An Irish Song for The First of May

Here comes summer!

May 1 is the traditional first day of summer (why American officials decided to place the official start of summer on the summer solstice, or midsummer, I never have fully understood).

In Ireland, and throughout Europe, May Day (Lá Bealtaine — pronounced “lah BAL-tin-yeh” — in Irish) is among the oldest known celebrations.

As with Oíche Shamhna (EE-hyeh HOW-nuh), the festival that gave us modern Halloween, on Oíche Bhealtaine (EE-hyeh VAL-tin-yeh), May Eve, the veil between the worlds is said to grow thin, allowing Na Daoine Maithe (nuh DEE-nee MY-heh) — “The Good People,” aka the fairies — to walk on Earth and cause mischief.

(For those of you who are into fairies, all I can tell you is that Irish fairies are NOT particularly nice folk.  They’re not called Na Daoine Maithe because they’re in any way nice or attractive, but rather to appease them. At best, they’re into mischief; at worst they can be truly nasty. But I digress.)

Garlands and bonfires

May Eve was also traditionally a time when all hearth fires were extinguished, to be rekindled from the community bonfire (tine chnamha — “CHIN-eh KHRAH-vuh” — or “bone fire” in Irish). You’ll still see this practice sometimes in rural Ireland.

And as with May Day celebrations elsewhere, there was definitely a celebration of fertility going on! It was a time for both the earth and the cattle, which were wealth to the Irish, to be blessed, to ensure a fruitful harvest at summer’s end.

Young people would go off into the woods to gather garlands from trees and other plants that were thought to be protective from the fairies (and almost certainly to indulge in some fertility rites of their own!).

If you’d like to read more about Irish May Day traditions, this article is well worth a read!

A song

It’s probably not surprising that a song for Lá Bealtaine is one of the oldest songs known in the Irish language. And it’s only fitting that people who love Ireland and the Irish language should learn it for May Day! It’s a truly joyful summer carol!

Like most traditional songs, this song has almost as many different versions as there are singers. You may have heard it sung to a different tune, or know different verses. But I particularly like this contemporary recording by T With The Maggies.

Have a listen, then use the lyrics and phonetic guide below to sing along!

THUGAMAR FÉIN AN SAMHRADH LINN (WE BROUGHT THE SUMMER WITH US)

Véarsa 1:

Babóg na Bealtaine, Maighdean an tSamhraidh,

(BA-bohg nuh BAL-tin-yeh, MY-jen uh TOW-ree)

Suas gach cnoc is síos gach gleann,

(SOO-uss gakh cruk iss SHEE-uss gakh glyan)

Cailíní maisithe, bán-ghéala gléasta,

(KAL-yee-nee MASH-ih-heh, bahn YAL-uh GLAY-sstuh)

Thugamar féin an samhradh linn

(HUG-uh-mar hayn un SOW-roo lin)

Curfá (Chorus):

Samhradh, samhradh, bainne na ngamhna,

(SOW-roo, SOW-roo, BA-nyeh nuh NGOW-nuh)

Thugamar féin an samhradh linn.

(HUG-uh-mar hayn un SOW-roo lin)

Samhradh buí ná nóinín gléigeal,

(SOW-roo bwee nah NOH-ih-neen GLAY-gyal)

Thugamar féin an samhradh linn.

(HUG-uh-mar hayn un SOW-roo lin)

Véarsa 2

Tá an fhuiseog ag seinm ‘s ag luascadh sna spéartha,

(Tahn ISH-yohg egg SHEN-yim segg lOOS-koo snuh SPAYR-huh)

Thugamar féin an samhradh linn.

(HUG-uh-mar hayn un SOW-roo lin)

Tá an chuach is na héanlaith ag seinm le pléisiúr,

(Tahn KHOO-ukh snuh HAYN-lee egg SHEN-yim leh PLAY-shoor)

Thugamar féin an samhradh linn.

(HUG-uh-mar hayn un SOW-roo lin)

TRANSLATION

WE BROUGHT THE SUMMER WITH US

Verse 1

Doll* of May, Maiden of Summer,

Up every hill and down every glen,

Beautiful girls, radiantly dressed,

We brought the summer with us.

Chorus

Summer, summer, milk of the calves,

We brought the summer with us,

Summer yellow as the glistening daisy,

We brought the summer with us.

Verse 2

The lark is singing and soaring in the skies,

We brought the summer with us,

The cuckoo and the birds are singing with pleasure,

We brought the summer with us.

* The “doll” in this case probably refers to the May garland.

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2 thoughts on “An Irish Song for The First of May”

  1. Goddess Devotee

    So glad i found this in time for Beltane! I spent time learning Gabhaim Molta Brigid for Imbolc, now it seems only fitting i learn this one too!!! Goddess Bless

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