation’s rich heritage!

This page was added by Brige Woodward on 26/04/2012.