The Holywood Maypole

Holywood’s most famous landmark is its Maypole. There was a Maypole in Holywood in 1625. Wooden Maypoles do not last for ever, so the Holywood Maypole has been continually replaced for nearly 400 years. There is a legend that, in about 1700, sailors from a wrecked Dutch ship used a ship’s mast as their Maypole. We do know that John Harrison of Holywood House built a Maypole in the mid-nineteenth century and his nephew Henry replaced it in 1902. Yet another Pole fell over in 1943, narrowly missing passengers in a bus queue. The present one was constructed in 1996.

From earliest times, the Holywood Maypole doubled as a flag-pole, with flags and pennants being flown on special occasions. Nowadays, a flag is flown on it every day, sometimes lowered to half-mast to mark the death of a local person.

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Dancing around the Holywood Maypole probably took place in the 1620s. It definitely existed in 1800 when a fiddler, who sat in a chair perched on a table top, accompanied the dancing. A description in 1850 explains how a gentleman might invite a lady to dance with him around the flower-decked pole, their dance being concluded by a kiss.

May Queens, and sometimes May Kings were often part of the festivities. It was usual to decorate the Pole with flowers and ribbons. For very many years, the Holywood Pole included a weather vane and models of sailing boats, the present ones having been made by the Carty family.

The custom of dancing around the Maypole was revived in 1954. The present May Day Festival came into existence in 1983, with the streets given over to stalls and entertainments. The central event remains Maypole Dancing.

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