Wednesday 28 September 2016

A humble berry that was held in great esteem

Published 22/07/2015 | 02:30

The fraughan or bilberry thrives in bog and mountain soils
The fraughan or bilberry thrives in bog and mountain soils

The last Sunday in July was once a very important day in the rural calendar when young people went to hillsides and peat lands in groups to collect bilberries, and maybe find a spouse.

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A lady in Co Leitrim told me of what an important event it was and how all the youth of the district would eagerly look forward to the day as it also involved courtship rituals that have their roots back in ancient times.

She recalled from the time of her childhood the excitement of heading up the slopes of Sliabh an Iarainn to gather the small dark blue berries that thrive in the acidic soils found in bogs and on mountainsides.

Later on the girls would incorporate the berries in to a cake and at a dance that evening, would present it to whatever young man they fancied.

The Irish word for bilberry is fraughan and they are the first of the wild berries to ripen.

It is something that was very important in times past when food had to be gathered as well as grown.

Fraughan or Billberry Sunday at the end of July is believed to have evolved from the ancient Celtic festival of Lughnasa and is also connected with climbing Croagh Patrick in Co Mayo and Mount Brandon in Co Kerry in honor of the God Lugh.

Bilberry Sunday is a fascinating relic of ancient traditions that have elements of Celtic, Druid and Christian influences all thrown in to the mix.

Whatever its history, it sounds like a lot of fun and would make a great local festival if revived.

Why not head for the hills and see if can you find them, but do watch out for the ticks!

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