Saint Maelruain’s Chuch, Tallaght. Laurence Collection 1870-1914
WSA Joyce, Tallaght, 7 July;
‘St Maelruan’s patron or “pattern”, was every year celebrated here but in the later years the original Saint’s name was lost sight of altogether, and replaced by the corrupted form, “Moll Rooney”, under which title “the pattern” continued to be annually held, until it came to be such a nuisance, owing to drunkeness and debauchery, that it was suppressed in 1874.
The proceedings consisted of making a kind of effigy, supposed to represent the saint, and carrying it about from house to house in procession, headed by a fiddler or piper. The occupants of each house then came out as they were visited and danced to the music after which a collection was made to be spent on drink. Few went to bed that night; many slept in ditches on the way home, and drinking, dancing and…
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For our nineteenth century ancestors July was the month when food was scarcest. By the time that July arrived food from the previous harvest was almost a year old, and many families found that their stores of food were much depleted or had disappeared entirely at this late stage. The decline in living standards, present throughout the nineteenth century Ireland, would peak during the Famine which would eventually take a million lives and force further million Irish men and women to emigrate from the land in which they were born. For families who had cattle running out of stored crops was not as lethal, but for the quarter of the population that relied on the potato as their sole source of sustenance July could be a difficult month to get by even without famine.
These tough conditions gave July many alternative names including, most generally, the “Hungry Month”…
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Saint John’s Well, Toberona -Photograph by John P. Swift
John Swift, Toberona;
‘Up to the early part of the nineteenth century a pattern or fair annually celebrated St John’s Day, 24th June, when well known bards and other artists from Louth and the surrounding counties would gather in the vicinity of Toberona bridge, to show their talents. It is recorded that over-indulgence in alcohol and rowdying brought an end to these patterns…..
But legend had it Toberona did not require either brewed or distilled liquor to engender anything like transports of inebriation. Toberona had its well of spring water, named after Saint John, and those quaffing of its draughts, if endowed to even the slightest extent with poetic or rhetorical talent, would be inspired to speech worthy of the most gifted orator or author. They had a saying in the Temple tavern (in Dundalk): Tell it in Toberona.’
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A hundred years ago, and for many centuries before, Midsummer’s Eve was celebrated throughout Ireland on the 23 June, that is, on Saint John’s Eve.
The bonfire was central to the activities of Midsummer’s Eve, and those who witnessed the flames more than a lifetime ago noted that the landscape was filled with hundreds of bonfires, creating a beautiful aspect by illuminating the country as far as the eye could see. These fires were lit on elevated sites including mountain tops and hills, but also in fields, at crossroads and on the streets and in squares of towns and villages throughout the country. In Dublin bonfires were outlawed by the Lord Mayor in the 1700’s, and as a substitute, the towns’ people attached candles to trees and bushes to maintain the tradition in some form. Gradually, during the nineteenth century, coercion bills eliminated bonfires from many…
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F.L. Molloy, Parish of Clonmany, 1814;
‘The titular saint, or as some express it, the guardian, of this parish, is Columbkill. The 9th of June is his festival day, and is observed most ceremoniously by the old people in the parish: on that day they circumambulate certain places, repeating certain prayers, deified, as it were, for him.
They formerly drove down their cattle to the beach, on that day, and swam them in that part of the sea, into which runs the water of St Columb’s well, which is thereby made holy-water; but this custom, of late, has not been practised.
There is also a traditional story told here, that the earth of a little hillhock (tempo desh,) on the right of the road leading from the chapel to the church, formerly expelled all mice and rats, until the earth of it was vended, when its expelling powers ceased…
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Station Island, Lough Derg, 1913 – Lawrence Collection, The National Library of Ireland
‘Lough Derg is in the centre of a lake in the wild and gloomy mountains of Donegal, and can only be approached by boat. The property in which it lies belongs to the Leslies of Glasslough. They have leased the ferry of the island to certain persons, who were contracted to pay them two hundred a year. I think it was in the year 1796, that a boat filled with ‘pilgrims’, as they are called, was lost, on its way across to the lake, owing to the drunkenness of the boatmen.
My father’s anecdote, or rather legend, went on to state that there was a holy priest in the boat who, when it sank with its freight, deliberately walked on the waters of the lake until he reached the island in perfect safety. I…
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‘Whitsuntide is a very fatal and unlucky time. Especially beware of water then, for there is an evil spirit in it, and no one should venture to bathe, nor to sail a boat for fear of being drowned; nor to go on a journey where water has to be crossed. And everything in the house must be sprinkled with holy water at Whitsuntide to keep away the fairies, who at this season are very active and malicious, and bewitch the cattle, and carry off young children, and come up from the sea to hold strange midnight revels, when they kill with their fairy darts the unhappy mortal who crosses their path and pries at their mysteries.’*
Whitsuntide, the week beginning on the seventh Sunday after Easter Sunday, also known as Pentecost, is traditionally considered to be the most fatal time of the year in Ireland. A child born on Whit Sunday is believed to be destined to kill or be killed. To prevent this fortune a worm or some other small creature was placed in the palm of a newly born child’s hand and then closed over, in the hope this action would count against the child’s fatal destiny. Animals born on Whit Sunday were also considered to be ill-fated; in County Kildare it is traditionally believed that if a filly or a colt foaled at Whitsuntide it would ‘turn out vicious, and if kept will cause death of, or injury to its owner,’ the belief was also well known in Ballyliffen, County Donegal, as Charles McGlinchey recalled in his memoir of nineteenth century life, The Last of a Name, ‘I always heard, too, that it wasn’t a lucky day to be born, that a human being or an animal born on that day would do some harm or get a violent death. A foal born that day would be considered a dangerous animal,’
Whitsuntide’s association with drowning increased its evil reputation. All over Ireland, but especially in areas close to loughs and in coastal areas, legends abounded about the dangers of going near water on Whit Sunday or Whit Monday. Those born on Whit Sunday were thought to be most susceptible to drowning at any time of the year, but the danger of drowning on Whitsuntide posed a special threat to all. In coastal counties including Donegal and Kerry custom forbade boats to go out to sea and even discouraged people from venturing near the seafront during Whit Sunday and Whit Monday. The association between drowning and Whit Sunday was perhaps strongest around Lough Erne in County Fermanagh where local lore maintained that the lough took the life of one person each Whit Monday.
* Lady Jane Wilde
Danaher, Kevin. The Year in Ireland. Dublin 1972.
Foster, Jeanne Cooper. Ulster Folklore. Belfast, 1951.
Mc Glinchey, Charles. The Last of the Name. Edited by Brian Friel. Belfast, 1986.
Omorethi. ‘Customs Peculiar to Certain Days, Previously Observed in County Kildare.’ Journal of the Co. Kildare Archaeological Society and Surrounding Districts V (1906-1908).
Sayers, Peig. Peig: the Autobiography of Peig Sayers of the Great Blasket Island. Translated by Byran MacMahon. (Dublin, 1974).
Wilde, Lady Jane. Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms and Superstitions of Ireland. London, 1888.
Patrick McGill, circa 1913;
‘There was great talk going on about the Omagh train. The boys who had been sold at the fair before said that the best masters came from near the town of Omagh, and so everyone waited eagerly until eleven o’clock, the hour at which the train was due.
It was easy to know when the Omagh men came, for they overcrowded an already big market. Most of them were fat, angry-looking fellows, who kept moving up and down examining us after the manner of men who seek out the good and bad points of horses which they intend to buy.
Sometimes they would speak to each other, saying that they never saw such a lousy and ragged crowd of servants in the market-place in all their life before, and they did not seem to care even if we overheard them say these things. On the…
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