St. John’s Eve, June 23
Is sometimes known as Bonfire Night in Ireland. It is known in gaelic as: Oiche an teine chanáimh or Teine Féil Eóin. The fire must be lit exactly on sunset and must be watched till the next morning.
In many parts of the country, people still light large communal bonfires at sunset on this day, or small family fires outside their houses.
Other customs included inviting the oldest woman in the area to go three times sunwise round the fire on her knees saying prayers, to ward off disease; in some localities, holy water was sprinkled on the fire and, as on other festivals, it was sprinkled on the house, its occupants, outbuildings, livestock and the crops. Generally, this was done by either the oldest person in the family, but in some parts of Ireland, the youngest child was asked to do it.
In many places it was the day the boats and nets were blessed and there was many an angler living inland who eagerly anticipated the arrival of sea trout and salmon which entered the rivers at this time of year.
As might be expected, there was plenty of eating and drinking! Customarily, in Connaught, a special dish called “Goody” was made. This was white ‘shop-bread’ which had been soaked in hot milk and flavored with sugar and spices. It was usually made in a large pot that was either placed on the communal bonfire or heated on a smaller fire close by. Revelers brought their own spoons and bowls if they wanted to share in the “Goody.”
Before moving on to the other customs surrounding the festival of St. John, there was one last ritual to perform and that was the bringing home of an ember from the communal fire and placing it on the family hearth. Some families also kept ashes from the fire for luck, others because they believed the ashes would ensure a peaceful death to old people who were ailing. The ashes also had curative powers: mixed with water, they were drunk to relieve internal disorders and they were used to cleanse and bathe wounds, sores and swellings.
After the merriment of St. John’s Eve and with the fire burned out, families retired to their homes to rest up for the festivities of June 24th, the Saint’s birthday!