Surprising outbreak of paganism in Fermanagh

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From today’s Telegraph:

A 12-foot tall Wicker Man will be set on fire tonight in a pagan winter ritual close to the Fermanagh border.

The folk ceremony at Aughakillymaude Mummers Centre near Derrylin will celebrate the loosening of winter’s grip and the impending return of spring as it marks February 1, known as a Quarter Day in the Celtic agricultural calendar.

At 10pm the straw mummers hats worn all winter by the troupe performing their traditional drama will be set on fire to mark the close of the mumming season and the Wicker Man will then be lit.

I knew Fermanagh was an odd place – it’s like a wee separate country by itself – but it’s still a bit of a surprise to find this kind of thing going on down there. Still, it sounds like a lot of fun, rain permitting. Bring along your banjos and your mint juleps.

14 Comments

  1. Garibaldy said,

    January 30, 2009 at 5:22 pm

    I think if I lived in Fermanagh, I’d worship anything that might let me leave.

  2. January 30, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    I am sure, that the catholic and the protestant churches will run into deep conflict over the right, whose inquisition will be allowed to burn the pagans … p.s.: some funny pictures of Greek pagans here

  3. charliemcmenamin said,

    January 30, 2009 at 7:55 pm

    I think we need to know more about the rituals observed at the start of the mumming season, not just its close. Can’t have Beltane Fires being set off too close to the 12th,without over-stretching the Fire Service so I can imagine some ticklish negotiations every year over who goes first…

  4. Liam said,

    January 31, 2009 at 12:21 am

    It must be something about that part of the world. A friend from Omagh says that when she was a kid the mummers used to to visit the houses in the town and terrify the youngsters. Now it’s the other way round.

  5. splinteredsunrise said,

    January 31, 2009 at 11:34 am

    There is a certain Twilight Zone quality down there. And that’s without bringing in the ghost sightings in Coalisland.

  6. skidmarx said,

    January 31, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    I was doing a show at the Glastonbury Festival in the early nineties (a fire juggling re-enactment of The Tempest) when the people next to us had a forty-foot high wicker man they set fire to on th Sunday night. Some of those burning sticks do swirl around a lot before landing. The organisers hadn’t let them fire it up on the Saturday, which led to a crowd of 5-10,000 screaming “Burn It! Burn It!”

    Frazier’s “The Golden Bough” has a lot of examples of pagan traditions that have survived the Christian era in Europe.

  7. splinteredsunrise said,

    January 31, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    It always reminds me of doing the Gallic Wars in Latin A-level. I’m not sure how reliable Caesar was on Celtic religion, but by Toutatis he was an enjoyable read.

  8. Andy Newman said,

    January 31, 2009 at 8:59 pm

    Might be good advice to any Christian police sergeants who have never had sex, to avoid Fermanagh for a while

  9. Wombo said,

    February 1, 2009 at 3:03 am

    Aye, but are they Catholic pagans or Protestant pagans?

    And does the wicker fella resemble Paisley or Brownie?

  10. Wombo said,

    February 1, 2009 at 6:41 am

    Caesar was always a bit questionable in the content he presented, and the manner he did so (although nowhere near as much as Tacitus, IMO), and his salads – while indeed tasty – should always be consumed with a pinch of salt to combat indigestion.

    Unfortunately, we have very little direct anecdotal evidence of Gallic (or most other Celtic) religious practices, but Caesar’s take (sans superiority complex) seems to accord with a fair bit of the archaeological evidence and comparative studies.

    It’s important to remember, however, that there was almost certainly enormous variation in practice (as language, etc) between different identifiably “Celtic” groups. I’m not sure I recall anything about wicker men in Eire, however.

  11. Hasta siempre comandante said,

    February 1, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    This is generally a problem. Our knowledge of the ancient world is down to a few historians, Greeks and Romans, whose presentation of “barbarians” is questionable. But the peoples they describe have left few or no written records.

  12. Andy newman said,

    February 1, 2009 at 11:30 pm

    Tacitus was not a historian in any modern conventional sense of the word.

    Both Agricola and Germania were political tracts hiding behind a facade of history in order to provide a liberal critique fo Domitian;s government.

    So i would take with a big pinch of salt any description of social practices of the Britons or German tribes.

  13. February 2, 2009 at 10:11 am

    Catholicism in Ireland probably contains more “pagan elements” due to the (compared with other parts of Europe) relatively peaceful and slow process of cristianization which led to some syncretist elements (Brigid/Brigid of Kildare?) … another interesting source about Celtic deities is Lucian’s Ἡρακλῆς

  14. Eric said,

    December 22, 2009 at 3:05 am

    Strange, that many of you Christian Cultists think that the people of Fermanagh ‘ave gone looney for burning a Wicker Man once a year…
    When it is you Christian Cultists are the wackiest of all.

    Every single Sunday Christian Cultists gather together and pretend to be Vampires sucking on the blood of their Sky Wizard, and then without a rational thought Christian Cultists go on to pretend to be Cannibals eating the very flesh of their Sky Wizard.
    -Wacky indeed.

    Next thing ya know, the X-tian Cultist will try tell’n us a story of how their pretend Sky Wizard became incarnate when his virginal mother was impregnated by a pigeon! -and that the pigeon/the Sky Wizard/and his Sky Wizard Da are all one in the same. -Which, by the way, makes what the pigeon did to the virginal mother particularly disgust’n.

    If I had to choose to throw my lot in with one over the other…
    I choose the Wicker Man Burn’n Pagans over the sick hipocritical X-tian Cannibal/Vampires any day.

    You see X-tian cultists a knock’n on doors.
    -grab a stout stick and beat ’em back!


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