The Dead Among Us – Hallowe’en in Irish Folklore

james-waltr-gozzard
James Walter Gozzard 1888-1950

The souls of the dead were believed to be able to walk among the living between Hallowe’en and All Souls Day. When darkness fell great care was taken by the living to honour and extend hospitality to their own departed. To welcome the wandering dead on Hallowe’en, front doors were left open, food was prepared, and seats were set by the fire, which was built to burn through the night. Before the household retired to bed prayers were said and candles lit for the souls of those family members who had passed away. In parts of County Wexford candles served another purpose, and were placed in the windows of houses to assist departed loved ones in finding their past homes.

While released from their suffering the hospitality extended to the dead was, in part, offered out of respect, but also as a precautionary measure, as the dead were supposed to be jealous of the living, and believed to take revenge over past grievances. Many feared to set foot outside on Hallowe’en; as Lady Wilde explained ‘according to the popular belief, it is not safe to be near a churchyard on Hallow Eve, and people should not leave their homes after dark, or the ghosts would pursue them . . . if on that night you hear footsteps following you, beware of looking round; it is the dead who are behind you ; and if you meet their glance, assuredly you must die.’

For the mothers of babies who had died before baptism, even as they sat at home, Hallowe’en presented  a night of great anguish and sorrow, as prayers could not save the souls of their unbaptised offspring who where thought to be the captives of the fairies, and only released on Hallowe’en when the fairies had their own revels. As a Mayo correspondent wrote to the Graphic newspaper in 1881, unbaptised babies ‘come to gaze hopelessly in at the warm kitchen and the mother from whom it was so crudely torn, while it shivers and wails in the cold. Then she will make the sign of the cross and then weep, but dares not offer up a prayer for the doomed soul, which, she believes, must wander hopelessly for eternity.’

 

Saint Molua’s Day

Limerick-

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Mananaan MacLir, 1897;

‘The 3rd of August* is “St Molua’s Day” in East Limerick, and at this date a large “patron” is still held at Tobar Molua, ie., “St Molua’s Well,” a rural district (in the townland of Balline and parish of Emly-Grenane), about seven miles east of Killmallock, and near Clareen cross-roads.

Arrived there the pilgrim turns up a bye-road or lane leading to St Molua’s grave-yard, where an abbey formerly stood, portions of the wall of which (of cyclopean masonry) may still be seen incorporated in the boundary wall of the graveyard, which was sometime since erected by the Kilmallock Poor Law Board, acting as a sanitary authority. Proceeding past the grave-yard a little farther east we come on “St Molua’s Well,” situate nearly mid-way in a large green field, and without a shrub or bush of any kind, a very unusual circumstance in connection with such shrines.

The manner of “paying rounds” here is peculiar. The devotion consists in first reciting a rosary of six Paters, sixty Aves, and six Glorias, while travelling over a well-beaten circular path around the holy well, after which another rosary of five Paters, sixty Aves, and five Glorias is recited while kneeling at the well’s brink. The water is then drank of and some taken away in bottles or jars for consumption in the houses of the pilgrims. It is looked on as a good omen if the pilgrims behold the fresh water stickle-back in the well – here known as “St Molua’s trout” – while performing their devotions. To have the “rounds” prove efficacious it is locally considered that they must be performed on three consecutive Saturdays, and even then, before sunrise. As the district is a rural one, far from a town, or even village, this last stipulation is not easily accomplished. From “St Molua’s Day” (August 3) to the 15th, however, those restrictions are not in force, and “rounds” may be performed at any time on those privileged days.

St Molua’s Well is now principally resorted to for the cure of ague (malaria or another illness involving fever and shivering) and kindred complaints, and such is the belief in the efficacy if this illness that the writer has been informed of many Irish -Americans who (afflicted with ague in the land of their adoption) who have written home to their kindred in the old land to visit St Molua’s Well on their behalf, and thus, by deputy, at the saint’s shrine, ask his intercession for them. We may add, we were informed that this pilgrimage was very often efficacious.’

Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society.

* Most sources maintain that Saint Molua’s Day is the 4th of August.