The feast of the Annunciation, 25 March, also known in many areas as “Lady Day in March”, is one of the three “Lady Days” which are widely celebrated across Ireland, the other two being Candlemas which falls on 2 February and Harvest Lady Day which falls on 15 August. Observed in memory of the visit to the Virgin Mary by the Archangel Gabriel at which she discovered she would be the mother of the son of God, Jesus Christ.
If the Feast of the Annunciation fell in Lent the obligations of the Lentern season were relaxed. The day was a social occasion with many attending patrons and fairs, which were often the sites of boisterous behaviour. In 1816 the Reverend James Neligan who was Rector and Victor in the Parish of Kilmactigue in County Sligo complained that while all types of work were avoided on the three Lady Days no efforts were made by the local population to ‘refrain from sports, pastimes, cursing or swearing, or frequenting tippling houses, and drinking to excess.’
While the Feast of the Annunciation has a strong religious and social associations, the feast also had a civic significance. Kevin Danaher points out that before the introduction of the Georgian Calendar in 1752 the 25 March was the official start of the year, and therefore a day when rent was due, known as a “Gale Day” in Ireland. Rents were generally collected twice a year in the times when landlords were plentiful, the most popular “Gale Days” fell on the first of May and the first of November, however, in some areas including parts of Kilkenny and Leitrim up until at least the end of the nineteenth century the 25 March and 29 September (Michaelmas) were still the preferred days for collecting rent and beginning contracts. Possibly because the Feast of the Annunciation fell on a “Gale Day” bad weather was expected to occur, while if the feast fell on the same day as Easter Sunday, according to Kevin Danaher, the “people feared that the following harvest would be poor.”
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