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Celtic Calendar: the four seasons in Ireland

Hiding in broad daylight is the greatest phenomenon we are likely to experience in our lifetimes –  the Celtic Calendar. It feels that commercial forces are dictating the calendar year from the first appearance of Christmas in August to the various non-essential dates Hallmark gets to cash in on. However, the real big deal is in fact just outside your window: the four seasons of the Celtic calendar. From the first snowdrops of Spring to the darling buds of May, the bountiful harvest of Autumn to the magical stillness and time for recalibration of Winter, the seasons are a feast for the senses and the greatest manifestation of the cycle of life we’ll ever witness. Anyone looking out for the Mindful Moments on the ongoing BBC series of Springwatch/Summerwatch/Autumnwatch and Winterwatch will savour the delights that each of these seasons bring to the countryside. 
 

Annual Milestones

Our ancestors here in Ireland certainly paid great attention to the passing of the seasons and were alert to the need to act accordingly, be in planting or harvesting. A whole host of events and superstitions also developed around the four key days of each of the seasons being the cross-quarter days of Imbolc for Spring, Bealtaine for Summer, Lughnasa for Autumn and Samhain for Winter. For 2022 we’ve completed our series of seasonal audio playlists for you to savour. Several hours of original material are available to play in an amalgamated playlist of the four festivals at our Celtic Calendar playlist on Audioboom. 
 

Spotify Playlists

Not only do we have a playlist dedicated to each of the cross-quarter days, but we also have Spotify playlists designed to salute each of the seasons with the best songs/poems/sound effects evoking the sights and sounds of that season. As the year progresses, we do hope you get to listen to the full set over time and if you enjoyed them, please feel free to let others know and share the playlists on social media. This project forms some of the research in a sister project to write a play centred on each of the four cross-quarter days. John Ward completed the first of these, In Each Other’s Shadow  He also wrote and produced the bawdy musical comedy, The Twilight Court, which salutes the superstitions and customs of Ireland.  

How to use this guide

Each of the playlists’ audio material can be heard by simply scrolling down through the menus and clicking on the piece. They are all from our two Audio Archives on Audioboom. These can then be played on your prefered podcast platform. When you play the material on Spotify as the cross-quarter day collections, you also get corresponding seasonal tunes. In addition, our four seasonal playlists only work if you have Spotify too. Duration times below are from Spotify and for the cross-quarter playlists include accompanying tunes. 

Helen Sharkey

Dedicated to Helen Sharkey 1959-2022

Dr. Helen Sharkey was my cousin and a visual artist of note in Northern Ireland. In mid July 2022, she asked me what I was doing next. I said I was aiming to complete this project’s Lughnasa section and she wished me well with it. In her brilliantly sardonic way, Helen’s response to my query back was that she would be selling her overpriced art to tourists in St. George’s Market!

Little did I know she would die of a heart attack doing just that a few days later, nor that the day after Lughnasa, her funeral would take place. Lugh dedicated Lughnasa to the force of nature that was his late foster mother, Tailtiu. This Celtic Calendar archive is dedicated to the force of nature that was Helen.

#1 Celtic Calendar: Spring has sprung

Imbolc

Duration: 122 minutes on our Spotify playlist

New in 2022, we have marked the the announcement of the new public holiday for St. Brigid’s Day/Imbolc in Ireland with a host of new audio material for the occasion. Our Spotify playlist for this adds in some Imbolc-inspired songs to add to the occasion Feel free to scroll down the list on the right or else go direct to our Audio Archive.  

We’ve been careful to ensure an even(ish) mix of material between St. Brigid and Imbolc. Though we’re of the pagan persuasion, there is much to admire in Brigid, be she putative saint or goddess. We hope for this true Gael’s new holiday to be seen in time as the true national day for Ireland!

Spring Sounds

Duration: 446 minutes

The best tunes on Spotify to celebrate the heralding of the new season which nature comes back to life. Who better to announce Spring’s return than the blackbird? From there we hear from everyone from The Beatles to the Byrds, Gerald Manley Hopkins to lines from Ecclesiastes. The sublime sounds of Vivaldi are matched by the ridiculous splendour of Mel Brooks. They’re all nods to this most edifying time after the darkness of Winter. 

We’ve added in some old classics thanks to their title be it ‘April in Paris’ to ‘It might as well be Spring’, to more modern twists from ‘Sometimes it snows in April’ to ‘April she will come’. A song didn’t need to have a Spring reference to be included. It just needed to have a Spring glow to ensure it was added.

#2 Celtic Calendar: Summer at last

Bealtaine

Duration: 188 minutes on our Spotify playlist

Bealtaine is the Irish May Day festival. It is usually held on the 1st May, or about halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. For our recording in 2021, the correct astronomical date was the 5th of May. Historically, it was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man.  It is one of the cross-quarter days: Imbolc in February, Lughnasa in August and Samhain at the end of October. 

Although Bealtaine celebrations had largely died-out by the mid-20th century, some of its customs continued. In fact in some places it has been revived as a cultural event. As we’ll hear from our thirteen audio pieces, Bealtaine customs and superstitions are far from being extinct. 

Summer Sounds

Duration: 705 minutes

This may well be the strongest of the four Spotify playlists as every artist featured has offered a belter. For here is a list you can enjoy on a sunny day with the roof down on the way to the beach. This is a suite of soothing serotonin. Once again we’ve thrown in plenty of sounds of the summer from wildlife as well as poems for the season.

‘A Summer long since past’ with its evocative bells seemed the perfect start to the collection. Next up are some foot-tapping rock classics, although as always, Vivaldi is on hand to give us his account of the season. We’re a long way from the Celtic vibe of the accompanying Bealtaine playlist, but hey, we ran with what was on offer! 

#3 Celtic Calendar: Autumn dapples

Lughnasa

Duration: 90 minutes on our Spotify playlist.

Our playlist for Lughnasa is ready! With a wry look at how the pagans were once again packed off, we’re done. As with the other festivals, it’s available on Spotify complete with accompanying tunes as ‘Lughnasa Folklore’. Unlike the other cross-quarter days, the lore around Lughnasa does go beyond the date above. We needed to reference events like the Puck Fair or Auld Lammas Fair whose dates were established pre-1752 being the change from Julian to Gregorian calendars. The long summer evenings of labour and indeed harvest by nature are not events that occured on just one day. Therefore we have ensured all major summer customs are referenced, from Reek Sunday or the June climb on Carnaween in Donegal.

Autumn Sounds

Duration: 451 minutes

This is another Spotify playlist that compiled itself. Each tune has an inherently Autumnal quality that nearly demands the lighting of a fire and putting on another layer. We ease our way into the changing of seasons here: ‘September Song’, ‘Autumn in New York’ or ‘Forever Autumn’ were automatic additions. Some great artists wrote tunes for this time of year that are so evocative of the change that they had to feature, be they Vaughan Williams or Grandaddy.  

The shortening of the days and the return of the cold are never features to savour. However, with this playlist, that fire and a hot port on offer, it almost makes it worthwhile. Is a good autumnal tune missing? Please let us know. 

#4 Celtic Calendar: Winter is coming

Samhain

Duration: 79 minutes on our Spotify playlist

Along with Bealtaine, Samhain is the other big cross-quarter day. Once again the veil to the Otherworld is lifted and traditionally, the Irish were on their guard as to supernatural forces abounding. We went beyond Samhain to include general Irish death lore from the banshee to funeral customs.

Enjoy audio clips from Dessie McCallion and some vintage audio set piece clips from the legendary combo of Mary Murphy and Sean McMahon. Some new pieces from yours truly on Oweynagat and the Irish and death feature. It’s a playlist designed to cover the main aspects of this most sacred of quarter days. As mentioned, try the Spotify playlist complete with atmospheric music for those who want that extra frisson.

Winter Sounds

Duration: 480 minutes

Although this is the coldest and darkest of the seasons, we’ve found scores of songs on our Spotify playlist that are both memorable and positive for this time of year. And no, we’ve assiduously avoided adding in too many Christmas tunes, but be warned they do appear, if not any obvious candidates. 

Once again, there’s the best sound effects, poems and Vivaldi’s take on this time of year. Other songs from Led Zeppelin to The Villagers just seem to fit in to this time of year best. Everyone from Muddy Waters to Björk have songs for the bleak midwinter. Classic Winter tunes from ‘White Winter Hymnal’ to ‘When the Thames Froze’ complete the mix. Did we miss any other great Winter tunes you love?  Please let us know if so. 

“I want only five things, five chosen roots. One is an endless love.Two is to see the autumn. I cannot exist without leaves flying and falling to the earth. The third is the solemn winter. the rain I loved, the caress of fire in the rough cold. Fourth, the summer, plump as a watermelon. And fifthly, your eyes…”   Pablo Neruda

“I want only five things, five chosen roots. One is an endless love.Two is to see the autumn. I cannot exist without leaves flying and falling to the earth. The third is the solemn winter. the rain I loved, the caress of fire in the rough cold. Fourth, the summer, plump as a watermelon. And fifthly, your eyes…” Pablo Neruda

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