Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Saturday, August 01, 2009


August 1st is the first of the three Celtic Harvest festivals and is known as Lughnasadh or Lammas. The first fruits of the harvest are ripening now and the weather becomes a crucial factor in the farmer's life as on it depends whether the grain crops can be harvested at their peak.
Lughnasadh is named for Lugh and according to Celtic legend, he decreed that a commemorative feast be held each year at the beginning of the harvest season to honor his foster mother, Tailtiu. Tailtiu was the royal Lady of the Fir Bolg. After the defeat of her people by the Tuatha De Dannan, she was obliged by them to clear a vast forest for the purpose of planting grain. She died of exhaustion in the attempt. The legend states that she was buried beneath a great mound named for her, at the spot where the first feast of Lughnasadh was held in Ireland, the hill of Tailte. At this gathering were held games and contests of skill as well as a great feast made up of the first fruits of the summer harvest.

Rowan berries (at the top) are always the first to ripen and this year they are prolific. Bilberries also are ripe now but the photo is from last year as so far it has been too wet to go picking so I don't know what this year's crop is like. Good I hope as bilberry pie is one of my favourites.

This is a very ancient English folksong usually sung to the tune of 'We plough the fields and scatter'. John Barleycorn is the personification of the cereal crop barley which was very important in the days when beer was drunk by everyone including children. Barley was one of the grains commonly used to make bread and its history goes back to the Stone Age.

There was three men came out of the west,
Their fortunes for to try,
And these three men made a solemn vow,
John Barleycorn should die.
They ploughed, they sowed, they harrowed him in,
Throwed clods upon his head,
And these three man made a solemn vow,
John Barleycorn was dead.

Then they let him lie for a very long time
Till the rain from heaven did fall,
Then little Sir John sprung up his head,
And soon amazed them all.
They let him stand till midsummer
Till he looked both pale and wan,
And little Sir John he growed a long beard
And so became a man.

They hired men with the scythes so sharp
To cut him off at the knee,
They rolled him and tied him by the waist,
And served him most barbarously.
They hired men with the sharp pitchforks
Who pricked him to the heart,
And the loader he served him worse than that,
For he bound him to the cart.

They wheeled him round and round the field
Till they came unto a barn,
And there they made a solemn mow
of poor John Barleycorn.
They hired men with the crab-tree sticks
To cut him skin from bone,
And the miller he served him worse than that,
For he ground him between two stones.

Here's little Sir John in a nut-brown bowl,
And brandy in a glass;
And little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl
Proved the stronger man at last.
And the huntsman he can't hunt the fox,
Nor so loudly blow his horn,
And the tinker he can't mend kettles or pots
Without a little of Barleycorn.

Let us hope that the rain disappears and the sun shines and that this year's harvest is a successful one.


laoi gaul~williams said...

a wonderful post as always rowan :)

Bovey Belle said...

Excellent post as always Rowan. We used to sing John Barleycorn at school, and then when I was older, at Folk Club sometimes too.

Unknown said...

Hello Rowan,

As I was reading your post, your comment on mine came in, Thanks!

You're right about the Rowan berries, lots around here, which I hope to photograph myself. Thanks for the song. I've just been singing along!

Anonymous said...

Hi Rowan. Not much harvesting going on around my area at the moment. I fear that this weather we are having will seriously affect the grain harvest. (Rowan berries), now that's a great name.

Rosie said...

Lovely post - the penny has just dropped - this is where the title of the play 'Dancing at Lughnasa' comes from - I can be a bit slow at times!:)

On our walk yesterday we saw many Rowan trees full of berries - red, orange and yellow ones - a wonderful sight:)

PAT said...

What a wonderful post, Rowan!!

Sal said...

Great post...very interesting.
I love to delve into the past! ;-)

Pattypan said...

Happy Lammas

A lovely post and thank you for explaining about Lammas - I had heard the name but did not know the reasoning or the story behind the name. You learn something new every day.

Hope you had a lovely trip. Must get ready for a party later on this evening - I am staying over at a friends.

Take care


Anonymous said...

Great poem! Someone else I know mentioned it was Lammas and I didn't know what she was talking about til I read your post. Thank you! Its important to live more by Nature's clock, where we can, than the human one!


Leanne said...

a blessed lughnasadh to you Rowan

Leanne x

JoAnn ( Scene Through My Eyes) said...

Blessings to you - at this first harvest. We are not suffering under the unbearable heat any longer - it is closer to normal in the Pacific Northwest - but my oh my how the gardens have grown in the heat. They think we've been transplanted to So. California.

Ragged Roses said...

I have never come away from any of your posts without having learned a great deal! Thanks for all this new knowledge! It feels more like Autumn today than high summer, what a wet, dreary day.
Thanks for attempting to buy the book from our Emporium. I have checked the emails and there is no record of any attempted purchase. Perhaps, if you want to continue with the purchase and if it fails again, let me know and I will send you an invoice from Paypal if that's okay. I'll leave it with you to decide. Thanks for the interest and support. Enjoy your weekend

Lynda (Granny K) said...

Ah, well I remember singing this with gusto at the Folk Club back in the 70's!
Lovely bilberries!
Great post Rowan.

kerrdelune said...

Rowan, this is a lovely post, and I thank you for it. Happy, happy Lughnasadh to you and yours.

Morning's Minion said...

I've just been singing John Barleycorn since I know the old hymn tune. I love how melodies have
been so often used for both Christian hymns and folk tunes.
I see I must research billberries. I'm not sure they grow in US but they look similar to huckleberries.

Thimbleanna said...

Happy Lughnasadh? (Does it make sense to say that?) How fun to have Rowan berries on Rowan's blog. I hope you get a lot of bilberries -- I've never heard of them but I'll bet they're good!

Tea said...

Hi Rowan :)

It`s been so long since I`ve visited and lots of catching up to do!
That window in the church in Dorset is so beautiful!
I`ve never heard of bilberries before. They sure look good though :)
Hope all is going good with you and I shall be back to visit much sooner.


Sarah Head said...

I first learned John Barleycorn from Martyn Carthy's version when he sang with Steeleye Span. It's still my favourite. Tim Van Eyken sings another version which is also very good. I've never heard it sung to "We plow the fields and scatter" which was always my favourite harvest hymn since we were farmers and harvest meant a great deal to us. It saddens me that I don't honour the seasons as I used to when I was part of a grove. This year I was ill, although I did spend the Sunday playing with my herbs. Maybe when I retire I can think about this again!

Ruthie Redden said...

beautiful post, i can remenber singing john barleycorn at school, such lovely memories, thank you x

Jo Potter said...

Lovely post Rowan, about the Celtic Harvest festivals. I love this time of year with all the wild fruits and berries.
I find all the old folk stories and songs very interesting and inspiring for my work.
I'm glad you liked the story about Elves and the Shoemaker. I think I will have to write about them in more detail in my next post!
See you again soon.