Good Friday – The Black Fast

Ireland-

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Aran Islands, John M Synge, circa 1900

Good Friday marks the last day of Lent, and traditionally it was strictest day of abstinence in the Lentern season. As far back as the early nineteenth century Good Friday was also known as the “the Black Fast” and/or “hAoine an Chéasta” (Friday of Torture, Good Friday), the latter name in reference to the torture Jesus Christ suffered while being crucified.

Despite the bleak names previously attached to Good Friday it was seldom a day of complete fasting. On the Blasket Islands limpets and winkles, and other sea foods were collected from the strand, while in the south-east of Ireland bread or dry potatoes seem to have been the choice of sustenance for the day. In west-midland areas, however, a near total fast was observed on Good Friday, where all members of the family, including infants at the breast, refrained from taking any food from midnight till noon – while adults often continued their fast for the remainder of the day.

As a day of religious observance, work was avoided, and activity around the house was restricted to cleaning.  The children and men of the household went barefoot, while women wore their hair loose. Good Friday was also a day for communal devotion. Graveyards were visited, where prayers were offered up for the souls of the dead, while at holy wells rounds were performed on this day in remembrance of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.