Lughnasa – the Big Apple version

Croagh Patrick, Co. Mayo.


By Maura Mulligan

On Sunday, July 30, when crowds climb their way to the summit of Croagh Patrick, the women of Nollaig na mBan NYC will celebrate Lughnasa – one of the four fire festivals of the Celtic calendar. Croagh Patrick, the Mayo mountain known locally as “The Reek,” achieved fame in pagan times, when people climbed to its highest point to honor the sun god, Lugh – from which the festival of Lughnasa takes its name. St. Patrick did not remove the mountain’s importance from the people he baptized as Christians. Rather than end the tradition of climbing this rugged terrain to celebrate the festival of Lughnasa, Patrick kept the tradition and dedicated the pilgrimage to the Christian God. Each year on Garland Sunday (the last Sunday in July), as many as 25,000 people make their way up the 764-metre mountain, some, perhaps in keeping with pagan practices, doing this in bare feet!

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If you don’t find yourself in Ireland on July 30, or you’re not up to climbing rugged terrain that day, treat yourself to a Lughnasa experience in the Big Apple. This event, a fundraiser for the Dwelling Place of New York – a privately funded transitional residence for homeless women in midtown Manhattan-will be hosted by the women of Nollaig na mBan NYC.

Who or what is Nollaig na mBan? Well, fado, fado (long ago), back in the days when it was “unmanly” for men to help with house-work or make decisions about raising a family, Nollaig na mBan (Women’s Christmas) was created. That meant that on Jan 6, men took charge of the home and children while the women got together to celebrate and inform each other when help might be needed with cooking and childbirth needs.

The holiday is still celebrated in some parts of Ireland but the focus has adapted to modern-day needs. When I heard that the emphasis for today’s Nollaig na mBan groups was on women’s issues such as raising funds for breast cancer research, I decided there was a need for a New York based group. Joined by seven vivacious volunteers – Deirdre Batson, Karen Daly, Mary Fee, Margaret McCarthy, Mary McIntyre, Dolores Nolan and Nancy Oda, Nollaig na mBan NYC was born. Our aim is to help raise funds for the Dwelling Place of New York. The shelter is known for its safe, healing and structured environment offering women the space & time to develop a plan for building a healthy lifestyle.

Jo Kinsella.

As artists, we decided to center our fundraising on building a deeper awareness of Celtic mythology and the tradition of the Celtic fire festivals. The plan to feature different art forms for the various festivals and invite local artists to donate their talents continues to thrill us. We are awed by the quality of the artists’ generous response.

For Imbolg, Feb. 1 (also known as St. Brigid’s Day), the focus is Springtime – newness of life and spirit. To start off, guests are invited to master a new skill such as weaving a St. Brigid’s cross or try getting their tongues around a song in Irish. The second half of the evening features musicians and singers and we have been honored to feature well-known professional artists such as Mary Deady, Tom Downs, Bernadette Fee, Patty Furlong, Linda Hickman and Marie Reilly.

Bealtaine, May 1, traditionally heralded the beginning of summer in Ireland. Its name is derived from the old Irish for “bright fire.” Showcasing dance and poetry, gifted us with the inspiring work of poets, Connie Roberts, John Brennan, Margaret McCarthy and Bernadette Cullen. On the side of dance, this celebration created for me an opportunity to invite local dancers such as Alice Ryan and Silpa Sadhajun to join me in demonstrating sean nós and step dancing. Both dancers were delighted to join my students in presenting popular céilí dances like the Sweets of May and the Bonfire Dance.

Aoife Williamson.

Now, Lughnasa is approaching. In honor of Brian Friel’s play, “Dancing at Lughnasa,” the focus we’ve attributed to this Celtic feast is “drama.” Wait until you hear the mighty line-up ready to step forward! Talented actress Jo Kinsella, who won the 1st Irish Special Achievement Award for “Remarkable Contributions to 1st Irish Theatre Festival 2012,” and who played Maggie in “Dancing at Lughnasa” at the Irish Repertory Theater, will share scenes and insights featuring her work with the Friel play. Playwright John Kearns will showcase actors David Beck, Brendan Ryan Walsh and Aoife Williamson in scenes from his play “Sons of Molly Maguire,” which premiered in Dublin this year. And if you’re in need of a good laugh, playwright Mark Butler’s comic rant about a troubling and complicated relationship with money, promises to deliver.

Nollaig na mBan NYC team members Dolores Nolan, Deirdre Batson, Karen Daly and Mary Fee and will extend a céad míle fáilte and you’ll enjoy light refreshments of the season. Yours truly will be in Ireland (hopefully climbing the reek) on this day but if you’re anywhere near by, I invite you to celebrate Lughnasa and help the women’s shelter at the same time.

Suggested Donation – $20; Date: Sunday, July 30, 2017 3:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. at Ripley Grier Studios, 520 Eighth Avenue, Manhattan (16th floor). For further information, contack Dolores Nolan at,

Maura Mulligan is the founder of Nollaig na mBan NYC.