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the Spring Equinox

"When the gorse is out of bloom, kissing is out of fashion."

~ Traditional

Spring is just around the corner! The Spring Equinox, typically occurring between March 20 or 21 in the Northern Hemisphere, marks the beginning of spring and the end of winter, and is historically associated with the pagan festival of Ostara. Ostara, related to the Old English goddess name of Ēostre, was said to have the shoulders and head of a hare and symbolized fertility, renewal, and rebirth. It is from this festival that the Christian celebration of Easter evolved (as well as loose associations with the Easter Bunny) and is the second of the three spring celebrations: Imbolc, Ostara, and Beltane.

One of the primary signals of spring in the highlands is the appearance of the brilliant yellow Furze, also known as Gorse or Whin, a perennial evergreen shrub belonging to the pea family. It forms a much branched, stunted shrub usually no taller than six feet high. 

The leaves are very small and in older plants they form into long needle-like thorns. The word furze is derived from the Anglo-Saxon name ‘fyrs’, and gorse from the Anglo Saxon ‘gorst’, which means ‘a waste’ this being a reference to the open moorlands where it is often found.

In the Celtic Ogham Tree alphabet, gorse is linked to the 14th letter for O – in old Gaelic known as onn or oir (gold). Bees love gorse, and it's a good source of food for them on warm winter days and in early spring.

The Welsh bard Taliesin tells that Furze (Gorse) is being badly behaved 'until he is subdued' and this refers to the old practice of routinely burning the sharp thorned bushes at around the time of the Spring Equinox, so that tender new growth could be grazed by sheep.

For more photography from Niall Corbet, click the gorse hills.

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