Oíche Fhéil Sain SeáinWarmth from the Edge of the World

21st June 2024

Oíche Fhéil Sain Seáin, St. John’s Eve, is a special summer’s night on Inis Meáin. Falling on June 23rd, bonfires are widely lit in the west of Ireland, however on Inis Meáin it is also a celebration of the patron saint of the island. The Knitwear Workshop is closed for an Island Holiday on June 24th for St. John’s Day – conveniently as all the revelry happens the night before. The community gathers up on the mound by Dún Chonchuir, the island’s largest ring fort, stoking the fire until sunrise. Rushes of Orange, Amber, Rust and Bracken that are replicated in our knitwear palette, glow in the Atlantic wind with the twilight waters of Galway Bay and faraway fires in Connemara adding an elemental backdrop.

Ar Oiche Fhéile Sain Seáin,
lastar tine chnámha in Inis
Meáin. Ba ghnás splainc nó
caorán móna a thabhairt
abhaile as an tine ag
deireadh na h-oíche.

Celebrated Irish playwright John Millington Synge (1871-1909) first came to Inis Meáin in the summer of 1898 looking for inspiration and to learn the Irish language. Over the next several years he would return again and again, growing more connected to the people and the wind-and-sea-battered land they inhabited. That time there were 420 islanders, more than double the number today, and fires would blaze in each townland for Oíche Fhéil Sain Seáin. One of the traditions was to take a piece of burning turf from the fire to the hearth in each house bringing a blessing to the home. Pagan, Christian and fairy celebrations, blessings and superstitions have long been interwoven into a life dependant on the vagaries of Mother Nature. Many unique island traditions like this continue to survive, sustain and inspire, with the gathering of old wood and broken pallets now in full flow in preparation for the festivities next week.

Last night, St. John's Eve,
the fires were lighted and
boys ran about with pieces
of the burning turf.

J.M. Synge, The Aran Islands

The first image is by our friend and photographer Chris Rodmell, taken from his recently launched book Inis Meáin 1973-2023 available to buy in our Island Store or online here.