For as far back as I can remember the older folks have pronounced the custom of lighting a fire in honour of St. John to be dead. Yet almost by instinct the young people in town and village engage in a frantic search for everything burnable and so save the custom for yet another year at the eleventh hour. The sight of numerous pillars of smoke rising from the quiet countryside on the eve of the 23rd of June confirms that all is not yet lost to modernism and gives us a real link with our past.
Most scholars agree that the lighting of fires close to the Mid-summer solstice was related to an aspect of pagan celtic ritual. This custom, like many others, lived on in Ireland after the establishment of Christianity but in honour of a christian saint rather than a pagan god. It is fair to say that the need to celebrate high points of the seasonal round was strong enough in the ancient celts to force the retention of some aspects of the old pagan religion.
At any rate the spirit behind most bonfires lit on the eve of St John’s was to bring a blessing from God to the fields and crops. Following the bonfire at Castle Lambert in the fifties and sixties the families attending would bring burning twigs from the fire through the fields by way of a blessing. This custom still exists at the Greethill bonfire and no doubt at other locations.
Modern bonfires tend to be either quiet family affairs or lively gatherings drawing people from all corners of the parish. A number of locations have hosted fires for generations such as Cussane Cross, Derrydonnell Cross, Williams’ Forge, Carnaun, Greethill, Keogh’s of Tiaquin, Gannon’s of Mountgarret, Castle Lambert gatehouse and Caheroyan. By all accounts the liveliest one this year was at Mountgarret with music, light refreshments and Gerry Atkinson’s burgers available until the massive fire burned itself out as the sun rose over Currantarmid hill.
The Tiaquin fire was held over until the night following St John’s due to hurling matters. However, all present declared Johnny and Helen Brett’s burgers to be worth the wait.
Bonefire list for Athenry 1995.
1. Lisdoran (for Cloonkeen, Tourkeel and Ballyboggan)
2. Loughnane’s Cross
4 Qualter’s, Knockbrack
5. Rabbitt’s, Cross
6. Gardner’s, Hill
7 Fahy’s, Tysaxon
8. Gannon’s, Mountgarret
9. M.J. Gannon’s, Shudane
10. Tom Rohan’s
11. Keogh’s Tiaquin
12. K. Rohan’s, Tiaquin
13. J. Fahy’s, Cuddoo
14. RJ. Hynes’, Tysaxon
15 T. Williams, Carnaun
16. Sheeaun Park
17. Cussane Cross (at one time held at Fahy’s Village)
18. Morrissey’s, Moorpark
19. Patrick Quirke’s, Castle Lambert.
20. T. Hession’s, Cashla.
21. Scullion’s, Cashla.
22. Higgins’ (Mattie Pat), Cashla.
23. Thomas Kelly’s, Lisheenkyle
24. Mountain West
25. Jackic Freeney’s, Derrydonnell
26. Paddy Healy’s, Greethill
27. Mellow’s College
28. Farrell’s Cross, Rockmore
29. Dillon’s, Cross
31. Derrydonnell Cross
32. Cullairbawn Estaste, Athenry
33 Caheroyan Crescent, Athenry
34. Caheroyan Drive, Athenry
35 O’Regans, Prospect, Athenry
Written by MTK
Published here 08 Feb 2021 and originally published June 1995
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