Whipping the Herring out of Town, a scene of Cork -Natanial Gogan, circa 1800 (Available to view in Crawford Gallery, County Cork
Henry Morris, Dundalk;
‘The people of the town kept the fast of Lent so manfully that no meat was eaten there during Lent. This greatly set back the killers of beef, the butchers, and on each Easter Saturday, when their good season was returning they bought a herring, and hung it upon a straight strong lath nine feet long. Then they got big long rods and walked through the town from Gallows Hill to the Big Bridge, beating the poor herring until hardly a fin was left. On reaching the bridge they hurled the horrid herring into the water with insult, and hung up a quarter of lamb decorated with ribbons and flowers in its place, and went back to the market place, playing tunes and loudly boasting…
Good Friday marks the last day of Lent, and traditionally it was strictest day of abstinence in the Lentern season. As far back as the early nineteenth century Good Friday was also known as the “the Black Fast” and/or “hAoine an Chéasta” (Friday of Torture, Good Friday), the latter name in reference to the torture Jesus Christ suffered while being crucified.
Despite the bleak names previously attached to Good Friday it was seldom a day of complete fasting. On the Blasket Islands limpets and winkles, and other sea foods were collected from the strand, while in the south-east of Ireland bread or dry potatoes seem to have been the choice of sustenance for the day. In west-midland areas, however, a near total fast was observed on Good Friday, where all members of the family, including infants at the breast, refrained from taking…
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. The date is 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…
‘Observed as a holy-day. A sprig of shamrock (or “shamroge” as the peasants call it) is worn in the hats of men. Opinions differ greatly as what is the genuine shamrock; the trefoils which are generally sold in Dublin for some days before the anniversary of the saint’s death are two one rooted varieties: one having a small pink clover blossom, and the other (I think) a yellow flower; both of which are easily gathered. According to the old people, “the rale of errib” is that which sends out branches from the main root, and which themselves takes root at the nodes (i.e. the starting point of the leaves) as they creep along the ground, therefore forming more branches. The flower resembles a small white clover blossom; this trefoil is probably not found on sale in Dublin, owing to the trouble in grubbing it up. The best…
‘St. Patrick was a great favourite with the Lord, and He sent His angel to him. to ask what things he desired most to be granted to him. On which the Saint made seven requests, among others, that no Outlander should ever rule over Ireland; that he, Patrick, should alone judge the Irish at the last day, even as the twelve who were deputed to judge
Israel ; and that every Thursday and Saturday twelve souls of the Irish people should be freed from the pains of hell.’
In Ireland the month of March is associated with all types of weather including strong winds, heavy rain, sunshine, and even the icy conditions of winter. The erratic weather that invariably accompanies March, especially the earlier half of the month, made a deep impression on the imaginations and lives of previous generations who lived their lives closer to the land and the changing seasons. References to the strong winds of March are well known in Ireland; the Donegal writer Seamus MacManus described the noise produced during particularly heated bargaining at cattle markets of the late eighteen hundreds as resembling the roaring of east and the west winds passing through the Barnesmore Gap in the Blue Stack Mountains on the first day of March, while John O’Donoghue, who grew up in County Kerry in the opening years of the twentieth century, noted that the old people in his youth feared the harsh winds of March often associating them like the howl of a banshee as an omen of death.
If dry weather preceded the month of March it was taken as an omen that March would be a wet month that year; as Amhlaoimh Ó Súilleabháin noted in his 1831 diary; ‘if the pools aren’t full before March, March itself will fill them.’ From St Patrick’s Day, which in Ireland is traditionally perceived as the middle of spring, it is traditionally believed that the weather improves. An old Irish saying attributed to Saint Patrick claims that the weather would be fine for half of his own feast day and for every day afterwards. As if to prove the truth of the saying, when the harshest winter in living memory occurred in the early months of 1947, popularly known in Ireland as the Big Snow or White 47, for the icy and blizzardous conditions that continued from late January until the middle of March, when the snow finally ceased falling on Saint Patrick’s Day.
Despite the promise of more settled weather from Saint Patrick’s Day, unsettled
weather was often known to continue into April, with the first three days of that month often referred to as ‘Borrowing Days’, explained by the following legend, ‘an old cow on the 31st March began to curse and swear at March, tossing her tail in the air, and saying to the devil, I pitch you – you are gone and April has come, and now I will have grass. March, however, was too much for her, and he borrowed three days from April, during which time he made such bad weather the old cow died.’
Kinahan, GH. ‘Notes on Irish Folklore’. The Folk-Lore Record 4 (1881),
MacManus, Seamus. The Rocky Road to Dublin. Dublin, 1938.
O’Donoghue, John. In a Quiet Land. London, 1959.
Ó Síocháin, Conchúr. The Man from Cape Clear: The Life of an Islandman. Translated from the Irish by Riobard P Breatnach. Cork and Dublin, 1975.
Ó Súilleabháin, Amhlaoibh. The Diary of an Irish Countryman 1827 – 1835. Translated from the Irish by Tomás de Bhaldraithe. Cork/Dublin 1970/1979.