I recently saw an event on Facebook for an “Irish Beltane” with the cover picture using a May Pole.
Immediately, I thought of this quote by Kevin Danaher in The Year in Ireland, pages 97-98:
At least one other May pole figured in the tragic evens of 1798. From Kildare we read (Four. Kildare Arch. Soc. v, 446):
‘In some towns the May pole was a permanent fixture: one formerly stood at the junction of the streets in Castledermot; a pump now occupies the site. Earlier still this may have been the site of the market-cross, as funerals passing through the town always make one turn round the present pump. Some rebels are said to have been hanged from the May pole in ’98.
‘The May pole was unknown in the country districts and was probably introduced into the towns by the English.’
Most, if not all, of these seem to bear out the remark in the last excerpt quoted above above, that the May pole is a medieval or later introduction into the towns from England. More recent attempts are known by people with English associations to introduce the ‘polite’ English custom of the May pole to the ‘wild Irish’.
Also, a quote from Lora O’Brien in Irish Witchcraft from an Irish Witch page 159:
I would also like to point out that the maypole so long associated with this festival, though great fun on the day, is not an Irish or even a Celtic custom. It is English. Some Celtic communities have borrowed from it over the years, using living trees in some cases but, as we are sticking to what is truly ours here, we’ll leave that particular piece of misinformation to one side.
Perusing other sources, they all point out that May poles were found in Ireland where the English were located. And given the English’s relationship with Ireland… I don’t think it’s fitting to celebrate an Irish Bealtaine using May poles.
Instead, the Irish made May bushes. Both Danaher and O’Brien talk about this custom. The basic gist is that bushes were decorated with “bright things, colored ribbons, eggshells, and all sorts of trappings and given center stage in proceedings” (O’Brien, pages 159-160.) I personally decorate a small plastic tree I got around the winter holidays with a ribbon and flowers, seen below:
(Traditionally, May bushes would be made with living flora and not…plastic stuff…but I work with what I have.)
Anyways, my point is that that May poles are not Irish. Instead, I recommend making a May bush if you are celebrating an Irish (or Gaelic) Bealtaine.