Calendars are ways people derive to mark the passage of time throughout the year. Since all time initially was measured by observing the movements of certain things in the sky, a little background in astronomy is needed here. One common way to construct a calendar is to construct a “solar” calendar which operates by making the year the length of time it takes the earth to so around the sun. This is generally done by noting which stars the sun appears to be near at the same time. The sun, in addition from moving from east to west on a daily basis, also moves from west to east throughout the year. So for example, when the sun sets in Edinburgh on Jan 5th, the Bellatrix, the star which marks Orion’s left shoulder just appears on the eastern horizon. The sun and Orion are 180 degrees apart. By February 5th the entire constellation of Orion is above the horizon at sunset. By March 5th, Orion is high in the south with now only about 90 degrees separating it from the sun (which is “moving” closer and closer to Orion). By May 5th, Orion appear in the southwest as the sun sets, and finally by June 5th, Orion is no longer visible at sunset – in effect the sun is right over Orion.
But a year is too long a time for most people’s activities and so fortunately there is another celestial body which can help: the moon. The moon circles the earth, the same way that the Earth circles the sun. The earth circles the sun in approximately 365 and a quarter days, while the moon circles the earth in approximately 27 days 7 hours. The means that the moon circles the earth about 13 and ½ times a year
It is important to realize that absolutely precise measurements are not possible when made with the unaided eye, so that equating calendar dates from the moon, so those with the sun is not very easily done accurately and early people would have scheduled holidays around “new moons” or “full moons” which would not have occurred on the same date on a solar calendar each year. (Notice for example, Christmas which is a solar holiday set on Dec. 25th, does not occur with the same phase of the moon, but always occurs on the 25th of December. Easter on the other hand is set by the lunar cycle in coordination with the solar cycle and so I moves around a bit. For all Christian religions but Orthodox the rule is “Easter is the first Sunday following the first full moon (lunar) , following the first day of spring (solar). The Islamic holiday month of Ramadan on the other hand is calculated solely by the moon and it moves throughout the year. )
Now in addition to the sun’s movement east to west on a daily basis, and west to east on a yearly basis, the sun also moves north and south on a yearly basis. In the Northern hemisphere, this causes days to become longer (as we move into summer) until the sun reaches its highest point north (the summer solstice) , and then for the days to shorten as we head into in the winter months when it reaches its lowest point called the winter solstice. The process reverses in the southern hemisphere where the shortest days are in July and the longest are in December. As it back and forth from north to south, it passes over the celestial equator (which is the line in the sky which would be directly over head if a person were standing on the Earth’s equator). At this point, the amount of day and night is basically the same. The sun does this twice a year (once as it appears to move north and then again as it appears to move south. Each time it crosses the celestial equator it is called an “equinox”. One happens about March 21 and is called the vernal or spring equinox and the other around Sept, 21 and is called the autumnal equinox. These four points (the summer and winter solstices and the vernal and autumnal equinoxes) are significant in many cultures in the world.
For the people living in Northern latitudes however, the midway point between these seems to have been more important. So the Celtic calendar distributed itself and marked the halfway points between these dates. They also seem to have divided the year into two halves – a light and a dark half. The start of the light half was marked by a holiday called Beltane which is a holiday marked with fire festivals which herald the arrival of the light half and an end to the dark half. It is currently celebrates from April 30 to May 1 (currently often celebrated as May Day).
Traditionally it may have been celebrated at a certain point in a lunar cycle (say a new moon) which occurred around that time (much the way Easter moves slightly).
A half a year away was Samhain (thought of now as being Oct 31-Nov. 1 although like Beltain and the other holidays more likely than not was timed to a lunar cycle as well. ) This holiday now maps out on Halloween and hence there are strong connections between the two – especially since Samahin marked the descent into the dark half of the year.
About August 1 the Celtic calendar would have had Lughnasadh or a festival possibly devoted to the god Lugh, now seen as Lammas. Imbolc (Imbolg) falling around the beginning of February (now Groundhog Day in America) would have rounded out the four quarters of the year.
The attempts of Christianity to eradicate these holidays led to the establishment of the Christian days around them. The most famous approach was to create All Saint’s Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2) in an attempt to rid the people of Samahin, which tends to imply this must have been a major holiday to need that much eradication (which still failed). This kind of movement is not unusual. Christianity itself seems to have moved the date celebrated for Christ’s birth from the Spring to the Roman holiday of Saturnalia – a day when the Romans celebrated the return of the sun (that is to say the beginning of the apparent moment of the sun northerly from its southernmost point at the Winter solstice). It has been pointed out that shepherds only watch their flocks at night in the spring when lambs are born and since the statement that Christ was born while this happened, the date would seemed to have been moved in order to make it safe to celebrate. Who knew who was celebrating what if Romans were celebrating Saturnalia and Christians were celebrating Christmas?
Remember the spelling of the words varies over time and in different of the Gaelic languages.
April 30-May 1 Beltain Fire festival – starts bright half of the year May Day halfway between vernal equinox and summer solstice. Walpurgis Night (6 months after Halloween)
Beltane or Beltaine ( /ˈbɛlteɪn/) is the anglicised spelling of Old Irish Bel(l)taine or Beltine (modern Irish Bealtaine [ˈbʲal̪ˠt̪ˠənʲə], Scottish Gaelic Bealltainn[ˈbʲal̪ˠt̪ˠənʲ]), the Gaelic name for either the month of May or the festival that takes place on the first day of May.
Bealtaine was historically a Gaelic festival celebrated in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. Bealtaine and Samhain were the leading terminal dates of the civil year in medieval Ireland, though the latter festival was the more important. The festival regained popularity during the Celtic Revival and remains observed in the Celtic Nationsand the Irish diaspora.
In Irish Gaelic, the month of May is known as Mí Bhealtaine or Bealtaine, and the festival as Lá Bealtaine ('day of Bealtaine' or, 'May Day'). In Scottish Gaelic, the month is known as either (An) Cèitean or a' Mhàigh, and the festival is known as Latha Bealltainn or simply Bealltainn. The feast was also known as Céad Shamhain orCétshamhainin from which the word Céitean derives. Beltane was formerly spelled 'Bealtuinn' in Scottish Gaelic; in Manx it is spelt 'Boaltinn' or 'Boaldyn'. In Modern Irish,Oidhche Bealtaine or Oíche Bealtaine is May Eve, and Lá Bealtaine is May Day. Mí na Bealtaine, or simply Bealtaine is the name of the month of May.
In Neopaganism, Bealtaine is considered a cross-quarter day, marking the midpoint in the Sun's progress between the spring equinox and summer solstice. Theastronomical date for this midpoint is closer to 5 May or 7 May, but this can vary from year to year.
August 1 Lughnasadh (Lammas) halfway between Summer Solstice and Autumnal equinox)
Lug or Lugh ( /ˈluː/; modern Irish: Lú) is an Irish deity represented in mythological texts as a hero and High King of the distant past. He is known by the epithetsLámhfhada (pronounced /'la:wad̪ˠə/, meaning "long arm" or "long hand"), for his skill with a spear or sling, Ildánach ("skilled in many arts"), Samhildánach ("Equally skilled in many arts"), Lonnbeimnech ("fierce striker" or perhaps "sword-shouter") and Macnia ("boy hero"), and by the matronymic mac Ethlenn or mac Ethnenn ("son of Ethliu or Ethniu"). He is a reflex of the pan-Celtic god Lugus, and his Welsh counterpart is Lleu Llaw Gyffes, "The Bright One with the Strong Hand".
Imbolc (also Imbolg or Oimelc), or St Brigid’s Day (Scots Gaelic Là Fhèill Brìghde, Irish Lá Fhéile Bríde, the feast day of St. Brigid), is an Irish festival marking the beginning of spring. Most commonly it is celebrated on 1 or 2 February (or 12 February, according to the Old Calendar) in the northern hemisphere and 1 August in the southern hemisphere. These dates fall approximately halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox.
The festival was observed in Gaelic Ireland during the Middle Ages. Reference to Imbolc is made in Irish mythology, in the Tochmarc Emire of the Ulster Cycle. Imbolc was one of the four cross-quarter days referred to in Irish mythology, the others being Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain. It has been suggested that it was originally a pagan festival associated with the goddess Brigid, who was later Christianised as St. Brigid.
Samhain (Oct 31-Nov. 1 halfway between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice) Halloween/All Saints Day) Starts dark half of the year
In Modern Irish the name is Samhain [ˈsˠaunʲ], In Scottish Gaelic, Samhuinn [ˈsaũ.iɲ], in Manx Gaelic Sauin and Old Irish Samain [ˈsaṽɨnʲ]. Samhain and an t-Samhain are also the Irish and Scottish Gaelic names of November, respectively. The Modern Irish word Samhain is derived from the Old Irish samain, samuin, or samfuin, all referring to 1 November (latha na samna: 'samhain day'), and the festival and royal assembly held on that date in medieval Ireland (oenaig na samna: 'samhain assembly'). Its meaning is glossed as 'summer's end', and the frequent spelling with f suggests analysis by popular etymology as sam ('summer') and fuin ('sunset', 'end'). The Old Irish sam ('summer') is from Proto-Indo-European language (PIE) *semo-; cognates are Welsh haf, Breton hañv, English summer and Old Norse language sumar, all meaning 'summer', and the Sanskrit sáma ("season").
In 1907, Whitley Stokes suggested an etymology from Proto-Celtic *samani ('assembly'), cognate to Sanskrit sámana, and the Gothic samana.J. Vendryes concludes that these words containing *semo-('summer') are unrelated to samain, remarking that furthermore the Celtic 'end of summer' was in July, not November, as evidenced by Welsh gorffennaf ('July').We would therefore be dealing with an Insular Celticword for 'assembly', *samani or *samoni, and a word for 'summer', saminos (derived from *samo-: 'summer') alongside samrad, *samo-roto-. The Irish samain would be etymologically unrelated to 'summer', and derive from 'assembly'.
The Battle of Falkirk
On January 17th, 1746 a battle was fought in Scotland - the last victory of Bonnie Prince Charlie's faltering campaign to secure the throne of Great Britain for his father, James VIII-III. Had the Young Pretender followed up this victory, Culloden may never have had to happen, and who knows what the future history of the United Kingdom would have looked like.
The Stuart prince had come ashore in Scotland less than a year before. It was the first time he had ever set foot in the land of his ancestors (the prince was born in Rome) - and through much personal charm (perhaps his only real talent) he managed to convince some of the Highland chiefs to call out their clans in a bold attempt to restore the Stuarts to the throne by force of arms. He was doing this for his father - and though in his name, James was stunned when he heard his son had sneaked off of the continent and made his way to Scotland, without any substantive help or even promise of help - either militarily or financially. It was a colossal risk - and in the end would prove disastrous for Scotland and untold thousands of Stuart supporters - and even those who did not support him. Indeed the debacle changed the cultural face of the nation.
The clans rallied (some not quite out of loyalty, but who saw a chance to settle personal scores with other, government aligned, clans), Lord George Murray stepped forward to make military decisions - the only capable man who endeavored to do so - and the Prince's army marched toward England. They annihilated an English army in the Battle of Prestonpans outside of Edinburgh - and swung the 5,000 plus strong army south.
As the Scottish army penetrated deep into England, panic erupted in London - the King and his ministers packed their bags to head back to Germany, and there was a run on the banks - poorly trained militia formed up to protect the capital, while an English army went north, but in the wrong direction, in a vain attempt to stop the Jacobite army before they descended with claymore and scythe on the Hanoverian government.
The Scots stopped in Derby, England - a mere 128 miles from London - and there the clan chiefs revolted. They had been promised French military aid in their mission - they expected troops, supplies, arms and money - but no help came or seemed to be coming. The Prince pleaded, with rage and flattery and tears for them all to continue, absolutely sure that they could sweep all before them in short order without any help from France - but the Chiefs refused to be swayed, sadly unaware of the panic and fear engulfing the government and populace of London. The feeble force that was assembling north of London was, through spurious rumors spread in the Scottish camp, elevated into a mighty army. It was not. If the Jacobites had indeed engaged this hastily assembled force, it almost certainly would have quickly destroyed the English battalions and London would have been theirs (holding it would have been a different issue). But without good intelligence of what was happening, the clans turned north, back to Scotland.
The Prince sank into a deep funk - his drinking increased as did his growing paranoia. His ablest commanders and friends were now people to be held in contempt - in suspicion. They had come further than any other Scottish army had ever come and now they headed back to home ground - without having lost a single battle.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant General Henry Hawley was appointed as the new commander all the royal Hanovarian forces in Scotland (replacing General Cope who had his army destroyed at Prestonpans). He was known as "Hangman" Hawley for his brutal treatment of his own troops (passing judgment and hanging deserters as quickly as he could).
The Jacobite army was now besieging Stirling Castle when they heard that Hawley was leading a 7,000 plus strong army towards them. The army quickly got together and the two armies came together near Falkirk Moor.
It was nearing dark and Hawley had incompetently drawn up his troops. He wrongly believed that Highlanders could not stand up against mounted soldiers and was overly dismissive of the fighting ability of the Highlanders - a foolish notion in the face of all recent evidence. He unleashed three companies of his dragoons (not cavalry, but essentially mounted foot soldiers) believing they alone would destroy the integrity of the Scottish forces - he was very wrong.
The Highlanders waited till the charging dragoons got near and then unloaded their guns - the dragoons were destroyed in a great wave.
The ones who followed and managed to get close found themselves in no better position to fight. The Highlanders had a tactic they often used against mounted troops - they fell to the ground, and stabbed at the horse's underside with their dirks. It was deadly and effective. They also shot or stabbed at the horses heads, rendering them uncontrollable and allowing the Scots to drag the dragoons from their saddles to finish them off.
In the growing dark and now pouring rain, the Highlanders charged the Royal troops. Many of them fled at the mere sight and sound of the howling Highlanders - some Royal troops held, but the swiftly advancing Highlanders were quickly upon them.
The tactic employed in a Highland Charge was simple - close rapidly with the enemy and when within range shoot with rifles and pistols. They then dropped their guns, fell to one knee as the enemy fired in response - before the enemy could reload, the Scots would then draw their broadswords and leap forward, catching bayonets on their targes (shields) and swinging their swords down onto the enemy (and back slashing with a dirk, held in the same hand that held their shields). When executed quickly, against raw troops, the Highland Charge had a devastating effect. And as at Prestonpans, the royal army was overwhelmed, retreating as best they could to the protection of Edinburgh.
Hawley was soon thereafter replaced by "Butcher" Cumberland, younger son of the Hanoverian King, George II. Cumberland put new battle plans and tactics into motion to counter the Highland charge upon their next encounter. Hawley supposedly wagered a staggering sum that the next commander who faced the Scottish army would also meet a similar fate. He was wrong.
In the confusion of battle, the dark and rain, the Highlanders and commanders were not actually sure who had won the battle at Falkirk. Had calmer heads prevailed, they might have regrouped and continued to attack the fleeing troopers, destroying the army entirely - or at least causing enough devastation as to give more time for additional warriors to join the fray. Word didn't get out about the victory and not many Highlanders were ready to join the Jacobite army that may have been on the losing end.
The Battle of Falkirk was the 2nd to last battle to be fought by ground troops on British soil. The tragic end for the cause came soon after in the battle of Culloden - ending Jacobite dreams and causing such terrible turmoil on the Scottish nation that a scar was formed that never quite healed.