Saint Patrick’s Day – Shamrocks & Crosses

Dublin & Kildare-

Journal of the kildare 1906-08 V-page-509

‘Observed as a holy-day. A sprig of shamrock (or “shamroge” as the peasants call it) is worn in the hats of men. Opinions differ greatly as what is the genuine shamrock; the trefoils which are generally sold in Dublin for some days before the anniversary of the saint’s death are two one rooted varieties: one having a small pink clover blossom, and the other (I think) a yellow flower; both of which are easily gathered. According to the old people, “the rale of errib” is that which sends out branches from the main root, and which themselves takes root at the nodes (i.e. the starting point of the leaves) as they creep along the ground, therefore forming more branches. The flower resembles a small white clover blossom; this trefoil is probably not found on sale in Dublin, owing to the trouble in grubbing it up. The best place to find shamrock is along the edge of a public roads, where it extends beyond the grassy sod.

Young girls and small children wear on the right shoulder “a St. Patrick’s Cross” consisting of a single or double cross formed of pieces of narrow silk ribbon stitched to a circular disk of white paper, nicked at the edge, and measuring from 8 to 4.5 inches in diameter. At the ends of the arms of the cross a very small bow or rosette is fixed, and one a trifle longer at the junction of the arms; the more and the brighter the colours of the silk, the more handsome is considered the St. Patrick’s Cross. Those crosses sold in the Dublin slums are made on the same principle, except that instead of gaudy pieces of silk being stitched to the disk, coloured paper, cut into the devices, is gummed as a substitute.

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Saint Patrick’s Day, 1867 – Charles Henry Cook

“The Drowning of the Shamrock” by no means implies that it is necessary to get drunk in doing so. At the end of the day the shamrock that has been worn in the coat or the hat is removed and put into the final glass of grog or tumbler of punch; and when the health has being drunk or the toast honoured, the shamrock should be picked out of the bottom of the glass and thrown over the left shoulder.’

Jounal of the Kildare Historical & Archaeological Society, 1906-8.

The Full Moon & Divination

Kildare, –

Full Moon
Full Moon, Nathan W. Pearse, Albumen Print – circa 1850’s

John O’Hanlon (Lageniensis), 1870;

‘Great honour used to be paid to the full moon; and it was the witching time for young girls to pry into their futurity, with a hope of obtaining, in their dreams, a sight of husbands in store for them.

The invocation, used at this period, as related by a Kildare woman, runs in this form:-

“Good morrow, Full Moon:

Good morrow to thee!

Tell, ere this time to-morrow,

Who my true love will be-

The colour of his hair,

The clothes he will wear,

And the day he’ll be married to me.”’

Irish Folk Lore

The Reverend John Canon O’Hanlon was a hagiographer and folklorist, he is most famous for his Lives of the Irish Saints which was published between 1875 and 1905.

Chalk Sunday

Kilkenny –

Chalk Sunday ILN 1931859
Illustrated London News

‘The first Sunday in Lent is styled “Chalk Sunday” from a custom indulged in by the village belles of Kilkenny, of chalking all over the clothes of inveterate bachelors who have eluded the trammels of Hymen, during the preceding Shrovetide, which season is looked forward to by the unmarried portion of the Irish peasantry as the period of the year in which those who are inclined to commence housekeeping are induced to make up their minds on that important subject ere the commencement of Lent; for during that season all matrimonial transactions are suspended; and those who allow Shrovetide to glide by unheeded generally remain “in maiden mediation fancy free” until that time twelve months, when another opportunity of matrimony is afforded them.

When an unlucky wight of the bachelor genus appears abroad in his Sunday suit on this day, on his way either to or from church, he is sure to be surrounded by a group of mischievious merry maidens each armed with a lump of chalk. Resistance is useless, for if he escapes one party he is certain of being caught by another; until, at last he is striped all over in such a style of vagiegation as might excite the envy of a harlequin. This opperation is intended to mark for the special example of the class to which he voluntarily belongs and to afford amusement to his neighbours.’

Illustrated London News 1859.

Ash Wednesday & “drawing the log”

Waterford-

19th-century-Waterford-city
A View of Waterford City, William Henry Bartlett, 1830s

Samuel Carter Hall & Anna Maria Hall, 1842;

‘In Waterford, some years ago, the lower classes had a species of amusement, we believe peculiar to them; it was practiced on Ash-Wednesday, and was called “drawing the log.”

It was instituted as a penitential exercise to the bachelors and maidens who permitted Lent to arrive without “joining in the holy bands.” The log was a large piece of timber, to which a long rope was attached; it was drawn through the streets of the city, followed by a crowd of men and boys of the lowest grade armed with bludgeons, shouting and hollowing “Come draw the log, come draw the log; bachelors and maidens come draw the log.” The party had generally a piper, who squeezed from his bags the most noted of the nationalist airs; and it was no small part of the frolic to see the poor minstrel upset in the mire by the jolting of the unwieldy piece of timber over the rugged stones with which the streets were paved. The most scandalous scenes of cruelty often occurred; young men and young women often being forced from their homes, tied to “the log,” and dragged through the city.

The custom has, of late years, been, very properly, discontinued.’

Hall’s Ireland

Shrove Tuesday – the Greatest Day for Weddings & Pancakes

Clare-

developments
Harry Clarke, 1924

Rev John Graham, 1816;

Union of Kilrush, Killard, Kilfierard, Moyferta & Kilbarrryhone:

‘Shrove Tuesday is the greatest day in the year for weddings; and Roman Catholic priests are generally occupied in celebration of matrimony from sunrise to midnight. The general fee on this occasion is two guineas and a half, and many thoughtless couples, under the age of sixteen, pay it with cheerfulness, when they have not another penny in their possession. They who do not marry on this day must wait until Easter Monday, on account of the intervening Lent.
The usual desert and supper on Shrove Tuesday is the pancake, small pieces of them rolled up in a stocking, and placed under a lover’s pillow, are found to be very efficacious in producing prophetic dreams to console those who are compelled to defer their matrimonial engagements from Ash Wednesday to Easter-Monday.’

William Shaw Mason, A Statistical Account or Parochial Survey of Ireland ii

Folklore for Mondays

Fairhead village, Galway
Fairhead Village,  County Galway, 1902

As the first day of the week, Mondays were traditionally believed to hold an ominous influence over the following days of the week, with the old phrase ‘good Monday, good week, and bad Monday, bad week’ being universally popular throughout Ireland a century ago. As a consequence of this belief it was deemed to be unlucky to perform certain actions on that day. In many areas people objected to going into new situations or allowing anything to be borrowed on a Monday, from fear that in doing so they’d be giving away that week’s luck. The opening of graves on a Monday was avoided, whenever possible, as attending to a burial on a Monday was believed to encourage death during the remaining days of that week. While in County Leitrim, at least, it was considered unlucky to mention the Fairies on Monday, if one did mistakenly make reference to the fairies they should immediately say “My back to them and my face from them.” Many barbers still close their shops on a Monday and maybe it’s just as well as there is an old Irish belief that getting your hair cut on a Monday encourages baldness, with the curse Lomradh an Luain ort, “the shearing of Monday on you” being well known throughout Kerry a century ago.

 

attendingtothebride

The similarities between the Irish words for Monday ‘Dia Luain’ and Doomsday ‘Lá an Luain’ appear to have heightened Monday’s sinister reputation in Ireland. In some areas Monday seems to have been ill-favoured for contracting marriage; legend has it that Saint Patrick banished the snakes from Ireland barring their return until Judgement Day, but the confusion between Lá an Luain and Dia Luain resulted in a reluctance to get married on a Monday, as a Mrs Borland from Derrynane in County Kerry remarked just under a century ago, ‘what would be the use being married the day the snakes returned?’ In another legend, with a similar theme, Lough Foyle is said to mean the borrowed lake, in this legend a witch from Ulster asked her younger sister from Connacht into allowing her borrow the lough until the following Monday. The younger sister agrees to this request, rolls up the lake and carries it across mountains and valleys to her older sister in Ulster, but when Monday arrives the older sister refuses to return the lake insisting that she was promised the lake not just till Monday but until the day of judgement.

Saint Gobnait’s Day – 11 February

Limerick-

saint-gobnait
Stained glass window by Harry Clarke, 1916 in Honan Chapel, Cork

Mananaan Mac Lir;

‘The 11th of February is the Feast of St Gobinet. At this date a large cattle fair – “the fair of St Gobinet’s Well” – was, up till recent times, held in the townland of Kilgobinet (“Gobinet’s church”), near Ballyagran (Baile Atha Grean “the ford mouth of gravel”) village, about four miles west of Bunree, county Limerick. “Rounds” were also paid to St. Gobinet’s Holy Well there, and all the marriageable young men took care to stand on the hillock in the fair green, locally known as Cnocán a bouchailli ie. “the boy’s hillock,” or, literally, “the hillock of the cowherd.” For it is a well-known fact that the young man who stood on Cnocán a bouchailli on St Gobinet’s Day and invoked her intercession was certain (unless his own fault) to be “well married” – that is, a prosperous or wealthy match – against that day twelve months. The fair, notwithstanding this paramount attraction, is extinct for the past dozen years, and with the fair is also gone the custom of standing on the “cowboy’s hillock.”

In this (the county Limerick) district, Gobinet is translated into Deborah, while in the county Cork it is rendered Abina or Judith.’

 

Journal of the Cork Historical & Archaeological Society, 1895

Candlemas Day

Ireland-

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Dublin Penny Journal, 1845

Lady Wilde;

‘Candlemas Day, the 2nd of February, used to be held in old pagan times as a kind of saternalia, with dances and tourches and many unholy rites. But these gave occasion to so much ill conduct that in the ninth century the Pope abolished the festival, and substituted for it the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, when candles are lit in her honour. Hence the name of Candlemas.

The people make a cake of yellow clay taken from a churchyard, then stick twelve bits of candle in it, and recite their prayers, kneeling round, until all the lights have burned down. A name is given to each light, and the first that goes out betokens death to the person whose name it bears, before the year is out.’

 

Brigid Crosses

Donegal-

Charles McGlinchey, Ballyliffin, recounting a tradition of his youth in the 1860s;

Ulster Folklore Elizabeth Andrews-page-044‘Brigid’s Eve was the night for making crosses. Before the people of the house sat down to supper, a girl belonging to the family went out to bring in the rushes. If there was a girl by the name of Brigid in the house she got the privilege. She knocked on the door and the one inside said:

Oiche Bhríde brichíneach

Bain an ceann den croiceanach,

Gabhaigí ar na glúnaí,

Déanaigí umhlú

Is ligigí isteach Bríd Bheannaithe.

‘Sé beatha, ‘sé beatha, sé beatha.

On St Brigid’s night

Take the head off the rushes,

Go on your knees,

Make obeisance

And let St Brigid in.

You’re welcome, you’re welcome, your welcome.

That was the night my father always said the prayer “Bail na gcúig n-arán.The blessing of the five loaves”.

After we took our supper,all the grown-up ones about the house made the rush-crosses. A cross was made for the kitchen and for above the beds and for all the outhouses. The old people always left a rag of cloth outside on a bush that night till morning. It had the blessing of St Brigid and was used for cures, and against dangers of any kind, like the fever, or lightning, or fire, or drowning. It was called the ‘Bratóg Bhríde’.’

The last of a Name

 

Saint Bridget’s Eve Brideóg Procession

Kildare & Carlow, 31 January –

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Illustration by Niamh Ní Ruairc of Wytchwood Creations

John Canon O’Hanlon (Lageniensis), 1870;

‘In parts of Ireland – especially throughout the dioceses of Kildare and Leighlin – it was customary with the young people to assemble on the eve of St. Bridget’s festival, observed the first day of February, and to carry with them what had been demoninated a Bride-oge, which means in English, The Virgin Brigid. This was formed of a churn-dash, covered with stuff of materials, to fashion it, as near as possible, like a female figure. These materials were usually covered with white calico. A dress of some village belle covered the whole, with an elegant bonnet and fashionable cap surmounting the figure’s head. The Brideoge’s face, however, was round, and perfectly featureless. Frills, tuckers, necklace, and a handsome sash usually decorated this grotesque figure.

A piper and fiddler marched before, playing lively and popular airs; and especially when the crowd of accompanying idlers stopped at each door, in country places and villages, the Bride-oge always obtained an entrance for its bearer.

Young children were often greatly frightened at the unexpected arrival of this unclouth visitant. A lad and lass were told off, footing it merrily to a jig or reel, and, after its conclusion, the director of such proceedings , – his hat decorated with boughs and ribbons – went round with a purse to collect offerings for the Bride-og. These were seldom or ever refused, and they were usually in keeping with the means of liberality of the householder.

Proceeds thus collected were expended on Bridget’s day, in getting up a rustic ball, where tea, cakes, and punch, were in requisition as refreshments. A dance and plays were also organized as part of the evenings amusements. This festive celebration was probably derived from carrying St. Bridget’s shrine in procession, at some remote period. The later travesty, and disorders accompanying it , induced many of the Catholic clergy to discourage such odd practices, and we believe that at present they are almost entirely obsolete.’*

Irish Folk Lore

* Caution should be taken when it is stated that a custom has become, or is becoming obsolete, accounts are often based on personal experience, and customs often decline only to be revived again only to be revived again.

The Bride Oge tradition, described above, continued to be practiced widely throughout Ireland, well into the twentieth-century by both adults and children, with the tradition still continuing in many areas.