Beltane Fire Festival 2019: Around 8,000 revellers head for Edinburgh's Calton Hill for spectacular show

It is the wild celebration that heralds the start of summer in Edinburgh – with a heady mix of fire, drums, costumed performers and dramatic storytelling.

Wednesday, 1st May 2019, 10:20 am
Updated Wednesday, 1st May 2019, 10:25 am
Beltane 2019. PIC: Ian Georgeson Photography
Beltane 2019. PIC: Ian Georgeson Photography

A 300-strong cast brought ancient Celtic traditions to life as the annual Beltane Fire Festival took over Calton Hill for the night.

Up to 8000 revellers, many of them tourists, watched the cavalcade of colourful characters mark the changing of the seasons in style on a dry and relatively mild night for the scantily-clad performers.

Billed as “an alternative May Day celebration”, the festival saw throngs of crowds follow the journey of the May Queen, the Green Man and their followers around the hill before a grand finale around 12.30am as the ritual bonfire was lit.

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Beltane 2019. PIC: Ian Georgeson Photography

The goddess-like figure, who brings the Green Man back to life once he has shaken off the “last vestiges” of winter, was given a makeover this year as part of a bid by the event to tackle climate change concerns.

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The ancient rituals of the Beltane festival in Scotland

Wearing a costume of recycled materials depicting oil spills, pesticides and deforestation, the “ordinarily stoic” May Queen, played by Katie O’Neill, expressed rage at the damage being done to the planet as the four-hour performance unfolded shortly after 9.30pm with the lighting of the first flaming torches and the dramatic roll of drums heralded the arrival of the "Devine Femine" at the centre of the performance..

Speaking before the show, O'Neill said: “The May Queen’s story and character this year is quite different from the past. When she rises out of the Acropolis on Calton Hill she is not the flowery goddess she has always been. She is really angry, looks down at her dress covered in oil spills,

pesticides and deforestation and is enraged. She wants to call war.

“But she comes out of her state of anger, which is ultimately from a place of fierce love for the Earth and her children. Her story is one of alchemy and of taking that anger and turning it into joy.”

The modern-day Beltane, which is said to be the biggest event of its kind anywhere in the world, was first staged in 1988, but can trace its roots as an agricultural festival back to the Iron Age.

Although based on celebrations marking the “return of the fertility of the land,” when livestock would have been put out to pasture, the festival draws on a variety of historical, mythological and literary influences.