Ash Wednesday & “drawing the log”



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…

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Shrove Tuesday as Skellig Night

0590a9a9c9331edff417d575d312ea29In the south of Ireland up until the early years of the twentieth century Shrove Tuesday was popularly known as “Skellig Night”, and named after a belief that Lent began a week later on the Skellig Rocks, a set of islands which lie off the west-coast of County Kerry. Those who were thought to be eligible to marry, but had failed to do so during Shrovetide, were mockingly encouraged to go to the Skelligs on Shrove Tuesday night where there was still a chance to be wedded before Lent.* Skellig Lists were drawn up, written by local poets in doggerel verse, these lists were less concerned with naming courting couples, but with linking the names of persons from the community who were considered the least likely to marry each other; so that old were matched with young, rich with poor, and foes with each other. The Skellig Lists were widely distributed within the community, and sold in large quantities, while also appearing in newspapers, on lampposts, church doors and the fronts of other public buildings, where they were recited before large crowds of spectators, which often included those whose names appeared on the lists.

Skellig Night on South Mall by James Beale, 1845. Available to view at Crawford Art Gallery, County Cork

As the evening wore on more boisterous activities were resorted to, with many symbolically being encouraged to make a trip to the Skelligs. The late nineteenth century American folklorist Jeremiah Curtain noted that in the village of Cahirciveen, County Kerry, the ‘boys and girls from eight to fifteen years of age were out with ropes to lasso any girl of marriageable age whom they could find. If they caught one, they tried to drag her to the river and throw her in, because the time had expired and she was not married.’ While an article from a 1916 issue of the Folklore Journal explained that previously Macroom, County Cork, it was the men who were targeted by bands of youths for their failure to marry before lent; ‘the party holding a rope, would watch for his approach, and then divide and half would go one way, the rest on the other side round their victim, to wind him in the rope. Meanwhile a song would be improvised, to the effect that “Paddy Leary is an old man and ought to be married,” setting forward the merits and demerits of the accused, his worldly possessions, and the reasons why he ought to marry. This in rough rhyme would be chanted, and the doggerel sent round to the neighbours that they might sing and laugh him into matrimony.’

Going to the Skelligs seems to have been literal as well as symbolic, according to an 1895 article in the Journal of the Cork Historical & Archaeological Society, it was claimed that previously those who had failed to marry, male and female, were forced to walk barefoot on Skellig Rocks on Shrove Tuesday night, and that additionally they were expected to gather amounts of bogwood in proportion to the number of Shrovetides they had let pass without marrying. While the Reverend Patterson, the chaplain of her Majesties Forces in Cork in 1889 mentioned that the priest in the parish which includes the Skelligs, reportedly used to marry couples on the Great Skellig during Lent, Patterson maintains word of these wedding spread throughout Munster and gave the Skellig Islands their reputation as a place where couples could be joined in holy matrimony after Shrove Tuesday.

Shrove Tuesday was at one time the most popular day of the year for weddings in Ireland. As the Catholic Church previously forbid weddings to take place during Lent and Easter those who failed to get married by Shrove Tuesday were forced to wait till Low Sunday; the Sunday after Easter. Often if one had not married by Shrove Tuesday a year could lapse before an opportunity presented itself again; responsibilities to the land with tilling and harvest work prevented many from marrying from late spring until winter, while Advent and Christmas were also times when marriage was forbidden, leaving Shrovetide as the best opportunity for many to marry.

*A disagreement between the Irish Church and the Roman Catholic Church in calculating the date Easter and therefore when Lent should fall continued until the seventh century. Due to the remoteness of the monastic community who inhabited Skellig Michael, while the disagreement continued between the two churches, a belief persisted up until the twentieth century, that the monks never heard about the change in date of Easter, and therefore Lent started a week later on the Skelligs than in the rest of Ireland.


Curtin, Jeremiah. Memoirs of Jeremiah Curtin. Edited by Joseph Schafer. Wisconsin, 1941.

Mac Lir, Mananaan. ‘The Folklore of Months’. Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, 1895.

Patterson, Rev P.S, Chaplain to Her Majesty’s Forces in Cork, Notes & Queries, 1889.

Folklore  (various articles, 1881-1916).


Pancake Tuesday & Marriage Predictions

James Mooney, 1889;

Tossing Pancakes on Shrove Tuesday – Daniel Maclise, 1806-1870

‘In the evening, the young folks – and the old ones as well – gather round the turf fire to learn by “tossing a pancake,” what is to be the of their future marriage ventures. A crock of butter having been prepared a part is poured out on the pan to form the first cake, which is consigned to the care of the oldest unmarried daughter.

At the proper time she turns the cake with a dexterous toss up the chimney, and if it comes down smoothly on the other side in the pan, she can have her choice of a husband whenever she likes, if, on the other hand, it falls into the ashes or comes down with a corner doubled over, she cannot marry for at least a year. This is also regarded as an omen of ill-fortune with an accepted lover, and is so strong in the feeling that engagements have been broken off for no other reason.

The lucky tosser of the first cake at once shares it with the other girls. On eating it there is generally found in one slice the mother’s wedding ring and in another a piece of furze, both having been put in the batter before baking. Whoever gets the ring will be most happy in her future choice, while the other will remain unmarried.’

‘Holiday Customs of Ireland’, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Held at Philadelphia, for Promoting Useful Knowledge, Vol. 26 Number 190.

Saint Gobnait’s Day – 11 February



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…

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Candlemas Day



10580335_10207354753999917_670154111_nDublin 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.’

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