Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, is celebrated in Ireland on June 21st. All over the island, people will gather at ancient sites or on hill-tops for sunrise. In some of these places the celebrations could last for a day or more. Rituals and festivals associated with the longest day of the year go back to prehistoric times in Ireland. Indeed, all over Europe, and in other parts of the world too, this day has been celebrated for millennia. The Catholic Church christianised the festival as St. John’s Eve, celebrated in many countries around June 23rd. In many parts of Europe, the ancient custom of celebrating Midsummer with bonfires or torch processions can still be found. In Ireland, one of the main places where gatherings take place for the Summer Solstice is the Hill of Tara. This was the seat of the ancient High Kings of Ireland and a major centre of ritual. The oldest monument on the hill goes back to the Stone Age so, although strongly associated with many of the great tales of Irish mythology, this site had been significant for centuries before the Celts arrived.
In recent decades, the people who gather at Tara for the Summer Solstice include individuals or small groups and larger groups, some of them organised contemporary pagans. It is clear from early Irish literature that Tara was considered to be a liminal place, where this world and the otherworld came together, and to this day it is a place with a unique, magical atmosphere. At Summer Solstice, you can meet people from the UK, from mainland Europe and from even further afield.
In 2003, the Summer Solstice fell at the weekend and a festival was organised which included story-telling, harping, poetry readings and traditional music. The children of Oristown National School were invited to perform at the festival and I composed a new tune, called ‘The Tara Jig’, to mark the occasion. The tune was first performed at Tara by the children in 2003. After that, a concert was held in St. Patrick’s Church on the Hill of Tara every June 21st from 2004 to 2019. The band Coscan, with additional guest musicians, performed at this every year and in 2013 we recorded ‘The Tara Jig’ live at the Summer Solstice in Tara. You can view this recording below.
Tara is one of many examples in Ireland of ancient sites that inspire musicians, artists, writers and other interested people. At Summer Solstice, the place becomes the centre of an ancient tradition that has been transformed into a living celebration of all that is best in our culture and our landscape. It may no longer be the seat of Ireland’s long-vanished High Kings, but Tara still has a central place in the hearts and minds of many people in Ireland and other countries around the world.