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Feeling the pagan force in homage to 'Lugh Skywalker'

This holiday weekend is neither new nor remotely dependent on buzz-wrecking banks. Because since ancient times, August has heralded the start of harvest celebrations to honour the pagan god, Lugh, whose name is encompassed in the Irish for this month, Lughnasa.

The force is still very much with this ancient 'Top Gun' of the Tuatha De Danann. It may be eons since he fulfilled the prophecy by hurling a bolt of lightning from his sword through Balor's Evil Eye, destroying him and the whole Fomorian army. But in more recent times, filmmaker George Lucas morphed the Sword-of- Light-wielding Celtic warrior Lugh Samildanach (The Many-Skilled) into the lightsaber-wielding Star Wars hero, Luke Skywalker. So perhaps we should address this devastating deity as 'Lugh Skywalker'?

But George Lucas is not the only writer to be inspired by this Irish folk tradition. The magnificent memory play Dancing at Lughnasa by Brian Friel recounts the events of August 1936, when the central character, Michael Evans, was a seven-year-old child living with his mother and her four sisters in a cottage in Donegal.

Despite their bitter harvest of economic and social privations, Michael's predominant memories are of these women dancing and singing in the shadow of the approaching harvest.

There were inevitable changes once Christianity gate-crashed the heathen hooley. 'Reek Sunday', the yearly pilgrimage to the top of Croagh Patrick which has been carried out on the last Sunday in July for over 1,500 years, was originally a Lughnasadh pagan ritual.

For we've been partying through this period of plenty since pre-Christian times, with pretty much the same pattern of market festivals, music, bonfires, dancing and horse races. Back then they also had the rather pragmatic practice of 'handfastings'; trial marriages that would last a year and a day, with the option of making the union permanent or ending it amicably. Clearly Lughnasa brought little bounty for divorce lawyers.

The new millennium still finds us making merry all around Ireland this month. 'Feile Na Lunusa' on the Dingle Peninsula is a celebration of surf and turf. Ballyhugh in Co Cavan marks Lughnasa with a week of music concerts, ceilis, and traditional craft workshops, while the 'Ould Lammas Fair' at Ballycastle, Co Antrim, is one the biggest and longest-running harvest events in Ireland. Dating from the 17th century, when the McDonnells of Antrim distributed food to the needy, it is renowned for two local specialties: Dulse, an edible local seaweed, and a sugary confection that resembles honeycomb called 'Yellow Man'.

Which is not a name that remotely applies to the courageous and charismatic Lugh. But since this is the season when 'the empire strikes back', it might be wise to follow in his fiery footsteps and become a 'Brave Heart'.

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