The Scotch Fair, George Alexander Fraser (1834) - the background of the painting consists of a collation of features found in St. Andrews, St. Monans and Culross
St Andrew's Lammas Fair
Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day
Today's Musings, History & Folklore
"There was three kings into the east, Three kings both great and high, And they hae sworn a solemn oath John Barleycorn should die." ~Robert Burns, John Barleycorn, 1782
The character of John Barleycorn is a personification of the the harvest of cereal crops (particularly barley) and of the alcoholic beverages made from them, beer and whisky. In the song, In the folksongs, John Barleycorn is represented as suffering indignities, attacks and death that correspond to the various stages of barley cultivation, such as reaping and malting. The festival and seasonal celebrations of Lammas (Lughnasadh) marks the beginning of the harvest season and a time for celebrations and regional fairs. Two traditional Lammas Fairs still remain, at St Andrews and Inverkeithing. One of the more ancient traditions of this festival is the Burryman ritual, held in South Queensferry. Traditionally, a local man or boy is covered from head to ankles in burdock burrs and paraded around a seven-mile route for nine hours or more, accompanied by two officials, a bell-ringer and chanting children. They visit the town's pubs, some factories, and the provost's house, at each of which the Burryman is given a drink of whisky, Tradition holds that he will bring good luck to the town if given whisky and money and that bad luck will result if the custom is discontinued!
St Andrew's Fair
August 1st is Lammas Day, a ancient harvest festival which is still celebrated today. Lammas Fair is still celebrated in St. Andrew's every August. The Lammas Fair is the oldest surviving medieval street fair associated with Lammas (Lughnasadh), a Gaelic festival marking the beginning of harvest season.
In the weeks before harvest, communities were at their highest risk of starving, as stocks from the previous harvest came close to being depleted – Lammas Day heralded the new harvest and hopefully a return to times of plenty. In the Every-Day Book (published in 1838), author William Hone described celebrations held by Edinburgh farmers which included the building of towers, with communities competing to knock down each other’s towers. This was a boisterous and often dangerous contest, at which participants were occasionally killed and often injured.
The most ancient Lammas ritual in Scotland is the Burryman ritual, held in South Queensferry. In this, the a local man was covered from head to ankles in burrs (the sticky flowerheads or seedheads of two species of burdock) that grow locally. The stickiness of his burry covering means that he has to walk awkwardly, with legs apart and arms held out sideways but he is nevertheless paraded around a seven-mile route through South Queensferry for nine hours or more, accompanied by ‘two officials, led by a bell-ringer and chanting children who collect money (for luck).' They visit the town's pubs, some factories, and the provost's house, at each of which the Burryman is given a drink of whisky, but because of his sticky facial covering he can only drink through a straw. He is not allowed to speak. By the end of the day he is exhausted.
Tradition holds that he will bring good luck to the town if they give him whisky and money, and that bad luck will result if the custom is discontinued.
See below for video of the dance performed at the Mill Valley Hogmanay party in 2009.
And for more on Lammas customs, click the commemorative Lammastide stamp.