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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Fridays, the Fairies & Stolen Brides

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Ireland –

Goblin Market - Arthur Rackham Goblin Market – Arthur Rackham

Lady Wilde;

‘The creation of Adam, the Fall, the expulsion from Eden, and the death of Christ, all took place on a Friday; hence its evil repute and fatal influence, above all other days of the week, upon human actions. But the fairies have great power on that day, and mortals should stay at home after sunset, for the fairies always hold their revels upon Fridays, and resent being interfered with or troubled by the human presence.’

‘On Fridays the fairies have special powers over all things, and chiefly on that day they select and carry off the young mortal girls as brides for the fairy chiefs. But after seven years, when the girls grow old and ugly, they send them back to their kindred, giving them, however, as compensation, a knowledge of herbs and philtres and secret spells, by which they can kill…

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A Vigil for the Feast of Saint Francis in Athlone

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Westmeath-

3 October –

athlone-castle Athlone by Richard Lovett, circa 1900

J.G. Conmee. Glanduff, 1902;

‘The Feast of St. Francis was a day of great devotion in the Barony, and fifty years ago it was the custom for a crowd of its good people to gather into the St. Francian Church at Luainford [Athlone] to keep not only the day itself, but even its Vigil.

The whole night before a throng of country people sat up in the little church, and passed the time in the familiar and homely practices of piety then so dear to them. Foremost among these was the Rosary – the decades being “let round” by men or women of recognised social or spiritual superiority – not within a mild contention now and then as to whether it was Pat Ryan’s or Mrs. Murphy’s turn to officiate, or whether the fifth “dicket” had or had not been…

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