Dublin, 1831

William Wilde, 1850;

‘The preparations for the May Day sports and ceremonial in Dublin, commenced about the middle of April , and even earlier, and a rivalry, which often led to the most fearful riots was incited, particularly between the “Liberty boys” upon the south, and the “Ormond boys” upon the north side of the river: and even among themselves, as to which street or district would exhibit the best dressed and handsomest May Bush, or could boast the largest and highest bonfire.

Upon one of the popular outbreaks resulting in the abduction of a May bush, was written the song, in old Dublin slang, of –

“De nite afore de fust of Magay,”

so spiritily described in that graphic record of the past, “Sketches of Ireland Sixty Years Ago.” For weeks before, a parcel of idle scamps, male and female, devoted themselves to the task of “Collecting for the May:” and parties decorated with ribbons, and carrying green boughs, and sometimes accompanied by itinerant musicians, went from house to house soliciting contributions of ribbons, hankerchiefs and gaudy silk – materials then manufactured, and consequently more common in the Liberty than now- to adorn the May bush. Turf, coals, old bones, particularly slugs and cows’ horns from the tan-yards, and horse’ heads from the knackers, logs of wood, &c., were also collected, to which some of the merchants generally added a few pitch tar-barrels. Money was solicited to “moisten the clay” of the revellers; for, whether from liking, or from fear, or considering it unlucky, few ventured to refuse to contribute “something toste de May bush.”

The ignitable materials were formed in depots, in backyards, and the cellars of old houses, long before the approaching festival; and several sorties were made by opposing factions to gain possession of these hoards, and lives have been lost in the skirmishes which ensued.’

Irish Popular Superstitions


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