New Year’s Day

Antrim & Down – 1 January

William Conor – Lamp-post Swinging. National Museum of Northern Ireland

 ‘On New Year’s Day about the suburbs of County Down side of Belfast, the boys go about carrying little twisted wisps of straw, which they offer to person whom they meet, or throw into their houses, as New Year’s offerings, and expect to get in return a small present, such as a little money or a piece of bread. About Glenarm, on the coast of County Antrim, the “wisp” is not used, but on this day the boys go about from house to house, and are regaled with bannocks of oaten bread, buttered; these bannocks are baked specially for the occasion, and are commonly small, thick and round, and with a hole through the centre. Any person who enters a house on New Year’s Day must either eat or drink before leaving it.’

Thiselton Dyer, British Popular Customs Past and Present  1900

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.

Christmas Eve & the City below Lough Gur


Frontispiece from Myths and Folklore of Ireland by Jeremiah Curtin. 1890


Mary Fogarty, born in 1858, Lough Gur;

‘some say that in ancient days there was a city where the lake is now, before an earthquake threw up the hills and filled the hollow with water so that the city was submerged. Even now, the peasants say, when the surface of the lake is smooth one may see from a boat, far down and down again, the drowned city, its walls and castle, houses and church, perfect and intact, waiting for the Day of Resurrection.

And on Christmas Eve, a dark night without moon and stars, if one looks down and down again, one may see lights in the windows, and listening with the ears of the mind, hear the muffled chiming of church bells.’

The Farm by Lough Gur – Mary Carberry, 1937.

Going About with “The Waits”



Reverend John Graham, Ballymahon, 1819;

‘For some weeks before Christmas, several musicians, generally pipers, serenade the inhabitants of Ballymahon about an hour or two before daybreak, calling out, in intervals, the hour of the morning, and stating whether it is cold, wet, frosty, or fine. This is called going about with “The waits,” and those who give themselves this trouble, expect to be paid for it in the Christmas holidays, when they go about in the daylight playing a tune, and receiving the expected renumeration at every door.’

William Shaw Mason, A Statistical Account or Parochial Survey of Ireland iii

Easter Monday & Egg Feasts


Patrick Kennedy, Castleboro circa 1815;


‘During the last week of Lent, as nobody dreamed of eating an egg, eggs in abundance graced the Easter breakfast table, and on Easter Monday the little men and women under thirteen years of age assembled in some dry sheltery ditch or quarry-hole, bringing their supplies of griddle-cakes, eggs, butter, dry sticks or turf, and egg-spoons fashioned by themselves of ash or oak boughs, or any suitable chance splinters that had come in their way. A roaring fire was soon made, the eggs roasted, and the social meal proceeded.

The seven weeks of Lent were cheered by conversations concerning this Easter jollification, and allusions to its past enjoyment did not cease or flag from Easter Tuesday till Whitsuntide.’

Banks of the Boro

Cropping Days


Rip Van Winkle by Solomon Eytinge, 1870

Leland L Duncan;

‘the Thursday before Lent people used to have their hair cut, and then not again until the last Thursday in Lent. These days were called Cropping Days.’

Folklore, 1894

The Fair at Greencastle

Down, 12 January –


Michael G. Crawford;

‘It was sometimes called ‘Ram Fair’ on account of a custom that prevailed for a great while of enthroning a great ram, high on the top of old Green Castle’s walls, when he presided over the greatest sheep fair in South Down, where thousands of his bleeting subjects from the surrounding mountains were penned in flocks beneath him, and jolly crowds and people at the Fair came to pay homage crying out ‘The King of the Benns’ for ever, and never did the Golden Ram of old receive greater homage from his worshippers, than did the Mourne Ram, from the jolly crowds that came to the Carnival at Greencastle.

The fair at Greencastle was revived by Arthur Bagnal, under patent granted by James the First in 1613, when it was held on 12th January and 12th August.’

Legendary Stories of the Carlingford Lough District. 1913

The Waning of the Moon and Haircuts

Ireland –


John Canon O’Hanlon (Lageniensis), 1870;

‘It was, and still is, a popular idea in Ireland, that to have the hair cut in the wane of the moon injures it very  much, by causing it to grow thinly, and to fall away; and this should only be done when the hair becomes too thick. To make the hair grow thicker, its cutting should take place, it was thought, just after the new moon.’

Irish Folk Lore: Traditions and Superstitions of the Country

Saint Catherine’s Day

Ireland, 25 November – 


John Canon O’Hanlon (Lageniensis), 1870;

‘Married women and girls kept a fast  on St Catherine’s Day, November 25th, in order that they might get better husbands, after the death of their present ones; or at least, that they might procure an alternative in their living husband’s manners.’

Irish Folk Lore: Traditions and Customs from the Country 



Hair cuts on A Monday

Kerry –

Jan Lievens, 1607-74. Bust of an Old Man, Full Face (Chiaroscuro Woodcut, 1630-40)
Jan Levins 1607-74 ‘Bust of an Old Man (Full Face) 1630-40


D. Lynch, formerly National teacher at Philipstown in Louth, a native of Caherciveen,  1908;

‘A man whose hair is cut on a Monday will go bald. Hence a kind of comic imprecation used in Kerry: “Lomradh an tuain ort,” “the shearing of Monday on you.”’