Wednesday, February 04, 2015

THE third annual running of the revised Festival of Imbolc in the Slieve Bloom Mountains was thrown into chaos just hours before it was to have taken place.

Imbolc (Milking of the Goat) is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals, along with Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain, which revolves around the age-old tradition of milking a goat that is reputed to bring richness, prosperity and a good harvest.

However, just 48 hours before the festival was to have begun, the star of the festival, Ginny the goat, was found to be heavily pregnant, thus rendering her unable to be milked. And frantic efforts by the organisers took to social media sites to find a replacement.

The appeal read: “Poor auld Ginny is gone dry. Ginny is a milking goat and pet to the Rigney family. She has been the leading star of the Slieve Bloom Association’s Imbolc Festival for the last number of years. Ginny, unfortunately, cannot be milked for this year’s Imbolc Festival.

Do you have a milking goat or know of a milking goat who would be interested in taking part in this revival of an age-old tradition? Are you in the Laois/Offaly, Slieve Bloom area and available on 1 February? Nothing sacrificial, just plain old milking. We would like to take this opportunity to thank Ginny for her good humour and pleasant nature through the years.”

The owner of a pet farm came up trumps for the organisation. Jack Pilkington from Pilko’s Pet Farm came to their rescue just hours before the off and offered his goat Nelly as a replacement.

The relieved organiser who celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, went ahead with the festival which saw up to 40 people gather in Cadamstown. They then walked to the Bracket Stones on top of Spink Hill where the festivities began.

Pregnant Ginny wasn’t left out to grass during the event. She was led up the mountain by her owner Johnny Rigney, where she was bedecked with garland and brightly coloured ribbons, which were then transferred to Nelly, the newly-crowned hero of the festival.

Those in attendance chanced their arms at milking Nelly with some success, while others tried took a turn at churning the milk, but gave up after a short while having discovered “it would have taken hours to have turned it into goat’s cheese”.

Michael Dowling from the organising committee gave a talk on the history of the festival and told those present that many festivals were celebrated in the mountains during pagan times.

The association has also revived another of the four main festivals in the past few years, the Ardeireann/Lunasa Festival, which takes place on the last Sunday in July.

Jack Pilkington, Pilko's Pet Farm, Daingean with Nelly the goat

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By Joe Barrett
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