‘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.’
Told in Toberona, 2008
John Swift 1896-1990 spent the formative years of his life in Dundalk, County Louth, before moving to Dublin in 1912.
‘In the immediate vicinity of Leighlin is a remarkable and very picturesque rath, and close to the cathedral is the well of Saint Laserian. This was until a few years ago a famous resort of the peasantry on the saint’s day, the 18th of April. However the patron was very properly prohibited by the parish priest and it is no longer the scene of gambling and intoxication. Two very old ash trees and a whitethorn which formerly overshadowed the well were cut down about 1823 by the late Captain Vigors of Erindale who leased a considerable tract of land here from the see of Leighton. The Whitethorn was formerly hung with all sorts of rags by devotees, pilgrims or visitors to this holy spot.’
‘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 to each other.’
Claidheamh Soluis, 12 April 1902
The tradition of Whipping the Herring was once widespread in the towns of east of Ireland and occurred on Easter Saturday, Sunday or Monday depending on the customs of the locality.
‘It is in April that the cuckoo, corncrake and swallow arrive, and it is the custom when one first hears the cuckoo or corncrake, or sees a swallow, to say “May we all be alive and in God’s grace next year. Amen,” or literally “May we all be alive this time again. Amen.”
If one hears the cuckoo from behind, and in the right ear, and also finds some hairs (at the same time) under his right foot, such a one will be lucky for that year. If the cuckoo is first heard in the left ear it is an unlucky sign. Should the sowing of oats be deferred from any cause until the coming of the cuckoo, such sowing is invariably known as “cuckoo oats,” and is thus designated to mark the lazyness of that particular farmer.’
Journal of the Cork Historical & Archaeological Society, 1896
Manannán Mac Lir, 1896; ‘The first of this month is universally known as “All Fools Day,” but why the name or whence the custom of “fooling” people originated I have not been able to ascertain.
Up till recent times the custom prevailed of “raising a laugh” at some simple-minded person’s expense by giving him a letter, which he was told was of an urgent nature, addressed to some personal friend of the sender’s. When delivered, the enclosed note merely bore the legend, “send the fool farther,” which advice was religiously adhered to, for the address merely put missive into another envelope and having addressed it to another friend some few miles further on and having told the guileless messenger that it was a most important matter which was confided to his care, set him again on his fool’s errand….’
Journal of the Cork Archaeological and Historical Society
‘This year, 1885, we have had very severe weather the first days of April, and to account for this one of the natives state they are borrowed from March, and are called “Borrowing Days.”
In all mountainous districts here as elsewhere in Ireland March is the severest month for cattle: “an old cow on the 31st March began to curse and swear at April, 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.’
‘Great honour used to be paid to the full moon; and it was the witching time for young girls to pry into their futurity, with a hope of obtaining, in their dreams, a sight of husbands in store for them.
The invocation, used at this period, as related by a Kildare woman, runs in this form:-
“Good morrow, Full Moon:
Good morrow to thee!
Tell, ere this time to-morrow,
Who my true love will be-
The colour of his hair,
The clothes he will wear,
And the day he’ll be married to me.”’
Irish Folk Lore
The Reverend John Canon O’Hanlon was a hagiographer and folklorist, he is most famous for his Lives of the Irish Saints which was published between 1875 and 1905.
‘The first Sunday in Lent is styled “Chalk Sunday” from a custom indulged in by the village belles of Kilkenny, of chalking all over the clothes of inveterate bachelors who have eluded the trammels of Hymen, during the preceding Shrovetide, which season is looked forward to by the unmarried portion of the Irish peasantry as the period of the year in which those who are inclined to commence housekeeping are induced to make up their minds on that important subject ere the commencement of Lent; for during that season all matrimonial transactions are suspended; and those who allow Shrovetide to glide by unheeded generally remain “in maiden mediation fancy free” until that time twelve months, when another opportunity of matrimony is afforded them.
When an unlucky wight of the bachelor genus appears abroad in his Sunday suit on this day, on his way either to or from church, he is sure to be surrounded by a group of mischievious merry maidens each armed with a lump of chalk. Resistance is useless, for if he escapes one party he is certain of being caught by another; until, at last he is striped all over in such a style of vagiegation as might excite the envy of a harlequin. This opperation is intended to mark for the special example of the class to which he voluntarily belongs and to afford amusement to his neighbours.’
‘In Waterford, some years ago, the lower classes had a species of amusement, we believe peculiar to them; it was practiced on Ash-Wednesday, and was called “drawing the log.”
It was instituted as a penitential exercise to the bachelors and maidens who permitted Lent to arrive without “joining in the holy bands.” The log was a large piece of timber, to which a long rope was attached; it was drawn through the streets of the city, followed by a crowd of men and boys of the lowest grade armed with bludgeons, shouting and hollowing “Come draw the log, come draw the log; bachelors and maidens come draw the log.” The party had generally a piper, who squeezed from his bags the most noted of the nationalist airs; and it was no small part of the frolic to see the poor minstrel upset in the mire by the jolting of the unwieldy piece of timber over the rugged stones with which the streets were paved. The most scandalous scenes of cruelty often occurred; young men and young women often being forced from their homes, tied to “the log,” and dragged through the city.
The custom has, of late years, been, very properly, discontinued.’
Union of Kilrush, Killard, Kilfierard, Moyferta & Kilbarrryhone:
‘Shrove Tuesday is the greatest day in the year for weddings; and Roman Catholic priests are generally occupied in celebration of matrimony from sunrise to midnight. The general fee on this occasion is two guineas and a half, and many thoughtless couples, under the age of sixteen, pay it with cheerfulness, when they have not another penny in their possession. They who do not marry on this day must wait until Easter Monday, on account of the intervening Lent.
The usual desert and supper on Shrove Tuesday is the pancake, small pieces of them rolled up in a stocking, and placed under a lover’s pillow, are found to be very efficacious in producing prophetic dreams to console those who are compelled to defer their matrimonial engagements from Ash Wednesday to Easter-Monday.’
William Shaw Mason, A Statistical Account or Parochial Survey of Ireland ii