A lost tale: bilberries and love


Bilberries ready to harvest. Photo from plantlife.org

By Caitlyn McGuire

CORK, Ireland – The bilberry: an ancient berry that’s found among the forests and hills of Ireland. With its history comes a tale of young love.

Evidence of bilberries stretch as far back as 837 (the Viking era) in Dublin, Ireland. And there’s reason to believe they have long been important to the Irish. According to Michael Viney of the Irish Times, when Britain raised their prices for exports of this berry, families took to the hills in southeastern Ireland to fill their baskets and buckets. These families braved wasp nets, thorns and ticks to gather as many bilberries as possible. While this may sound daunting as well as laborious, it may have been worth it due to a darling tradition rooted deep within Irish folk life.

As the bilberry picking was a family affair, young men and women did their fair share of the effort. Spending hours hunting for the berries, many took note of one another. Women, using bilberries collected that day, would make a cake and present it to the man they fancied. This presentation took place as the bilberries began to ripen, on a midsummer day also known as Bilberry Sunday. A dance was held in the evening in which the women presented their cakes. If the man of their liking accepted the cake, the process of courting began.

Bilberry Sunday was to the early Irish what Tinder is to the young and hopeful today. Tinder, a smartphone dating application in which preferences are demonstrated by swiping through photos, could be said to be transactional, not romantic. In our version of the tale of Bilberry Sunday, there is no tangible berry. Oh, and no dance either. Our loss.


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Filed under MU School of Journalism, Science ad Agricultual Journalism

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