Grace O’Malley Heather Infused Irish Gin features defining aromatics from the West Coast of Ireland including heather, which gives it its distinctively fresh, floral finish. Amongst its fragrant botanicals is the fraughan, or bilberry, a berry that grows in the wild on small evergreen shrubs.
While the flavours of fraughan and heather complement each other in our wonderful gin, the shrub the fraughan grows on is also part of the heather family. Both thrive in acid rich soils so you’ll often find them growing happily alongside each other on hillsides all over Ireland. And while it’s not as well-known today as the common heather, in ancient Ireland the fraughan was celebrated, having a day all to itself, the last Sunday of July, also known as Fraughan Sunday.
The Irish have a long tradition of celebrating festivals, mainly influenced by the seasonal Celtic pagan rituals and Christian feast days. Most festivals involve a gathering, food and drink of some variety and of course, singing, dancing and playing musical instruments. One of the main Celtic festivals is Lughnasa, a time when people gathered and made offerings to the god Lugh in thanks for the summer harvest. The first berries of the summer harvest were the fraughan berries and the pagan practice of climbing hills to gather these berries became a day of fairs, feasting and courting.
Traditionally this last Sunday in July became known as Fraughan Sunday, a day spent gathering bilberries, a task that could take all day. With young men and women spending long hours together on hillsides hunting for these small blue-black berries, this day also became associated with new love and a time for courting. The fraughans were baked in cakes and presented as part of the courtship ritual that continued with dancing and celebrating on the evening of Fraughan Sunday.
Lughnasa is a time associated with many gatherings, celebrations, festivals and expeditions on mountains and hilltops where fires were often lit. Some of these traditions have survived in a similar form through the introduction of Christianity. The last Sunday of July is also known as Reek Sunday, Domhnach na Cruaiche, a day when thousands will gather in Co. Mayo to climb Ireland’s holiest mountain, Croagh Patrick.
In other areas, this last Sunday in July is known as Garland Sunday, a day when people would honour the dead. Garlands were made from vines and taken to the churchyard to be broken apart and scattered across the graves while a ‘keening’ or wailing lament for the dead took place. Feasting and dancing followed close-by for the rest of the evening.
It was obligatory to show hospitality to strangers on the evening of Garland Sunday, particularly as it was the end of the ‘hungry season’. The new potatoes were in, the harvest began to bear fruit and the fraughan berries were gathered.
No one does gatherings quite like the Irish. What better way to celebrate than to remember those who have gone before us, to create and share in new love and friendships and to enjoy time with the loved ones still amongst us.
While we can’t vouch for the taste of the fraughan cake, we do love what this sweet little berry brings in subtle flavour to our Grace O’Malley Heather Infused Gin.
So here’s to Grace, and to all summer gatherings, to love, luck and good fortune, wherever in the world you are!