Ireland Guide

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Celebrate the Butter Season at UCC

May Day Milk Magic at University College Cork

[Thursday, 14th April 2016, free admission - details below]

Sweet cream butter, fermented cream butter, fresh milk butter, fermented milk butter and even whey butter and bog butter: Ireland has a long association with butter and butter-making, and today we produce superlative products that are sought after across the globe. In the traditional agricultural pattern of the year, the most important time for milk and butter-making was in the summer months.

By association, the most important calendar day to mark the beginning of the butter season was May Day or Beltaine, which ran from dusk on the 30th April to dusk on the 1st May.

The festival celebrated butter-making but it also was a time to be cautious and attentive to the butter profit of the months to come and the day was very much concerned with butters stealers who had skill in charming your butter profit to themselves. An extensive body of Irish folklore and superstition gives detail of the butter-stealers and their activities on May Day. At times, certain local women, often in the guise of hares, were believed to be active in nefarious affairs that doomed butter-making for the coming season. Their magic, and the magic of the fairies, was feared and various safeguard measures were put in place by the farming community.

Butter was not only important as an item in the diet but the sale of butter was also crucial to the economic health of rural communities and therefore protecting this home industry was of great importance to women, their households and indeed to the commercial butter markets.

This year to celebrate May Day, University College Cork will host an afternoon of milk and butter magic as part of its contribution to the Cork Lifelong Learning Festival. The afternoon will look at the science of butter-making, the craft and practice of butter-making and the history and folklore of May Day.

The University has an international reputation of excellence for its dairy science research outputs and Professor Alan Kelly, School of Food and Nutritional Sciences, will lead off the afternoon with his presentation on how dairy products are made and how the art of making butter and cheese, both of which have been made for centuries, is now understood in the scientific world.

We will also have butter-maker Breda McDonald from the ICA who will speak about and demonstrate the craft of butter-making using a variety of table-top and dash churns. And food and culinary historian, Regina Sexton, will speak about the folklore of the May Day with her presentation Hags and Hares; Milk and Mayhem: the rituals and superstitions of May Day milk magic.

Regina Sexton

May Day Milk Magic at University College Cork

Thursday, 14th April, 2016

Venue: Aula Maxima

Time: 3 – 5pm

Admission is free and all are welcome

For further details please ring 021 4904700 or email



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