Which country comes to your mind when you think of a Celtic culture? Ireland? France? Scotland? Or maybe Spain? Well, now you should start to think about the Czech Republic too! Everything because of the Lughnasad, a Festival of Celtic Culture, which is held every year in Nasavrky.
Lughnasad Festival in Nasavrky
Before I came to Nasavrky, little did I know about the Celtic roots of the Czech Republic. When I was a child, I learned the well-known Polish legend about three brothers: Lech, Czech, and Rus. The legend refers to a founding myth of three Slavic nations: the Poles (or Lechites), the Czechs, and the Rus’ people. Because of that legend, I never associated the Czech Republic with the Celtic culture. And that’s… awfully ignorant of me, especially when I discovered that the Latin name for the Czech Republic is Boiohaemum…
Celtic roots of the Czech Republic
The Celts’ settled in the Czech lands around the 4th century BC (Slavs appeared there almost 10 centuries later!). One of the biggest group of Celts, that inhabited the central and northwestern area was called ‘Boii’*. Even though the Boii didn’t survive till nowadays, thanks to this Celtic tribe, the whole region they had inhabited is called Bohemia – westernmost and largest historical region of the present-day Czech Republic (two others are Moravia and Czechia). In Latin whole Czech Republic is called “Boiohaemum”, which means “the land of Boii”.
Many ancient Celtic tribes gave their names to modern places. Not only Bohemia was named after the Boii, but also Belgium was named after the Belgae. The ancient name of Switzerland, still occasionally used nowadays, was Helvetia, from the Celtic Helvetii tribe.
The holiday of Lughnasadh
Lughnasadh or Lughnasa is a Gaelic seasonal harvest festival of the pagan origins. The name of the festival is a combination of Lug (Lugh – an important god in Irish mythology) and násad (an assembly). Historically, the festival was widely observed in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. At the beginning, Lughnasadh was observed either on 1 August or on the date halfway between the summer solstice and autumn equinox. Nowadays the celebration of the Lughnasa shifted to the Sundays nearest this date.
Original celebration of Lughnasa involved gatherings, religious ceremonies, ritual athletic contests, feasting, matchmaking and trading, and all this you can experience in Nasavrky. What’s interesting, during Lughnasadh it was possible to get a “trial marriage” = a marriage that lasted exactly one year and a day, at which time the marriage could be made permanent or broken without consequences.
In Irish mythology, the Lughnasadh festival is said to have been begun by the god Lugh as a funeral feast and athletic competition in commemoration of his mother or foster-mother Tailtiu. Tailtiu was said to have died of exhaustion after clearing the plains of Ireland for agriculture (she was an earth goddess who represented the dying vegetation that fed mankind). That’s why the most important offering during the Lughnasadh were first fruits of the harvest.
Lughnasadh or Reek Sunday?
The gatherings on the Lughnasadh day were typically placed on Ireland’s prominent mountains and hills. This tradition has survived to modern times in the form of another, Christian holiday, called Reek Sunday (Domhnach na Cruaiche in Irish). Reek Sunday is an annual day of pilgrimage in Ireland. On the last Sunday in July, pilgrims climb Ireland’s holiest mountain, Croagh Patrick in County Mayo. Some of the pilgrims walk barefoot. The pilgrimage is held in honor of Saint Patrick who, according to tradition, spent 40 days fasting on the mountain.
Celtic historical reenactment groups, like the Boii group from Czech Republic**, try to reconstruct the pre-Christian celebration of the Lughnasadh.
Celtic festival in Nasavrky
Lughnasad festival in Nasavrky takes place every year on the last weekend of July. So far the event venue was Nasavrky square, especially near the castle, its garden, and courtyard. From this year the festival will be placed in the Celtic Village – Celtic archaeological open air museum in Nasavrky.
The festival is an international event which seeks to preserve the Celtic traditions as a key cultural phenomenon in modern European heritage. No matter if you are 5 or 50, everyone will find something interesting during the Lughnasad. This festival is perfect for teenagers, students, and families with children, as it combines music, fun, and education.
Festival in Nasavrky is a unique event which allows historical re-enactment groups and simple tourists come together and celebrate. While historical groups focus on their Iron Age tasks (fighting, blacksmithing, weaving, cooking, trading, matchmaking 😉 ) and so on, tourist are allowed to can enjoy free workshops, lectures, dance lessons, as well as evening concerts. Of course, both groups are free to mingle with each other, so you can see some tourists walking around protohistoric campsites, as well as “Celts” enjoying bagpipe concerts over a glass of beer.
As I mentioned before, the celebration of Lughnasadh involved gatherings, religious ceremonies, athletic contests, feasting, matchmaking and trading, and all this we could witness during the festival in Nasavrky.
Every historical group prepared something. Not everyone is skilled in blacksmithing or weaving, so the festival is a perfect opportunity to exchange goods on the “Iron Age” fair.
Blacksmiths working at the festival venue
There were many fights and training during the festival
I didn’t see any matchmaking, but there was a Boii wedding performance!
Many things were related to the pagan cult and pagan gods. The most important part was an offering of the first harvest to the Goddess. The whole ceremony was a climax of the event
Nearby the festival venue in Nasavrky (Hradiště), there was an extensive Celtic oppidum, which you can find by just following the educational footpath. Although nowadays the oppidum looks like “any other hill in the neighborhood”, during the Iron Age it used to be a big, fortified Celtic settlement – almost like a “Celtic city”, inhabited by hundreds or thousands of people. Oppidum was an extensive center of business, territory management and spiritual sphere, something like the capital city of the whole tribal territory.
Celtic festival in Nasavrky – Practical information
The easiest way to get to Nasavrky is to get to Prague, then, take a train to Pardubice, and a local bus from Pardubice to Nasavrky. Nasavrky is a really small town, and the bus stops in the central square. The buses are quite old and there’s no announcement of the bus stop, so just in case ask the bus driver to let you out at your stop.
In the center of town, there are a few local shops open during the day. There are also some festival stalls with souvenirs and food stalls/food trucks. It is also possible to get a shower in a common bathroom in the center of town. It’s ok, but be aware that when we were there no cabin has any door or cover, so you may have to take a shower with other people in the room…
There is also a free camping site, so don’t forget your tent!
The festival is dog-friendly, and all dogs are allowed at the venue. However, it is necessary to follow safety regulations and have the dog on a leash at all times.
Tickets for the festival
Adults (+15) 360 CZK (1 euro = 26 CZK), teenagers under 15, seniors and disabled people 240 CZK. Children under 6 y.o. – free of charge. There are also family tickets (990 CZK) and separate tickets for the evening concerts only. All tickets can be bought at the venue. It is also possible to buy cheaper tickets in advance. For more information click here.
This year, the 11th Celtic Festival in Nasavrky will be held on the weekend 28th – 29th July 2017. Where exactly is it? Check it on the map!
When we visited Nasavrky two years ago, the Celtic Village was still under construction. Happily, everything is finished and this year the festival will take place in Celtic Village in Nasavrky. For more practical information about participation in the Lughnasad Festival in Nasavrky, take a look here.
Joining the historical festival in Nasavrky was a real pleasure and discovering more about the Celts was such a surprise!
*I found an explanation that the tribe’s name translates as ‘cow’, making them the first ‘cowboii’ (the root word ‘bo’ means ‘cow’). Another theory associates the name of the tribe with ‘boio’ – ‘a warrior’. So the Boii were either “the herding people” or “the warrior people.”
** Boii is an NGO founded in autumn 2002 to preserve and present to the public Celtic roots in Nasavrki and its surroundings. Since then the association and its activities have expanded, but the main objective of their activity remains the same – they strive to preserve historical traditions in of the region and throughout the Czech Republic. They also take care of the Keltský archeoskanzen (Celtic archaeological open air museum) in Nasavrky. Still, under construction, the open-air museum is a full reconstruction of the Celtic settlement from the Iron Age (2nd – 1st century BC). Read more about the project here.
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