Saint Patrick’s Day – Shamrocks & Crosses

Dublin & Kildare-

Journal of the kildare 1906-08 V-page-509

‘Observed as a holy-day. A sprig of shamrock (or “shamroge” as the peasants call it) is worn in the hats of men. Opinions differ greatly as what is the genuine shamrock; the trefoils which are generally sold in Dublin for some days before the anniversary of the saint’s death are two one rooted varieties: one having a small pink clover blossom, and the other (I think) a yellow flower; both of which are easily gathered. According to the old people, “the rale of errib” is that which sends out branches from the main root, and which themselves takes root at the nodes (i.e. the starting point of the leaves) as they creep along the ground, therefore forming more branches. The flower resembles a small white clover blossom; this trefoil is probably not found on sale in Dublin, owing to the trouble in grubbing it up. The best place to find shamrock is along the edge of a public roads, where it extends beyond the grassy sod.

Young girls and small children wear on the right shoulder “a St. Patrick’s Cross” consisting of a single or double cross formed of pieces of narrow silk ribbon stitched to a circular disk of white paper, nicked at the edge, and measuring from 8 to 4.5 inches in diameter. At the ends of the arms of the cross a very small bow or rosette is fixed, and one a trifle longer at the junction of the arms; the more and the brighter the colours of the silk, the more handsome is considered the St. Patrick’s Cross. Those crosses sold in the Dublin slums are made on the same principle, except that instead of gaudy pieces of silk being stitched to the disk, coloured paper, cut into the devices, is gummed as a substitute.

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Saint Patrick’s Day, 1867 – Charles Henry Cook

“The Drowning of the Shamrock” by no means implies that it is necessary to get drunk in doing so. At the end of the day the shamrock that has been worn in the coat or the hat is removed and put into the final glass of grog or tumbler of punch; and when the health has being drunk or the toast honoured, the shamrock should be picked out of the bottom of the glass and thrown over the left shoulder.’

Jounal of the Kildare Historical & Archaeological Society, 1906-8.

The Full Moon & Divination

Kildare, –

Full Moon
Full Moon, Nathan W. Pearse, Albumen Print – circa 1850’s

John O’Hanlon (Lageniensis), 1870;

‘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.

Saint Bridget’s Eve Brideóg Procession

Kildare & Carlow, 31 January –

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Illustration by Niamh Ní Ruairc of Wytchwood Creations

John Canon O’Hanlon (Lageniensis), 1870;

‘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 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.

New Year’s Eve in Ireland: Banishing Hunger for the Coming Year

Kildare, 31 December

31 December, Kildare
Illustrated London News, 1852

‘It was customary on New Year’s Eve to bake a large barn-brack, which the man of the house, after taking three bites out of it, dashed against the principal door of his dwelling, in the name of the Trinity, at the same time expressing the hope that starvation might be banished from Ireland and go to the King of the Turks. The fragments of the cake were then gathered up and eaten by all members of the household. Before retiring to rest, twelve candles were lit in honour of the twelve Apostles and family prayers were said.’

Omurethi, Journal of the Kildare Archaeological and Historical Society, 1906-08.

All Souls’ Day

Kildare, 2 November

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William Gerald Barry (1864-1941), ‘An Old Woman and Children in a Cottage Interior’, circa 1910. (Crawford Art Gallery, Cork)

‘It is said that on this one day of the year the souls of the dead are allowed to re-visit their native districts*; and if only the human eye had the power to see them, they would be observed about one on every side “as plenty as thranteens in an uncut meadow.”

At night time it is customary in every house to light a candle in memory of each member of a family who has died. They are placed in an unused room and allowed to burn till midnight, when, after praying for the souls of the dead, they are extinguished, as by that time the souls themselves have returned to rest.

At the last thing at night the hearth is swept clean, and on it are placed three cups of spring water.’

* That the souls of the dead can visit the living is often said of Hallowe’en Eve, and  sometimes extends for a two day period from Hallowe’en to All Souls’ Day.

Journal of the Kildare Historical and Archaeological Society, 1906-8.