As the name suggests Holy Thursday is traditionally a day for devotion and prayer, with attendance at Mass occupying a central position in the day’s proceedings. Chapels, churches and cathedrals across the county are decorated with flowers and candles, a procession of the Sacred Sacrament is still held in some places just prior to or just after the service, with communion offered in remembrance of the Last Supper which Holy Thursday commemorates. In many areas of Ireland a peculiar silence reigned as the church bells are silenced Holy Thursday only to be heard again on the morning of Easter Sunday in observance and commemoration of the days “while Our Lord was dead.”
The visitation of the seven churches, a Holy Thursday tradition which continues in many cities across the world today, seems to have been popular in Dublin a century ago. The poet Austin Clarke in his autobiography Twice Round the Black Church remembered the adventures he and his sisters had as children visiting some of Dublin’s beautifully decorated churches on the last Thursday of Lent. Clarke recalled that a number of rules were adhered to when paying visits to the seven churches, with churches that were too close to their home on Mountjoy Street disqualified as they considered to be too close to be worth visiting, while a second rule held that the pilgrimage to the churches should be carried out on foot with no trams. From Clarke’s description it seems that the adventures he and his sisters made to religious institutions ordinarily closed to the public, resembled the hustle and bustle of activity that accompanies the recent traditions of opening private houses and institutions, both religious and secular, on Culture Night and during Open House.
An account from the Schools’ Collection of the National Folklore Collection mentions a ghostly apparition that is supposed to appear in an upstairs window of a building known as Iveagh House at 80 Saint Stephen’s Green South in central Dublin, which was previously owned by the Aristocratic Protestant Guinness family but is now the headquarters for the Department of Foreign Affairs. The legend relates how a daughter of Lord Iveagh Guinness was sick one Holy Thursday and sent for a nurse. When the nurse arrived at the Ivy House she brought with her a crucifix as she was a good Catholic and put it before the child. As Lord Iveagh witnessed this he ‘snatched the crucifix out of her hand and threw it out through the window. Ever since on Every Holy Thursday an immense crucifix appears in the window and crowds flock to see it.’
Clarke, Austin. Twice Round The Black Church: Early Memories of Ireland and England. London, 1962.
Various accounts from the Schools’ Collection available at www.duchas.ie