The Beltane was a Gaelic May Day Fire Festival. It marked the start of Summer. Special bonfires were lit on the highest parts of the land in Scotland and in Ireland and the later ashes were gathered deemed to have special protective powers and a charm for growing crops. This was an annual event practiced for over 1,000 years and is a noted Scottish ancient festival. It was exceptionally lucky to dowse your household fire and relight it from the Beltane fire. Doors, cattle and people would be decorated with yellow May flowers. In Scotland in the 1700s, the Beltane developed into effectively, a big party with food cooked at it. The festival largely died out in the early 20th century although is sometimes recognised on special cultural events. The most famous of these is on 30th April every year on Carlton Hill in Edinburgh. Now…..where am i going with all this? It would seem that Blantyre used to do this too!
Whilst reading up on local history, i found a great old book called “Scottish Customs, local and general” by E.J Guthrie. Written in 1885. On page 231, it reads “Dechmont Hill, situated in the parish of Cambuslang, was a place where our forefathers lighted the Beltane. In the Statistical Account of Scotland (1848) it is stated that a thick stratum of charcoal was discovered underneath a structure of fine loam on the summit of the hill. When the country people saw it they expressed no surprise, as the tradition was familiar to them that it was here where the former inhabitants of the country had been in the habit of lighting their Beltane.”
This leaves me with some sadness. People in Low Blantyre would surely see fires on Dechmont Hill, although in recent days it became the army firing range. But…a Blantyre Beltane? What a wonderful local event that could be brought back, reuniting all the community. I like the idea of a visible annual controlled fire near the town with locals having a party with music and food around it, every 30th April. Down in the town itself, the residents of Blantyre would ensure their fires were out that evening and decorate their homes and themselves in yellow flowers! A nice idea, don’t you think? Bring back the Beltane!