Pronounced Loo-Na-Sa, this Gaelic festival has its origins in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. It marked the start of the harvest season and was celebrated on 1st August. You may have heard of Lammas too, but this is in fact an English Christian holiday with Saxon origins.
According to Irish mythology, the festival is begun by the god Lugh, after whom it is named. The festival is to celebrate his (foster) mother Tailtiu. Tailtiu is the name of a goddess who was the wife of Eochaid mac Eirc, the last Fir Bolg High King of Ireland. She is said to have died of exhaustion after clearing the lands of Ireland for agriculture. In her memory, Lugh created a harvest festival and funeral games to continue celebrating her and her sacrifice. The funeral games were called Óenach Tailten, and they were held at a land in Ireland called ‘Teltown’ or, back then, called ‘Tailtain’, named after the Goddess too. In the medieval times, Tailtin Fair was held there as a revival of Óenach Tailten.
There was a lot happening at these festivals, such as ritual athletic games, sport contests, horse racing, storytelling, music playing, trading, match making, debating laws, and sorting out legal disputes. Even couples would marry for a ‘year and a day’ as trial marriages; after a year and day, they could make the marriage permanent or break it without ‘consequences’. Sound familiar?
Many of these pagan traditions held on Lughnasadh were Christianised, such as climbing the mountains of Ireland, and the day was changed to ‘Reek Sunday’, celebrated on the last Sunday in July, and is something that is still practiced today. There is also the Puck Fair in Ireland which can be traced back to the 16th Century, but is believed to be a lost survivor of a Lughnasadh festival that has changed over the centuries.
For context - Lammas is a christian holiday with Anglo Saxon roots, celebrated in England. Another name for Lammas is ‘Loaf Mass Day’ coming from the Anglo Saxon word ‘hlaf-mass’. This holiday is associated with Holy Communion and the first fruits of harvest. Because of this, a loaf made from the newly harvested corn would be made, brought into the church and then blessed. Lammas is not Pagan, but is often attributed as pagan by Wiccans who co-opted the word.