Saint Finian’s Day

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Laois-

patternDay

Rev John Baldwin, Curate – 1819; ‘The people of Rearymore Parish annually assemble, on the 12th of December, at Saint Finian’s well, to celebrate the festival of their Patron Saint. The well consists of three or four holes in the solid rock always full of water, and is surrounded by old hawthorns, which are religiously preserved by the natives: it is also customary for the common people to go round this well on their bare knees, by way of penance and mortification.’

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

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The Feast of the Immaculate Conception

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Monaghan –

Patrick_Kavanagh Wilshire Collection – National Library of Ireland

Patrick Kavanagh;

‘The eight of December is a Catholic holiday. Since nineteen hundred and twenty-two, my career as a young gangster touched the high spot, fused and went out.

‘Will ye come out with the Mummers?’ a fellow asked me.

‘I wouldn’t think twice of it if I knew the rhymes,’ I said.

‘Rhymes be hanged,’ he said, ‘ye know enough.’

There were about fifteen lads in our troupe of Mummers. I had an insignificant role at the tail of the play. I wore an old black bowler hat and a cardboard false face.

19th century Oxfordshire Mummers Oxfordshire Mummers – late Nineteenth Century

We headed across, jumping drains and scrambling over hedges. We were well received by the people, hardly any house barred its door against us. We carried a melodeon though none of us could play the instrument. The old folk in the…

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Feast Day of Saint Catherine in Ireland

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25 November-

saint-catherines-well-killybegs St. Catherine’s Well, Killybegs, circa 1940. Valentine Photographic Collection, National Library of Ireland

Despite having spent all of her short life in Egypt Saint Catherine Alexandria was, at one time, among the most revered saints in Ireland. The many religious institutions named after Saint Catherine give some indication of the saint’s widespread veneration in Ireland over previous centuries, but it is perhaps Saint Catherine’s Bed, one of six penitential beds,  at Lough Derg that gives the greatest indication of the high position she previously held among the saints of Ireland.

As Saint Catherine is considered, at least in Ireland, to be the patron saint of  seafaring* it is natural that her cult has remained strongest in places like the coastal parishes of  Killybegs in Donegal and  Ventry in  Kerry,  both of which have Catherine as their patron saint. Saint Catherine’s Feast Day, 25 November, has continued to be observed…

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The New Moon

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Galway

Sidereus_Nuncius_sickle_moon

John Canon O’Hanlon (Lageniensis) , 1870;

‘In Galway a salutation to the new moon was, and perhaps is still, made, by the person kneeling down, reciting a Pater or Ave, and then saying, “Oh Moon! May thou leave us safe, as thou hast found us!” Another form of salutation used in Galway, and which might be applied to any phase of the moon, was to make a sign of the Cross, and to say in an undertone, “God and the holy Virgin be about me!” Then followed this verse –

“I see the moon, and the moon sees me;

God bless the moon, and God bless me!”

Another Galway version, and a mode for females saluting the new moon, are tripping to the nearest stile, or gate, and looking over it thrice. Then the person looks up to the moon, and exclaims –

“All hail to thee, moon! All…

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Spilling Blood on Saint Martin’s Eve

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Saint Martin’s Eve –

10 November;

395-p-e-somerville-the-goose-girl The Goose Girl – Edith Sommerville, 1888. Crawford Gallery, Cork.

The tradition of sacrificing a fowl or farm animal on Saint Martin Eve was once widespread in Ireland, and was still strong in many parts of the country into our grandparents’ times. The type of animal slaughtered depended on the means of the household; in wealthier households a pig, lamb, calf, or other animal was generally chosen, while in the majority of households, especially as the nineteenth century progressed, the slaughter of a fowl, generally a goose, chicken, or duck became the most widespread offering to the saint.

Once the creature was slaughtered, to protect the household from evil and to encourage prosperity in the coming year, the blood was spilled and sprinkled over the threshold, about the windows, and in each corner of the dwelling, in some cases, the byre, stables and other…

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All Souls’ Day

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Kildare, 2 November

Barry-interior William Gerald Barry (1864-1941), ‘An Old Woman and Children in a Cottage Interior’, circa 1910. (Crawford Art Gallery, Cork)

‘It is said that on this one day of the year the souls of the dead are allowed to re-visit their native districts*; and if only the human eye had the power to see them, they would be observed about one on every side “as plenty as thranteens in an uncut meadow.”

At night time it is customary in every house to light a candle in memory of each member of a family who has died. They are placed in an unused room and allowed to burn till midnight, when, after praying for the souls of the dead, they are extinguished, as by that time the souls themselves have returned to rest.

At the last thing at night the hearth is swept clean, and on it are placed…

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The Púca, and Blackberries after Hallowe’en

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Monaghan, 1 November –

Catalogue_(1901)_(20373517278)

Henry Morris in 1915, recounting beliefs from his Childhood in the Farney Barony;

‘Nice ripe blackberries are sweet and palatable; but hungry boys and girls will eat blackberries that are neither sweet or palatable. However after ‘Oidhche Shamhna’ or Hallow Eve no blackberries are eaten. And why? Because on that night the púca* goes abroad and crawls over the blackberries covering them with an invisible slime, and where is the boy or girl who would eat a berry soiled with the púca’s slime. The fact seems to be that blackberries after that date are stale and unwholesome. But the púca’s slime is the great deterrent.’

*Sometimes spelled pooka, is a shape-shifting spirit/fairy/ghost, often taking the form of a black horse, with some describing it as resembling a mix between a mule a bullock and a big black pig. The púca is also said to befoul blackberries at…

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Processions, Tributes & the Láir Bhán at Samhain

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Cork –

14805450_10154407360599017_521307844_n Illustration by Niamh Ní Ruairc of Wytchwood Creations, 2016.

William Hackett, 1853;

‘It is not many years since on Samhain’s eve, 31st October, a rustic procession perambulated the district between Ballycotton and Trabolgan, along the coast.

The parties represented themselves as messengers of Muck Olla, in whose name they levied contributions on farmers; as usual they were accompanied by sundry youths, sounding lustily on cows’ horns; at the head of the procession was a figure enveloped in a white robe or sheet, having, as it were, the head of a mare, this personage was called the Láir Bhán, “the white mare,” he was a sort of president or master of ceremonies. A long string of verses was recited at each house.

In the second dispatch we distinctly mentioned two names savouring strongly of paganism, the archaeological reader will understand what they were. Though they did not disturb the…

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Halloween Divination in Ireland

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1871-ireland-blindfolded-man-game-candle-light Illustrated London News, 1871

In Ireland Hallowe’en is the most popular night of the year to practice divination, which provides much amusement and excitement. As summer turns to winter on this night, the boundaries between this world and the Otherworld are believed to be less pronounced, and so on Hallowe’en many games, rituals and rites were, and still are, performed partly in jest and partly in earnest, with the object of gaining insight into one’s fate.

One activity involved setting several objects out in saucers or plates, which were then laid on a table. The chosen objects varied from one region to another, and even between different households, but generally a few of the following were included; a ring, a piece of wood, clay, a bean, a coin, salt,  water, a button or a thimble. Once the saucers were set, a blindfolded person, seat before them would pick one, the item which…

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The Dead Among Us – Hallowe’en in Irish Folklore

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james-waltr-gozzard James Walter Gozzard 1888-1950

The souls of the dead were believed to be able to walk among the living between Hallowe’en and All Souls Day. When darkness fell great care was taken by the living to honour and extend hospitality to their own departed. To welcome the wandering dead on Hallowe’en, front doors were left open, food was prepared, and seats were set by the fire, which was built to burn through the night. Before the household retired to bed prayers were said and candles lit for the souls of those family members who had passed away. In parts of County Wexford candles served another purpose, and were placed in the windows of houses to assist departed loved ones in finding their past homes.

While released from their suffering the hospitality extended to the dead was, in part, offered out of respect, but also as a precautionary measure, as the dead…

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