Juniper Divination & Witchery

A photo of a May bush taken in 1964, part of the photographic collection at

Protecting home and fortune: Irish folk customs for Bealtaine

Bealtaine, also known as May Day, marked a pivotal point in the Irish calendar. It signified the arrival of summer, a time of light, warmth, and the promise of a bountiful season ahead. However, Bealtaine also held a sense of unease. This was a time when the boundary between our world and the Otherworld thinned, inviting the potential for both blessings and misfortune from the unpredictable Good Neighbors. To navigate this delicate balance, people turned to time-honored traditions and a heightened awareness of the risks of everyday life.

Appeasing the Good Neighbors

On Bealtaine, it was widely believed that the Good Neighbors became particularly active. To ensure their goodwill and prevent them from causing mischief, people would leave out food and drink as offerings. The belief was that the the Good Neighbors were attracted to these offerings and would be less likely to cause trouble if they were satisfied.

You all know May is the month of the fairies. Great people or men that lived long ago rises from their graves on every night in the month of May to fight the old battles that they fought long ago these men are called fairies. The bad fairies do great harm and trouble in the month of May they kill cattle take away milk and butter from the cows and alot of other mischief. Source

“The fairies come around our houses too to do mischief as well as they come to the cattle; you should sweep the hearth very clean and leave food aside for them. If you don’t the fairies will come when you are asleep and will torment you by tricking you or pinching you.” Source


Primrose was believed to ward off the Good Neighbors, and scattering them in the doorways and window sills of the home created a barrier no troublesome spirit could cross.

“During the first three days [of May] fairies entered the house. They came disguised as old men or women in order to steal coals and in order to prevent them primroses were scattered on the doorway no fairy could pass this flower.” Source

“The best preventive of fairy power was to scatter primroses on the threshold, for no one could pass the flowers and and the house and house-hold were left in peace.” Source

“Guard the house by a string of primroses across the door on the first three days of May. The fairies can pass neither over nor under the string.” Source


This tree was seen as potent protection against otherworldly forces. A branch hung above a cow’s stable door could ward off those who might steal the milk, ensuring the cow’s blessing for the year. Branches decorated with spring flowers were also placed around the house for a bit of extra good luck.

On May Day before sunrise the eldest member of the family gets up, he goes out, pulls a branch of the rowan tree and hangs it over the cow’s stable door. This is done to prevent the fairies from taking any of the milk from the cows. Source

Another custom is to get a branch of Rowan tree and decorate it with may flowers and primroses and leave it in the middin standing. Then strew may-flowers into each outhouse door and on the doorstep and in the windowsills. This is to welcome the good fairies so that there will be good luck round the year. Source

If you put a rowan tree up the Chimney nothing can bring the butter out of the house. Source

The May bush: blessing and protection

The May bush was a common custom in Ireland, particularly in Leinster, South and West Ulster, and some areas of Munster and Connaught. The May bush often featured hawthorn branches brought home and decorated with flowers, ribbons, and colorful eggshells saved from Easter.

The May bush was believed to protect the home from evil spirits, particularly fairies and witches. It was also thought to bring good luck and prosperity, especially in relation to milk and butter production.

It is a great custom also to make a May bush on May day. This consists of a bush, which is put standing in the dungpit. The bush is decorated with flowers and eggshells. The eggshells are kept after Easter Sunday. Source

On May morning a Maybush was placed outside each house. It usually was a yellow furze bush with a number of eggshells stuck on the thorns. Source

The people around this place make May-bushes on the first of May. They pull a bush and gather flowers and tie them on to the bush with strings and stick it on the ground and after that they say their prayers around it to honour our Blessed Mother and they make a little Altar and put flowers every day on it during May. The people long ago used to make May-bushes and they also used to make a little Altar. Source

The evening before the first of May the people go out and get a piece of a certain tree which they call May Pole. They put this bush outside the door and they put all the egg shells they had on Easter Sunday on it. They also put a lot of flowers out side too. If the people do not put up the May Pole the fairies will come. They also tie May Pole to the cow’s tail and if they do not, the fairies come and take the milk from the cow. Source

Guarding your luck

Bealtaine is a time that came with a heightened fear that any careless act could invite bad luck for the whole year. During Bealtaine, even seemingly simple acts held risk.

Giving away even staples like milk, butter, or coins risked also surrendering your good fortune. Lending a tool or sharing even a hot coal from your hearth could lead to unexpected misfortune.

On May eve no one cares to give away any milk or butter fearing their luck would be taken. Source

Long ago the people used to have a large number of pisreogs on May day…They would not give away anything to anybody on May day, only to a beggar man. When he would come in they would give him great welcome. They would say he was bringing in the good luck. The old people would not allow anybody to bring fire outside the door. Everybody would have matches on May day. The old people would not allow any fire outside the door. Source

On May Eve or May Day nothing is given out of the house. Source

They considered it unlucky to give butter or milk way to any person on May Day as they would be giving away their luck. No stables were to be cleaned out on that day. The first person to go to the well in the morning was supposed to have luck for the rest of the year. It is not right to give money to anyone on that day. But if you get money on that day you will be getting it for the year. Source

The people of the house do not put out the ashes on that day or if a person asked for a coal they would be refused. Source

Another custom of the Irish, they would not lend any article or give either milk or food even to beggars. They would not light a fire on May Day until it was late in the day for fear that the people would see the smoke and would bring the butter. Source

The customs surrounding Bealtaine offer a fascinating glimpse into the rich tapestry of Irish folklore and the enduring human desire to shape our luck through ritual and tradition. Whether leaving offerings to appease unseen spirits, scattering flowers as wards against misfortune, or cautiously guarding their possessions, people sought to influence the unseen forces that shaped their lives. These traditions, born in a different time, speak to a fundamental human desire for control, for a sense of agency in the face of an uncertain world. While the specific fears and beliefs may have shifted, the impulse to use ritual and superstition as a means of navigating life’s unpredictability remains surprisingly relatable.