The Harvest Moon

Tonight, is the  full harvest moon and I thought I’d pass along some of the lore and history surrounding the harvest moon and talk about some of the other customs associated with the harvest moon.

Gaelic Weather Lore

A new moon that comes in on its foot meaning  that it stands straight up-and-down like the handle of a cup is said to be a sign that the upcoming weather will be good. If the new moon comes in on its back, then it is said to be rough  wet, weather ahead.  There’s an old Scottish proverb:

The bonny moon is on her back,
Mend your shoon and sort your thack.

 A ring around around the moon is called a brugh in Scotland which is a really old word for circle. It might even be Pictish.

About the moon there is a brugh
The weather will be cold and rough.

In Ireland, sharp horns on a new moon meant sharp, cold weather was coming.  A white ring round the moon often meant a storm coming and the wider the ring, the closer the storm, but a silver ring meant cold.

The Harvest Moon 

The Irish call the harvest moon gealach na gCoinnleach or a Connlin Moon.  The is moon considered to be the harvest moon from new ’til dark.  It is said that if the new  harvest moon stands on its foot  (straight up-and-down like the handle of a cup)  it is a sign that there will be a good and plentiful harvest along with the good weather and a ring around the full harvest moon  also foretells the harshness of the coming winter.

The full harvest moon signified that the hay should be in and that it was time to dig the potatoes and harvest oats.The full harvest moon is interesting because it’s close to the equinox and consequently rises at nearly the same time every night extending the amount of light by a bit.   It is very unlikely given all the pisroega surrounding being about that any self-respecting farmers would have been harvesting by the light of the moon.

There’s a story in the Reilly family about a young man in that family coming home from a Harvest Fair and running into the ghosts of two young women.  He died three days later.

The Harvest Fair

The fair days were some of the most important community gatherings in some counties. Held monthly in some districts, the fairs were somewhat akin to our farmer’s markets.  The Harvest Fair was usually one of the larger events being the best time to buy cattle, sheep, potatoes, vegetables, hay and other farm produce.

Old accounts of these events  recall  “the greatest fair of the year is the Harvest Fair. This is always held Ballyshannon on the 16th of September and is the biggest event of the year for young and old men and women. Ballyshannon Harvest Fair is attended by people from far and near.”The travelling folk who worked as tinsmiths often attended these fairs in order to sell their services or wares.

After the days business was conducted, music and games ran late into the evening because the moon shone quite brightly over the festivities. There’s a reel composed by the John Mac Fhionnlaioch sometime in the mid-19th century that was often played at these fairs that is sometimes called Picking the Spuds. You can listen to it here:


Here’s the music for you people who want to play it yourself.

In some districts local farmers would just host large Harvest Suppers for their communities with boxty for dinner and then games, music, and dancing in the evening.  That’s the sort of thing I would like to see revived.  I find it sad these days when I  go to a “festival” in downtown Iowa City.  They are really just a shopping excursion with some music, if you are lucky.

If you are willing to do some traveling in the Midwest you can still find opportunities to enjoy harvest festivities that have a focus other than sales, though there’s still some of that. I don’t know if the original planners of the The Quad City Celtic Highland games had the Harvest Fairs in mind when they chose the date for their event, but they are held every September in keeping with that time honoured tradition of throwing giant logs and axes around, once the work is done for the year.

Maybe things haven’t changed that much.

One of my favorite fall festivals the Pendarvis Cornish Fest in Mineral Point, Wisconsin will be held this upcoming weekend as well the Kalona Fall Festival although I find that one to be a little lacking in music for my tastes.  Later in October,  there is Pumpkinfest in Anamosa and the Amana’s have their Oktoberfest which is always a good time, but I think has begun charging at the door.  So take some time to get out this fall and visit some of these.