‘Not willing to have their grass spoiled by the feet of a crowd of dancers, the farmers will sometimes not permit the young people, who meet for the purpose, to dance on their field on Sunday-afternoon. Hence it is no uncommon thing to see groups dancing on the roads on Sundays and holydays, after prayers; no house being able to contain the numbers which, in fine weather, generally meet on those occasions.
It often happens that some innkeeper, in the vicinity of a dance, sends a loaf, of less or more value, not exceeding five shillings, to be given as a premium to the best dancer; in other words to the person who spends most money at the inn. Many times men spend more than they can spare to have the pleasure, and, as they esteem it, honour of dividing the loaf among the dancers.’
‘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
‘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
Charles McGlinchey, Ballyliffin, recounting a tradition of his youth in the 1860s;
‘Brigid’s Eve was the night for making crosses. Before the people of the house sat down to supper, a girl belonging to the family went out to bring in the rushes. If there was a girl by the name of Brigid in the house she got the privilege. She knocked on the door and the one inside said:
Oiche Bhríde brichíneach
Bain an ceann den croiceanach,
Gabhaigí ar na glúnaí,
Is ligigí isteach Bríd Bheannaithe.
‘Sé beatha, ‘sé beatha, sé beatha.
On St Brigid’s night
Take the head off the rushes,
Go on your knees,
And let St Brigid in.
You’re welcome, you’re welcome, your welcome.
That was the night my father always said the prayer “Bail na gcúig n-arán.The blessing of the five loaves”.
After we took our supper,all the grown-up ones about the house made the rush-crosses. A cross was made for the kitchen and for above the beds and for all the outhouses. The old people always left a rag of cloth outside on a bush that night till morning. It had the blessing of St Brigid and was used for cures, and against dangers of any kind, like the fever, or lightning, or fire, or drowning. It was called the ‘Bratóg Bhríde’.’
‘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 demoninated 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 evenings 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.’*
Irish Folk Lore
* 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 Bride Oge tradition, described above, continued to be practiced widely throughout Ireland, well into the twentieth-century by both adults and children, with the tradition still continuing in many areas.
“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.”
‘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
*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.