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  A Year of Orcadian Tradition

"'Well", says August, "time to gather all the riches together in a field full of folk."


August August was the month in which the greatest Orkney holiday of the year was held - the Lammas Market.

Lammas, also called "Lughnasad", was an ancient celebration of the first harvest, and honoured the grain harvests, as well as the gods and goddesses of death and resurrection.

Lughnasadh - meaning "festival of Lugh" - or Lammas - meaning "festival of the loaves" ("hlaf-mass") - fell on August 1.

In Kirkwall, the Lammas Market took place over 11 days, and was proclaimed through the streets of the town by the town officer, preceded by a drummer. These days, however, the Lammas Fair is forgotten. In its heyday, the Lammas Fair attracted folk from across the islands, who all headed into the town to be entertained by showmen, tricksters and entertainers.

To cope with the incredible influx of visitors, poor, but adequate, accommodation was offered throughout Kirkwall. These Lammas "beuls" were, very often, just a straw-covered floors on which the visiting islanders rested, in the company of a number of strangers.

An interesting tradition surrounding the fair is that the young men were advised to place a four-leafed clover in their boots. This was believed to give them the power to see through the tricks employed by the visiting cheap-jacks. Examples of the reliability of this charm are actually recorded. One story relates that a crowd, gathered around a Lammas booth to watch a dancing cockerel, were asked by an old woman why they were so interested in a bird with straws fixed to its legs. It was only then that the sheepish onlookers realised that they had been mesmerised by the crafty showman.

The old woman was immune to his tricks because there was a four-leaved clover hidden within the grass she carried.
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