This paper explores the historical role and significance of feasting and food in the communal religious play cycles performed at the Plen An Gwary (Place of the play) in St Just, Cornwall – one of two such medieval open-air amphitheatres to survive into the present day. The play cycles performed here, such as the Ordinalia – a cycle which has its origins in the plays performed across Cornwall from the 14th century – were sizable affairs, drawing large crowds from far across the county and lasting for days or even weeks. As a matter of course, performances were arranged around feast days, when Cornwall’s vastly rural labouring population could best find time to attend, and this association with feasting and celebration of holiday would become an in intrinsic aspect the plays themselves. Fairs would spring up around the plays to feed, cater to and provide further entertainment to the attracted audience; a practice which endures in to the present day at the Lafrowda festival.
The Old Irish word feis, having the sense of nighttime entrainment and food, and cuirmthige (‘ale-house’), occur in a number of early Irish law texts and are associated with a number of different Old Irish assembly words. However, the exact relationship between feasting, ale-houses, and different kinds of early Irish public assembly is not well understood. In this paper, I seek to provide a brief reassessment of the evidence for feasting as preserved in the law texts. I attempt to identify which specific types of early Irish assembly were identified as accompanied by an element of feasting or drinking.