Irish Language Blog

More Lughnasa Customs (and a Quiz!) Posted by on Aug 7, 2010 in Uncategorized

Lughnasa customs could be observed over a two-week period, depending on the local community.  Some sources and written memoirs refer to the second Sunday as August as the date, other communities held their observances on the last Sunday of July.  Whichever date was traditional for a given area, one of the customs that figured significantly at Lughnasa was berry-picking.  One berry in particular seemed to dominate (see below) but others might also be picked if they were in the area and ripe.

Test your knowledge of berries that grow in Ireland, and their names in Irish!

1.. Which berry is referred to in Brien Friel’s play, Dancing at Lughnasa, and most commonly associated with the traditional festivities:

 a) sú craobh                b) sú talún                   c) mónóg                     d) fraochóg

2.. Which of the following were not traditionally picked at Lughnasa?

 a) cuiríní dearga         b) cuiríní dubha           c) spíonáin                  d) spíonáin mhara

3. Where did 27 members of an Irish group recently have a bilberry pancake feast, complete with camp stoves and maple syrup?

 a) Clochán na bhFomhórach              b) an tEaragal             c) Sceilig Mhíchíl            d) Rocal              e) Binn Uamha          f)  Binn Éadair

4. Which of the following is not an Irish word for “bilberry”?

 a) fraochóg                 b) fraochán                 c) fraochra

5. Which Irish word means “berry”?

 a) sméar                      b) sú                            c) caor                         d) all of the above                  e) none of the above



1.. d. fraochóg; The other three answers are: sú craobh [soo kreev] raspberry (lit. berry of branches),  sú talún [soo TAL-oon] strawberry (lit. berry of earth/ground); and mónóg, cranberry or bogberry

2.. d. spíonáin mhara [SPEEN-aw-in WAH-ruh], sea-gooseberry..  This is actually a small sea-creature, that looks a bit like a gooseberry with tentacles, so it would not be traditionally “picked” at all.  The other answers are cuiríní dearga [KIRzh-een-ee DJAR-ug-uh, note the three syllables of “dearga”] red currants; cuiríní dubha [KIRzh-een-ee DUV-uh or DOO-uh] black currants; and spíonáin [SPEEN-aw-in, note the “broad” pronunciation of “sp” even though followed by a slender vowel], gooseberries.  This pronunciation exception is found in other words starting with “sp” such as “spéir” [spayr], the Irish for “sky,” and “spéisiúil” [SPAYSH-oo-il], “interesting.”

3.. e. Binn Uamha [bin OO-uh-vuh] Cave Hill, Co. Antrim.  The hill is also known as Binn Mhadagáin or Beann Mheadagáin.  “Cnoc” [knuk, with the initial “k” sound pronounced] is the most basic Irish word for “hill” and you’ve probably seen it anglicized as “Knock,” where, ironically, the initial “k” is no longer pronounced.  “Binn” or “Beann” has a variety of meanings, including “peak,” “cliff,” and “edge.” 

The group is the Belfast Hills Walking Dynamos.  For more details about the group’s activities, see

If “bilberry walking” seems like an unusual activity, might I simply point out that this Meetup group has a healthy 381 members at last count.  Of course, not all their walks focus on bilberries!

A quick glance at their previous activities include walks at Duibhis, Sliabh gCuilinn, and Sliabh na Cloiche, as well as liaisons with the Belfast Hills Partnership, with whom they held an Evening Bilberry Walk” on Divis Mountain last year on August 6, just in time for Lughnasa. 

The other answers are, in order, Giant’s Causeway, Errigal, Skellig Michael, Rockall (the sea rock whose ownership has been disputed, due more to the sea trough underneath it rather than the rock itself), (Cave Hill), and Howth, whose Irish name, Binn Éadair, literally means “peak of Étar, a Tuatha Dé Danann chieftain.

4.. c. fraochra, which means “heath” itself and which a typical habitat for “fraoch” (heather); fraochán and fraochóg both mean “bilberry.”  “Fraochán” is sometimes anglicized as “fraughan.” 

5.. d) all of the above.  The word for “berry” varies according to the specific berry.  “Sméar” is primarily used on its own or in the phrase “sméar dhubh,” both meaning “blackberry” (that’s the edible type, of course, not the gléas boise). “Sú” looks like two other words in Irish, “sú” (juice, sap, soup) and “sú” (suction, occlusion) but can also mean “berry,” specifically for raspberry and strawberry, as shown above.  Examples with “caor” include “caor aitil” (juniper-berry) and “caor chaorthainn” (rowanberry).  So, in short, the word for “berry” depends on the type of berry involved. 

Stay tuned for some “berry interesting” notes (sorry, couldn’t resist) on other berries, berry habitats, and uses of berries in Ireland in an upcoming blog.  There’s way too much material for blag amháin.  Meanwhile, if you’re in Ireland, maybe you could start planning a bilberry walk for next year.  Or join up with the existing groups.  In the U.S., blueberries would be the closest equivalent, and they certainly could provide the focus of a revival  Lughnasa festival.  If any of you have family memories of “Fraughan Sunday” or any such equivalent, I’m sure other readers of this blog would be interested, so please send them in.

Nótaí: Duibhis [DIV-ish] Divis; gléas boise [glayss BWISH-eh, just a reminder that “boise” is not as in Idaho; “boise,” the possessive form of “bos,” literally means “of a palm” and is used to mean “handheld”], handheld device; Sliabh gCuilinn [SHLEE-uv GWIL-yin] Slieve Gullion, meaning either steep-slope mountain, mountain of holly, or Cuilinn’s mountain (!); Sliabh na Cloiche [SHLEE-uv nuh KLIH-hyeh], Slievenacloy, lit. Mountain of the Stone (a bit curious, that – just one stone?  Barúil ag duine ar bith cén fáth?)

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  1. Lu Hocker:

    Thank you for the quiz, it is a very helpful learning tool!

    • róislín:

      @Lu Hocker Fáilte romhat. Tá áthas orm go síleann tú go raibh sé úsáideach mar uirlis foghlama.

      Nod do thosaitheoirí:
      áthas (happiness) is “on” you in Irish
      go raibh sé – that it was (indirect statement)
      foghlama – of learning (cf. Tá mé ag foghlaim, I’m learning)

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