Saint Bridget’s Eve & the Brideóg Procession

John O’Hanlon (Lageniensis); ‘In parts of Ireland – especially throughout the dioceses of Kildare and Leighlin – it was customary with the young people to assemble on the eve of St. Bridget’s festival, observed the first day of February, and to carry with them what had been denominated a Bride-oge, which means in English, The Virgin Brigid.

This was formed of a churn-dash, covered with stuff of materials, to fashion it, as near as possible, like a female figure. These materials were usually covered with white calico. A dress of some village belle covered the whole, with an elegant bonnet and fashionable cap surmounting the figure’s head. The Brideoge’s face, however, was round, and perfectly featureless. Frills, tuckers, necklace, and a handsome sash usually decorated this grotesque figure.

A piper and fiddler marched before, playing lively and popular airs; and especially when the crowd of accompanying idlers stopped at each door, in country places and villages, the Bride-oge always obtained an entrance for its bearer. Young children were often greatly frightened at the unexpected arrival of this unclouth visitant. A lad and lass were told off, footing it merrily to a jig or reel, and, after its conclusion, the director of such proceedings, – his hat decorated with boughs and ribbons – went round with a purse to collect offerings for the Bride-og. These were seldom or ever refused, and they were usually in keeping with the means of liberality of the householder.

Proceeds thus collected were expended on Bridget’s day, in getting up a rustic ball, where tea, cakes, and punch, were in requisition as refreshments. A dance and plays were also organized as part of the evening’s amusements. This festive celebration was probably derived from carrying St. Bridget’s shrine in procession, at some remote period. The later travesty, and disorders accompanying it, induced many of the Catholic clergy to discourage such odd practices, and we believe that at present they are almost entirely obsolete.’

O’Hanlon, John (Lageniensis). Irish Folk Lore: Traditions and Superstitions of the Country; with Humorous Tales. London, 1870.

* Caution should be taken when it is stated that a custom has become, or is becoming obsolete, accounts are often based on personal experience, and customs often decline only to be revived again.

The Brideoge tradition, described above, continued to be practiced widely throughout Ireland well into the twentieth-century by both adults and children of both sexes. Despite a significant decline in the tradition in the latter half of the twentieth the tradition is still observed in some areas of Ireland today.

Illustration is by https://www.instagram.com/stangandspindle/?hl=en

https://society6.com/bansidhe

Burns Night in Dundalk

John Swift, Dundalk; ‘Among them (tombstones in graveyard at Saint Nicholas Church, Dundalk) was one that could have been considered relatively modern. That was the one erected over the grave of Robert Burn’s sister.* This monument, erected by the poet’s admirers in the town, stood prominently in the forefront of the cemetery, and through the railings on the low wall between the cemetery and the Church Street, was easily visible to passers by.

For a few years my father (Patrick Swift) and some of his Templar colleagues had, on the poet’s birthday, the 25th of January [circa 1900], made pilgrimage to the hardly substantial mecca in Church Street. Gathered at the railings near the grave, my father would start a recital of Burns’ poems.

Coming towards the end of the recital the reciter would turn in the direction of the Roden demesne gate declaiming from A Man’s a Man for a’ That, rendered, not in the Burns Doric but in the plainer English –

 You see yon birkie, called a lord,

Who struts and stares an’ a’ that;

Tho’ hundreds worship at his word,

He’s but a coof for a’ that,

For an’ that, an’ a that,

His ribband star, an’ a’ that,

The man of independent mind,

He looks an’ laughs at a’ that.

A prince can make a belted knight,

A marquis, duke, an’ a’ that;

But an honest mans above his might,

Good faith he needed for that,

For a’ that, an’ a’ that,

Their dignities an’ a’ that,

The pith o’ sense an’ pride o’ worth,

Are higher rank than a’ that.

Then let us pray that come what may,

(As come it will for a’ that);

That sense and worth o’er all the earth,

Shall make the rank an’ a’ that,

For a’ that, an’ a’ that,

It’s coming yet for a’ that,

That man to man, the world o’er,

Shall brothers be for a’ that.’

Swift, John. Told in Toberona. Dublin, 2008.

*Agnes Burns, 1762-1834, was the sister of Robert Burns. In 1817, along with her husband, she moved near Knockbridge in County Louth, and was later buried in Saint Nicholas Graveyard in Dundalk.

John Swift 1896-1990 spent the formative years of his life in Dundalk, County Louth, before moving to Dublin in 1912.

Main photograph is of Burns Monument in the graveyard of Saint Nicholas Church, Dundalk, County Louth

Mondays and Thursdays & a Cure for the Sinking of the Heart

Lady Jane Wilde; ‘A wise woman, learned in the mysteries, has been known to cure the depression of spirits, called in Irish “the sinking of the heart,” in the following manner. Holding a cup of meal close to the patient, the operator says in Irish: “Base to the heart, ease to the heart,” at the same time repeating the words of an invocation known only to herself, and which has never been written down. This is done on Monday, Thursday, and the Monday following, each time the meal being cast into the fire after use.

Then a cake is made of the remainder, the patient sitting by till it is baked, taking care that neither cat, nor dog, nor any living thing passes between him and the fire till the cake is baked and the sign of the Cross made over it.

It is then eaten with nine sprigs of watercress, and if any is left, it must be thrown into the fire, so that no animal should touch it, the sign of the blessed Cross being stamped thereon.”

Wilde, Lady Jane. Ancient Cures Charms and Usages in Ireland. London, 1890.

Painting is a 1923 portrait of Kathleen Behan titled ‘Sad Girl’ by Sarah Purser.

The Mary of Munster: Saint Ita’s Pattern Day

Mananann Mac Lir, Parish of Killeedy, County Limerick, 1895; ‘“St Ita’s Day” falls on the 15th of January, on which day a large gathering – “Pattern,” ie “Patron” is held at Killeedy [Ita’s Church], a rural district about six miles south-west of Newcastle West, and about an equal number north-west of Dromcolloher.

The Catholic clergy of the deanery have developed a most praiseworthy method of having this “patron day” properly observed. On each 15th of January they also assemble here, and at the little rural chapel of Raheena a solemn high mass is celebrated, and a suitable sermon on the life and distinguishing characteristics of the saint is preached. No manual work is done on St Ita’s Day in the Parish of Killeedy, and female children born in January in this parish are usually christened Ita, in honour of this saint – “The Mary of Munster,” as she is sometimes called.

“Rounds” are paid to St Ita’s Well, and an oblong hole in the ground near is called “St Ita’s Bed,” where if childbearing women roll themselves they will not suffer the pains of childbirth. Needless to add, no decent woman would do this in public, but I am told several come here privately on bye-days for that purpose, or take home a handful of the earth from the “Bed,” for the purpose of rubbing it around their bodies in the name of the Holy Trinity.

Near “St Ita’s Well” is a stone, which is said to bear the impress of the hoof of St Ita’s favourite ass. This beast was used for the purpose of bringing new milk to her convent here, from a farm she had four miles farther west, whither the donkey repaired every day, and without a guide. Someone who was acting as caretaker for the saint there milked the cows, when the milk was then placed in the two empty pails, which hung like panniers, one on each side of the faithful beast. On one occasion some robbers, who made a raid on this dairy farm, found the donkey with the two pails full of milk, and just ready to start on its return journey. Enraged at not finding any treasure as they expected, they overturned two milk-pails, allowing the contents to flow down the hill side. But the anger of God was immediately evidenced at that act, for that milk, which was intended for the support of St Ita and her household (nuns), as also to be distributed among the needy and poor, was now turned into blood, and that place was called (Irish Name), ie., “Plenty (or abundance) of blood”, and which event gives the name Turnafulla to the townland and parish of that name to-day.

Or another occasion this donkey stood on a strong thorn, which then entered the sole of its hoof, laming it very much. St Ita pulled out the thorn, which she then thrust into the ground, at the same time “commanding” it not to lame her donkey evermore. This grew into a large tree, and a peculiarity of that whitethorn was that all its thorns were pointed downwards. The tree, I was assured, was flourishing until, in recent times, someone with the idea of effecting improvements dug the surface around it, when “St Ita’s thorn” withered and died off, and is no longer an object of veneration there.

St Ita is the special patroness of pregnant women (why? There is no tradition) and it is principally such who visit and pay “rounds” at her holy well. Besides Killeedy (“Ita’s Church,”) we have also Moveedy “My Mide, or Ita.”’

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

Main image is of stained glass window by Sarah Purser, Saint Brendan’s Church, Loughrea, County Galway.

The King of the Benns & the Fair at Greencastle in County Down

Michael G. Crawford; ‘The fair at Greencastle was revived by Arthur Bagnal, under patent granted by James the First in 1613, when it was held on 12th January and 12th August. It was sometimes called ‘Ram Fair’ on account of a custom that prevailed for a great while of enthroning a great ram, high on the top of old Green Castle’s walls, when he presided over the greatest sheep fair in South Down, where thousands of his bleeting subjects from the surrounding mountains were penned in flocks beneath him, and jolly crowds of people at the Fair came to pay homage crying out ‘The King of the Benns’ for ever, and never did the Golden Ram of old receive greater homage from his worshippers, than did the Mourne Ram, from the jolly crowds that came to the Carnival at Greencastle.’

Crawford, Michael G. Legendary Stories of the Carlingford Lough District. 1913.

Tory Island & the Half Marrying Tradition at Shrovetide

William Le Fanu, 1816-1894; ‘In the south and west of Ireland marriages amongst the peasantry, with rare exceptions, take place during Shrove-tide.* Many of the people think it would not be lucky to be married at any other time of the year; consequently the priest always, when it was possible, visited the island during Shrove for the purpose of solemnizing any weddings which had been arranged. It, however, sometimes happened that the weather was so stormy for weeks together that no boat could approach the island, so it had been arranged that, when this occurred, the engaged couples should at an appointed hour assemble on the east shore of the island, while the priest, standing on the shore of the mainland opposite to them, read the marriage ceremony across the water. As soon as the storm abated he went to the island and did whatever more was necessary to render the marriages valid in the eye of the law and of the Church.

I cannot vouch for the truth of this, though I heard it from a very trustworthy man. He said the young people were not considered really married till after the visit of the priest; but “that they liked to be, at all events, partly married before Shrove was over.”’

Seventy Years of Life in Ireland, 1893

Illustration by undiscovered artist.

*Traditionally the period between Christmas and Shrove Tuesday was known as Shrove-tide throughout Ireland. Generally, it was the most popular time to get married, as the Catholic Church refused to sanctify marriages during Lent and Advent, both of which were times of abstinence and devotion, while at other seasons the people were generally too busy with farm-work or fishing to contemplate marriage.

Incidentally William Le Fanu was the bother of the Irish Gothic writer Sheridan Le Fanu.

Twelfth Night Traditions In Ireland

The custom of lighting candles or rush-lights in honour of the Twelve Apostles is traditionally carried out by families on Twelfth Night, which is observed on the fifth or sixth of January.* The number of candles used in this ritual varied between one district and another, with some areas lighting twelve candles to represent the Twelve Apostles, while in other areas a thirteenth candle, usually larger and generally placed in the centre of the original twelve, was added to represent Jesus. Whilst the candles melted prayers and decades of the rosary were recited by those who were present. Traditionally each member of the family lit one candle, the flame of which was said to signify that person’s longevity. In this way the first candle to burn out was supposed to indicate the member of the household who was destined to be the first to die.

In the old days, when candlesticks were scarce, candles were stabilised in a bed of ashes, cow-dung, mud, a turnip, or even graveyard clay, while sieves of oats were used, for the same purpose, at least in County Westmeath, at the end of the seventeenth century. Once the candles had consumed themselves a ball would be made of what remained, if the candles were supported using cow-dung the ball was placed above the door of the cow-house to encourage an increase in the herd of cattle for the coming year, while if the ball was made of mud or clay it was often placed above the main entrance of the home, where it was believed to protect the inhabitants till the next Twelfth Night.

*In Ireland, and indeed internationally, there is some contention as to when Twelfth Night falls, with some observing Twelfth Night traditions on the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany, 5 January, while for others the Feast of the Epiphany, 6 January is believed to be the proper date.

Sources

Danaher, Kevin. The Year in Ireland. Dublin 1972.

Duncan, Leland L. ‘Further Notes from County Leitrim.’ Folklore 5, no. 3 (1894), pp. 177-211.

Mason, William Shaw. A Statistical Account or Parochial Survey of Ireland. Dublin, London and Edinburgh, 1814-19.

Piers, Sir Henry, A Chorographical Description of the County of West-Meath, 1682.

Wilde, Lady Jane, Irish Cures, Mystic Charms & Superstitions, London 1890.

Photograph by Nev Swift.

The First Monday of the Year – Hansel Monday

Hansel Monday – the first Monday of the year is so called as it is traditionally believed that anyone who received a hansel – a gift of money on this day, would never be short of money for the rest of the year. It was customary for farmers, employers, and parents to give a token gift of money to their respective labourers, workers, and children on Hansel Monday. The recipient of this gift would often keep the coin with them for the remainder of the year to bring them luck wherever they travelled. To be the recipient of anything on Hansel Monday was believed to be lucky be it a present, the birth of a child or an animal, or even to seal a favourable bargain.

While it was considered to be lucky to receive on Hansel Monday, it was also considered to be unlucky to pay for anything on this day as it was believed that any person who did so would-be paying bills every day for the rest of the year and would be likely to come to poverty. Similar taboos were connected with giving away milk and other household items. Many believed that even a person’s behaviour and mood on Hansel Monday was liable to continue throughout the following year. An 1881 article from the Folklore Record noted that on Hansel Monday ‘people salute one another with “My Hansel on you.”’ While, an account taken from the Schools’ Collection and provided by Mary Grehan from Rochfortbridge in County Westmeath noted that Hansel Monday ‘was looked upon by most people as a very particular day. If a person were in good humour that day, it was supposed to count for the rest of the year, and if possible everyone tried to wear a smile.’

In Ireland the first Monday of the year is referred to as both Handsel Monday and as Hansel Monday, however, at least historically, the day seems to have more often been referred to as “Hansel Monday.” The hanseling tradition appears to have come to Ireland from Scotland, where it seems to have been always known as Handsel Monday, and observed on the first Monday after the twelfth of January – old New Year’s Day. Up until the end of the nineteenth century Handsel Monday was a recognised holiday for Scotland’s farm labourers and workers.

Sources

Duncan, Leland L. ‘Further Notes from County Leitrim.’ Folklore 5, no. 3 (1894), pp. 177-211.

Haddon, A.C. ‘A Batch of Irish Folklore’ Folklore 4, no. 3 (1893), 349-364.

Hole, Christina. A Dictionary of British Folk Customs. London, 1978.

Kinahan, G.H. ‘Notes on Irish Folklore’. The Folk-Lore Record 4 (1881), pp. 96-125.

https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes

Photograph of Claddagh, Galway, taken by Marguerite Mespoulet &Madeleine Mignon, 1913.

Irish New Year’s Day Traditions & Beliefs

In many areas of Ireland New Year’s Day is overshadowed by the traditional observances and festivities that accompany the Twelve Days of Christmas, which run from Christmas Eve to the Feast of the Epiphany, 6 January. In many Irish Protestant communities New Year’s Day  was traditionally believed to mark the end of the Christmas season, and was often referred to in nineteenth century sources as ‘Little Christmas’ – one of the many names applied to the Feast of the Epiphany, 6 January, which marked the end of the Christmas season in Catholic households.

As the first day of the year many traditions associated with New Year’s Day are tied up with encouraging luck for the coming year. No dust, dirt or slop should be brushed out of the house on New Year’s Day, as it was believed that in carrying out these tasks the house’s luck could be swept away for the next twelve months. In a similar manner it was considered unlucky to open a grave on New Year’s Day as doing so was believed to encourage death throughout the coming year. In order to facilitate the traditional two-night wake, when a person died on the 30th or 31st of December attempts were generally made to, at least, start the digging of the the departed’s grave in the old year.

The New Year’s Day tradition of first-footing, although more prevalent in Scotland and Northern England, was widely observed in many urban areas as well as parts of the north east of Ireland a generation ago. Belief holds that the first person to enter the house, after the clock strikes midnight represents the household’s luck for the following twelve months; a dark-haired male visitor is considered to bring luck with him, while a female visitor, especially one with red hair, was considered to be an omen of bad luck for the household. In many instances efforts were made to ensure that the first visitor on New Year’s Day was a dark-haired male; if a dark-haired male was present in a household on New Year’s Eve he would often be asked to step outside a few minutes prior to midnight and then call back when the year had changed. To secure the households’ luck in some accounts of the tradition it was considered necessary for the gentleman to bring a gift, often silver coins and food when making the New Year visit. In parts of Ireland hospitality required that visitors to a house on New Year’s Day should eat or drink before making their departure, while food also featured in a County Leitrim belief noted by Leland L Duncan in the first quarter of the twentieth century; the ‘first thing you eat in the morning [of New Year’s Day] will cure you throughout the year if you fall sick.’

Outdoor activities are also traditional on New Year’s Day,  which in common with Christmas Day and sometimes the whole Christmas period, is traditionally a time for playing sports and games in Ireland. In coastal areas, in places as far flung as Ballintoy in County Antrim and the Blasket Islands off the Coast of County Kerry, it was customary for the local inhabitants to participate in hurling matches on New Year’s Day. Celebrations and boisterous behaviour often followed in the aftermath of these matches; in the Ballintoy two hundred years ago, for example, the Reverend Robert Trail noted that the New Year’s Day hurling previously ‘ended by drinking whiskey and broken heads: but of the late years, only young people appear on these occasions, and the day concludes with drunkenness or riot.’

Sources

Mason, William Shaw. A Statistical Account or Parochial Survey of Ireland. Dublin, London and Edinburgh, 1814-19.

Mc Glinchey, Charles. The Last of the Name. Edited by Brian Friel. Belfast, 1986.

Ó Crohan, Tomás. The Islandman. Translated by Robin Flower. Dublin, 1929; 1937.

Omorethi. ‘Customs Peculiar to Certain Days, Previously Observed in County Kildare.’ Journal of the Co. Kildare Archaeological Society and Surrounding Districts V (1906-1908), 439-454.

Thiselton Dyer, T. R. (Rev). British Popular Customs Past and Present: Illustrating the Social and Domestic Manners of the People. London 1900.

Various articles from the journal Folklore, 1894-1923.

Photograph of Causeway Cottages, County Antrim. (Widow Laverty telling tales of Finn McCool).