Feast Day of Saint Catherine in Ireland

thefadingyear

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

thefadingyear

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

thefadingyear

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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