An attentive group at the Bealtaine celebration on April 28.

Bealtaine celebrated at Westbury, West 38th Street

On a sun-lit Sunday afternoon, April 28 to be exact, members and friends of Nollaig na mBan NY gathered at The Westbury Pub (20 West 38th St., Manhattan), to celebrate Bealtaine, or bright fire, the month that on Celtic calendars heralds summer and its celebration of sunlight, flowers and nights black-clear, star-blessed.        

Maura Mulligan, founder of Nollaig na mBan NY, began the Bealtaine celebration  by noting that Nollaig na mBan, formerly a day of rest for women in Ireland, has  become a holiday celebrating women’s creativity and their contribution to society.  Maura spoke of the importance of gathering life-affirming flowers from the wild; and of holy wells that were blessed by the local priest, and why the first buckets drawn held the water to carry home. 

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Then a la Bealtaine, Nancy Oda presented everyone with a yellow tulip. In olden  days, flowers were strewn on doorsteps to keep the fairies at bay and to bring joy, luck and prosperity to the recipient.  Nancy’s yellow tulips have a link to sunlight and symbolize cheerfulness and friendship. These values reverberate through Nollaig na mBan, Nancy said, as we planted our yellow tulips into our water glasses. 

Mary McIntyre reminisced of growing up in the west of Ireland, and of how, come Bealtaine, a statue of Mary was placed on a windowsill or a shelf in the house and surrounded with wild flowers.  And while the flowers were changed during May’s duration, the water was refreshed with prayers. This tradition repeated in her grade-school.  And one year, Mary whispered, there were just three girls in her grade class, but the tradition was still celebrated.      

Dee Nolan held us in a Bealtaine moment with her reading of “Summer Solstice on the West Coast of Ireland,” a poem by James Green.  When Dee read  the poem’s first lines — “this afternoon the sun is more a rumour" — we all leaned forward for a long walk.  And walk we did, to the very last lines:  “to be in a place/where strange is familiar, where it is normal/on summer solstice to light a turf fire, its fragrance taking hold of you.”  And ended our walk in the scent of salt, ocean spray, and a turf fragrance wafting around our small room on West 38th.   

Tami Ellen McLoughlin took the flower tradition one step further.  She made her  own flowers: beautiful crepe tulips and full-petal roses of every sun-lit hue.  But, she said, making them was not easy.  When she ordered a flower kit from Amazon, it arrived without any instructions.  So, Tami Ellen googled for help and who came running?  Martha Stewart!   And as we touched Tami Ellen’s lovely flowers, we all agreed:  she did Martha proud!       

Glasses were clicked, orders given and Kathleen Frazier read  from her memoir, “Sleepwalker: The Mysterious Makings and Recovery of a Somnambulist.”  She read of suffering from night terrors or sleeping walking from childhood into adulthood.  But at 16, “in my Bealtaine years, in the early summer of my life,” she was cast as the lead in the play “Irene.”  During the play’s rehearsal and over its  entire run, Kathleen never had a single night terror episode.  But, after the curtain fell down for the very last time, she could hardly sleep.  And so, she became “an athlete, an athlete of art.”  Kathleen said she read the chapter “Stage Sanctuary” because of its connection to her Irish grandmother, and of her grandmother’s intergenerational blessing that lead her to honor the quarter-turnings of the ancient Celtic practices.  

Then another poem was read, this time by Shelley Quiltey-Lake.  It was “Wandersong" by Irish poet Nidhi Zak/Aria Eipe.  Shelley’s deliberative, slow reading highlighted the poem’s evocation of opening ourselves up not only to the natural landscape but to our own inner landscape as well.  The poem begins: “someday, love, go into the wood.” And ended, as Shelley’s reading itself put us down gently, with:  “pause there among the foxtail grass,/ here: fix your wings, they’ve come undone,/ and lift your shoulders to the moon,/ and turn your face - full - to the sun.” 

Mariia Venger, President of the NY Regional Council of the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America (the charity that Nollaig na mBan continues to support), told us of the need for continued protest to the crisis in Ukraine, reminding us that what Ukrainian citizens and soldiers are experiencing “does not come in pretty colors.”  Mariia spoke of the ongoing needs of Ukrainian students in schools in conflict zones, and of the continued support of prisoners of war.  She concluded with a celebration of Ukrainian women in the arts and held up a copy of “She did it,” a two-volume series of art by Ukrainian woman artists on postcards.     

Her fellow compatriot, Kateryna Vgnohrandova, began with a smile as she recounted her experience of coming to New York in April 2022 with little luggage and a sense of desperation before being joined by her husband for a new life in Brooklyn.  And she ended smiling:  “I  feel this country is an international family.”  

Throughout our Bealtaine luncheon, we were blessed with the music of  Bernadette Fee and Seán Moloney, who every Sunday play at the Westbury Pub, 4-7 p.m.  During a musical pause, Bernadette surprised more than a few of us when she took to the floor and treated us to a full-throated rendition of an Irish dance shoe-tapping on a pub’s hard wooden floor.    

And later that night, inside the memory of a Celtic rainbow-strewn afternoon, the writer heard the voice of a woman a walking across a sky fire-hot from   stars burning like hay stacked deep in rows a woman a gate away an ocean between a woman with a strong dublin accent a woman standing on a hillside in wave-swept Gibraltar a woman a Flower of the mountain a woman telling her bloom telling her joyce a woman telling life itself a woman  and yes I said yes I will Yes  . . . and i listened all night long. 

In addition to supporting Irish-music venues like The Westbury Pub, Nollaig Na mBan NY supports the struggle in Ukraine. To support the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America, go to or