THE coming of summer attracted thousands of revellers to Edinburgh last night for the spectacular Beltane Fire Festival.

The annual mix of fire, drums, theatre, body paint, elaborate costumes and acrobatics, based on the old Celtic May Day, lit up the skies above Calton Hill as the sun went down.

The event, first organised in the mid-1980s, marks the end of winter and is a revival of the ancient Celtic and Pagan festival of Beltane, the Gaelic name for the month of May.


(Picture credit: Gordon Terris)

During festivities, the Green Man is killed as the god of winter and reborn as spring to consort with the May Queen, who was played this year by Katie O’Neill.

All the fires are put out and relit using a fire made from a piece of wood kept from the previous year’s festival.

Those who climbed to the top of Calton Hill to watch the performance praised the event’s atmosphere.

One reveller said: “It is a good night for the Beltane Fire Festival. It’s not raining, it’s mild, cloudless and a plain, classic sunset.”

The modern Beltane Fire Festival is inspired by the ancient Gaelic festival of Beltane, which began on the evening before May 1 and marked the beginning of summer.

The modern festival was started in 1988 by a group including the musical collective Test Dept, with support from the School of Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh.


(Picture credit: Gordon Terris)

It now involves more than 300 voluntary collaborators and performers with the available tickets often selling out.

Organisers describe the festival as a “living, dynamic reinterpretation and modernisation of an ancient Iron Age Celtic ritual” and say it is the largest event of its kind.

The Beltane Fire Society, a registered charity which runs the festival, is managed by an elected voluntary committee.

All of the performers are volunteers who join by word of mouth or by attending one of the advertised open meetings held early in the year.

Senior performers and artists in the society help others through workshops with event production, prop construction, character performance techniques, team building, percussion skills and health and safety considerations.