Fire on a stick needs fuel, so long before our Torchbearers can shine brightly on Samhuinn night they need to make lots of torchballs to burn. This is no small task as each Torchbearer will use between seven and ten torchballs at Samhuinn and even more at Beltane.
The life of a torchball begins with recycled cotton sheets which we adopt from hospitals and hotels that no longer have any use for them, as well as wax discs from tealight candles. The sheets are ripped into strips, which is surprisingly fun – imagine a tug o’ war where you’re actively trying to destroy the rope – then wrapped by hand around the wax discs until the ball is exactly the right size to fit in a torch. Creating the perfect tension while wrapping the fabric is a little bit art, a little bit science and a little bit Torchie magic.
After that, the torchballs are all soaked in kerosene (Eau de Fuel just might be a Torchbearer’s favourite scent) then drained and packed into airtight casks for storage and transportation before finally being loaded into safely lined bags to be carried through the festival (over the shoulder, under the cloak) and burned to light the performance. A bag full of soaked torchballs is not light and neither is a metal torch. Our Torchbearers are a strong and industrious bunch!
You can see lots more photos of Samhuinn 2016 rehearsals and preparation in this album and group portraits in this album on Facebook. All our content is publically viewable so you can see if even if you don’t have a Facebook account.
Photos (from top) by Alasdair Birchwood, Dan Mosley, David Purvis, Mark Taylor, Martin McCarthy and Neil Barton
The Samhuinn Fire Festival 2016 is at 9pm on Monday 31st October on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. Find out all about it here.