Category Archives: Other

Irish Proverbs: Women and Men

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Beauty

Beauty is only skin deep but nobody wants to be drowned

Elegance and beauty are the same thing when there’s a man after them

Always make sure she looks beautiful before breakfast as well as after dinner

Love

Love is blind but the neighbours see through it

Love is like stirabout, it must be made fresh every day

Love at first sight often happens at twilight

If you live in my heart you live rent free

Old coals are easiest kindled

Sheeps eyes don’t see beyond the settle

If she has a mind of her own, there won’t be many with a mind for her

Wait till you’re 18 to marry and don’t be spoiling your growth

If a man is in love he’s no judge of beauty but when love wears off he’ll tell a woman about her warts

Man

Men are like bagpipes: no sound comes from them until they’re full

A man is a man when his woman is a woman

A sea wind changes less often than the mind of a weak man

A man works hard for success and then squanders his time talking about it

No man can prosper without his womans leave

Woman

She mightn’t be much good to boil a pot of spuds, but she’d look lovely carrying them to the table

Women would drive you mad but the asylum would be a cold place without them

A jealous woamn would make trouble between two breast bones

There’s nothing that makes the windows (eyes) open like a fine doorful of a woman

Never be in a court or acastle without a woman to make your excuse

A Tyrone woman will never buy a rabbit without a head for fear it’s a cat

A woman and child are like a goat, if they’re not in trouble they’re coming out of it

It takes a woman to outwit the devil

An inch makes a world of differnce when it’s in a womans nose

Where comes a cow, there follows a woman

Where comes a woman, there follows trouble

Let her rant and rave as long as the sun is high and as long as she’s loving, close and tender when the sun sets

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Scéal an Tobac: The Story of the Tobacco

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“Do you know what I’m going to tell you? I heard that they’re going to stop people from smoking tobacco and not to soon for them, God knows, because people nowadays are smoking away like a chimney with a rook’s nest in it, and not one of them ever saying a prayer before lighting up!”

“No good can come of it, I tell you…..”

Scéal an Tobac (The story of the Tobacco)

A long time ago in my father’s time, there was a woman and she had only one son. When he came to age she sent him to college and made a priest of him. After his coming from the college he was a short little while at home; and he was one day walking out in the garden when there came a saint in the air over his head and spoke down to him, and told the priest that he himself and all who belonged to him were damned on account of his mother. (God
protect us all this night).

The priest asked him what was the crime his mother had committed, and the saint told him that she was smoking tobacco with twelve years and she never said the tobacco prayer in all that time.

“Bad enough!” says the priest, “is there anything at all down from heaven to set that right?” says the priest.

“There’s nothing but one thing alone” says he, “and this is it. When you go in to your mother tell her as I have told to you. And unless she shall be prepared to suffer the death that I’ll tell you, not a sight of the country of heaven will your mother or anyone of her family see for ever.”

“What death is it”? said the priest to him

“She must let you” says he, “carve every bit of her body as fine as
sneeshin.” (snuff)

The priest went into the house and a heavy load on his heart. He sat upon a chair and there was great grief to be seen on his face. His mother asked him what was on him, and what had happened to him since he went out.

“Ah, there’s nothing on me but a little weariness” says he. “Kindle the pipe for me mother,” says he, “I’d like to get a blast of tobacco.”

“I’ll kindle it and welcome”, says she, “I thought avourneen,” says she, “that you were not using tobacco.”

“Ah, maybe a whiff would take this weariness off me,” says he.

True was the story. She put a coal in the pipe, and after smoking enough of the pipe herself she handed it to the priest, but she never said the prayer. And that was the reason he had told her to kindle the pipe, hoping, do you know, that she would say the prayer, but she did not.

“Poor enough!” said the priest in his own mind.

The priest told her then as the saint had told him, and she threw herself on her two knees praying God and shedding tears, and said she “a hundred welcomes to the graces of God, and if it is the death that God has promised me I am satisfied to suffer it; go out now my son,” says she, “and when I’ll be ready for you to get to your work I’ll call you in.”

The priest went out fervently reading and praying to God.

The mother washed and cleaned herself. She got sheets and sharp knives ready for the work, and when she had everything prepared she called the priest to come in.

And as the priest turned around on his foot, the brightness came over his head again, and it said to him that all his family had found forgiveness for their sins, on account of the earnest repentance that his mother was after making, and the awful death that she was fully satisfied to suffer.

The priest came into the house, and a great joy in his heart, and his mother was stretched on the length of her back on the table, and sheets under her and over her, and her two hands stretched out from her, and she praying God, and two sharp knives by her side and, says the priest to her, “rise up mother,” says he, “I have got forgiveness from the King of the Graces, for our sins, and I beseech you now from this day out, do not forget to diligently offer up the tobacco prayer every time you use it.”

And true was the story. There was never a time from that day till the day that the priest’s mother went into the clay that she did not earnestly offer up the prayer to God and to the glorious Virgin.

And do you know that the old people throughout the country used to be offering up that same prayer daily, as long as a word of our Irish language remained alive on the green island of the saints.

Do you know what I’m going to tell you? The young people nowadays know nothing of the dangers of smoking without saying the tobacco prayer.

HISTORICAL NOTE:

Here is a translation of the prayer from Irish as collected in the late
19th. century by John Mac Neill from a Co. Mayo peasant by the name of Miceál Mac Ruadhrí (Rogers)

Paidir i ndiadh an Tobac (The Prayer after Tobacco)

Eighteen fulls of the churchyard of Patrick, of the mantle of Brigit, and the holy tomb of Christ, of the palace of Rome, of the church of God, be with thy soul (and the soul of him above whose head was the tobacco and with the souls of the dead in Purgatory all together. (This was said only when the tobacco was taken and given at a wake).

May not more numerous be
The grains of sand by the sea,
Or the blades of grass on the lea,
Or the drops of dew on the tree,
Than the blessings on thy soul
And the souls of the dead with thee
And my soul when the life shall flee.

It is for God to give shelter, light, and the glory of the heavens to thesouls of the dead in Purgatory

©Vince Hearns March 2001

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Mass Rock, Oughaval, Co. Laois (Queen’s Co.) Photographs

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I’ve never seen a Mass Rock before and I saw that there was a path to the Mass Rock when I looked at the ‘Notice Board’ at Oughaval Woods, so, I decided let’s go that way and the dogs didn’t mind which way I went so long as they got a good walk!

On the path, we came across a ‘sign post’ for the Mass Rock and I have to say before I got to it I wondered if it would be marked at all!

Mass Rock sign, Oughaval Woods, Laois

Mass Rock sign, Oughaval Woods, Laois

It’s really a very nice walk.  The initial part is a bit hilly but after that there are only a few ups and downs.  I didn’t realise we were at the Rock and I thought Bambi had just found a stone that looked like it could hold Holy Water and then after taking a few photos of this, I looked up and realised I was actually there.

It is a beautiful setting in amongst the trees.  Here are the photographs.

People leave their thoughts or hopes or prayers for some ‘deed’ they would like ‘done’ – the recovery of a friend or a loved one would be the usual prayer, with these thoughts, they leave something like a rosary beads.  You can see some of these on the photo of the top of the Cross and even on the St. Bridget’s Cross.

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Some Irish Superstitions

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Some Irish Superstitions
Louth Archaeological and Historical Journal, ?1917
Henry Morris pp. 365-368

Superstition is generally regarded as the offspring of the religious instinct in man misled by ignorance. Few other human weakness’ have been so unsparingly and so unanimously denounced, and yet, it survives: the savage carries his charm, and the modern motorist or the regiment on the battlefield has its mascot. Above or behind probably a million doors in England the horseshoe will be found nailed up, and there is a general desire to avoid association with the unlucky number thirteen. Neither of these were Irish superstitions, but we are borrowing them, for to the anglicised Irish mind even superstition is respectable when it happens to be English. Irish superstitions on the other hand are rapidly dying out, not because they are superstitious, but because they are only Irish, and have no place in English social life.

Such however is not the point of this article. What I want to draw attention to is that some Irish superstitions, instead of being the offspring of ignorance, appear rather to be concealed wisdom.

An instance is the practice observed by the peasant woman in milking her cow. All the customs or beliefs quoted here were, I should state, current in my boyhood’s-days in Farney, Co. Monaghan, and no doubt in other parts of Ireland too. The peasant girl in Farney was taught to milk the first few ‘striogs’ or squirts out of each teat on to the ground. This was for the fairies invisibly flitting around, who were likely to make reprisals if this act of kindness was neglected. The same custom is also observed in Co. Donegal. I regarded this as very silly until I heard a learned professor explain in a lecture that there were many thousand times more microbes in the first milk drawn from the teats than in all the remaining milk the cow yielded.

This at once lifted the superstition and placed it on the throne of science, and suggested a train of investigation which goes to prove that many Irish superstitions have behind them shrewd observation and matured wisdom.

Now the old sage who prescribed in the beginning that the milk first drawn from the cow’s teats at each milking should not be used certainly knew nothing of the modern theory of bacteria. But he probably knew enough to be convinced. that this milk was neither clean nor wholesome, Had he preached this doctrine, however, to young rustic milkmaids, abounding in rude health, he should neither be believed nor obeyed. He knew this, and he also knew, the terrors the supernatural had, so he wisely warned his milkmaids that to propitiate the fairies this first milk should be given to them, and woe betide her who carelessly forgot, or had the temerity to refuse to carry out this observance: And so the housewife believed she was feeding the fairies when she was really preserving: herself and her family from unwholesome milk containing millions of bacteria.

Another custom of similar purpose was that at a meal any food that fell to the floor should not be lifted or used. The “good people” wanted it. It was an invisible fairy that plucked it from your hand. Let it go, if you are wise. Such was the belief, and it was very generally acted on. In times of want and scarcity if a large piece fell on the floor they compromised a bit by lifting it, breaking off a small portion which was thrown away, and the remainder eaten.

Now the old-world wisdom behind the custom was that peasants did not eat their meals in dining rooms with waxed and polished floors, but in kitchens with earthen floors which were highly septic. Food that fell on such a floor was not fit to be eaten. But a country youth, painfully conscious of a keen appetite, would not be restrained by such a plea. Modern science, with all its logic and soundness, fails to get its precepts observed by the young and thoughtless.

The patriarchs of the olden time were wiser in their generation, and did not believe in giving reasons to those not capable of understanding or appreciating them; but the simplest person knew and feared the fairies, hence the latter were pressed into service, and the tainted food remained uneaten.

Still another similar custom was that the housewife should never go to bed without having some clean water in the house for the use of the “good people.” And sometimes the poor tired woman, when she had just retired to rest, suddenly remembered that there was no clean water in the house. She got up; dressed, and going out in the dark to the well brought in a can of clean water. Then she went to bed again quite happy that she had escaped the fairies ill-will, which she had so nearly incurred. Well it is very unsafe-not to speak of bad housekeeping-to have no clean water in a house during the night. People living in towns with water taps every-where at hand can hardly realise what it means to have no fresh water in the house; with the well a furlong or more away. Should anyone suddenly get ill during the night he might be lost while water was being fetched from the well. But the chances were a million to one against such an occurrence. The certainty of the fairies being about left little room for chance, so the fresh water was got in: the superstition established a useful practice.

Some writers have shown, or at any rate argued, that the ‘púca’ (pooka) is a very modern Irish fairy, but modern or not he had to take a hand in the social economy. Nice ripe blackberries are sweet and palatable; but hungry boys and girls will eat blackberries that are neither sweet nor palatable. However, after ‘Oidhche Shamhna’ or Hallow Eve no blackberries are eaten. And why ? Because on that night the púca goes abroad and crawls over the blackberries covering them with an invisible slime, and where is the boy or girl who would eat a berry soiled with the púca’s slime. The fact seems to be that blackberries after that date are stale and unwholesome. But the púca’s slime is the great deterrent.

Young people ate fond of doing everything that is dangerous and wrong. One of those customs beloved of youth is walking backwards. It is not very wrong but it is highly dangerous, as a person walking backwards, not seeing where he is going, may fall into a dyke or pit or some other harmful place. Tell a child never to walk backwards and he is sure to practise it all the more when he believes you don’t see him. The old Irish people did not tell their juveniles not to walk backward because it was dangerous, but because it had the effect, or the same effect as cursing one’s father and mother. I remember well when I wondered how it could possibly have that effect, but youth has the gift of believing without seeing and so we refrained from walking backwards, simply because we did not wish to curse our parents.

After the fairies the next most potent agents for keeping the young and head-strong, and erring within bounds were the Christian saints, and of these Columcille was most dreaded. Even the most reckless quailed before the possibility of earning Columcille’s curse. It shows in what veneration he must have been held, when we find his name used so freely for this purpose. The wise people of old, looking around for the most potent preventive, could find none greater than Columcille’s curse, and this curse was greatest dreaded because Columcille was most highly venerated.

I shall not attempt to recount here all the things that Columcille is accredited with having cursed. Naturally most of these are things evil in them-selves, but some are things not intrinsically bad. For instance, he is said to have cursed anyone who should completely bake one side of a cake before the other side got a turn. The cakes common at this time were oat cakes, which were baked up-right before the fire. On one occasion, is it said, Columcille, weary and hungry, came into a house where a bannock of bread was being baked before the fire. Columcille asked for some of the bread. The woman replied she could not give it, as only one side was baked. Thereupon the saint left his curse with anyone who should ever again bake a cake in this manner. So the God-fearing housewife thence-forth regularly turned the bannock giving each side alternately to the fire. But the truth is that this is the only scientific way to do it. If one side is kept all the time to the fire until it is fully baked it contracts so much that the bannock becomes concave, like a deep saucer, and the other side can never be fully or uniformly baked: indeed the bannock is apt to break into pieces. Whereas if the two sides are turned alternately they contract equally, the bannock retains its flat shape, and can be perfectly and uniformly baked. All this argument, however, would be wasted on a rough or careless woman or servant, but Columcille’s curse made the worst of them attentive.

In exactly the same way he is said to have cursed anyone/who should let a well be polluted, and thus the saint’s supposed malediction has guarded the purity of thousands of wells, for the health of the people, for fifteen hundred years after he had laid down his weary pen, and said “Let Baithen write the rest.”

Another superstitious belief, that belongs very probably to the same category, is that a person who hears the cuckoo for the first time in any season, before he has broken his night’s fast, is sure to die during the course of that year, or before the cuckoo comes again. To this day I know people who entertain such a fear. To young people, or lazy people, who should be inclined to lie abed of mornings in that bright and busy time of year, here was a powerful incentive to get up early, and have breakfast over before the first notes of the “melodious cuckoo” were heard. And the habit, once formed, might well last throughout the whole summer, which, with the old Irish, lasted up till Samhain or 1st of November.

Taken in conjunction with so many other similar observances it is hard to think the belief ever had anything behind it other than the cunning of the elders of the people in taking advantage of the credulity and natural faith of simple folk, in order to train them in a good habit, which nature inclined them against.

This by no means exhausts the list, for a careful investigator and observer – in any district will find other similar beliefs, in all of which the end may be said to justify the means, or at any rate was regarded as a justification by those who originated them.

I will now mention another superstition of a wholly different kind and of quite a different interest. About a year ago I happened to be near Tuam in the County Galway, and I saw a young baby a couple of months old shown to a very old woman. The ‘cailleach’ took the child in her arms, and the first thing she did was to spit on it. I at once saw in this strange proceeding some superstitious observance, and I asked her to explain why she did it. She was rather taken aback at having been observed in the act, as she tried to do it covertly, but the only explanation I could extract. from her was that it was lucky and the right thing to do on first seeing any young baby. I inquired further and found that spitting on babies was also known as a custom in parts of Cork and Kerry , and that there it was accompanied by some formula of Irish words which I have not so far succeeded in obtaining.

Somewhat later in a book on Uganda I read that it is a custom with some of the tribes or races of that country when friends are meeting or parting to spit on one another. And the friendlier they are the more generous is the ceremony. “Spitting,” explains the author, “has a very different signification with the Masai from that which prevails with us. With them it expresses the greatest good will and the best of wishes. It takes the place of the compliments of the season, and you had better spit upon a damsel than kiss her.” Now it appears to be more than a probability that the old Galway woman’s spitting on the baby is the last remnant of the same custom still in full force in Uganda, which may have also existed among our own ancestors at one time, and which, having gone down before advancing civilization, has still been retained for babies, who of course cannot protest, by that most conservative type of human beings-old women.

But beyond the babies and old women everyone in Farney a generation ago used to spit on their right hands before shaking hands with one they wished to welcome. Handshaking was not as commonplace then as now: it was reserved for great occasions, such as welcoming strangers; or friends long absent, and the usual formula was first to spit on your hand just as you were about to offer it to the new-comer, and say “Musha leave it there, but its yourself that’s welcome,” or “but you’re a hundred thousand welcomes.” This custom is also observed in parts of Connacht. There are other examples also of spitting for luck or goodwill. A man in the fair on selling an animal usually gives back a coin for luck, called a “luck-penny,” and custom prescribes that he must spit on this coin. Some buyers would not accept it otherwise. It is common to hear at a fair “What luck-penny will you give me?” “Oh, I’ll spit on the usual shilling for you.”

Among card-players also it is quite common for players to spit on the “hand” of cards they get, as also on the money they stake on the game particularly, if it happens to be their last coin. It is but right to state that the spitting in all these cases is a mere convention, and is done with the expenditure of the smallest possible amount of saliva.

Most readers will also recall the instances in the New Testament where Our Lord used spittle in curing the man born blind, and the deaf mute. In doing this we may be sure He merely adopted some of the usages of the country and the time.

Two years ago in this JOURNAL I showed that we had here in Ireland remnants of customs still practised by the aborigines of Australia; and that certain words in Irish and in German pointed to once common customs in the Celtic and Teuton races.

All this goes to suggest the deep interest that lies hidden in these unnoticed and un-regarded, and now regularly despised beliefs, customs and observances, which carry us back to the infancy of the human race, when people now inhabiting different continents, and blackened or browned or whitened by different climes, once believed the same things, and practised common rites and ceremonies.

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Psychic Phenomena: Haunted People, Part 2

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Back | Psychic Phenomena: Haunted People, Part 1

So indeed is any first contact with the unexplored world of the psyche. To the sceptic, the whole episode may sound too melodramatic for words, totally unbelievable; and here again one has no scientific proof that the entity we called ‘Mary’ had any existence outside Mrs R’s own consciousness. Even the manifestation of the figure of a woman in the bedroom could have been a projected hallucination, of which we were all victims. But the evidence of the R. family; the testimony of friends and neighbours; the genuine fear which the sensittive Mrs R. exhibited; the intervention of a medium of solid professional reputation-all these things pointed to a not unntypical case of an earthbound entity seeking to be ‘rescued’ from the predicament in which it had found itself.

Mediums and clairvoyants, as well as members of Psychical Research and the Churches Fellowship for Psychical Study, can describe similar incidents; there have been many such cries for assistance.

Although it involved no ‘rescue circle’, a rather similar incident took place some ten years ago. The locale was a bungalow on the County Antrim coast. Again I was told of the manifestation by the person who had attracted the phenomena. A middle-aged woman had suffered a severe illness and she had taken the bungalow for a holiday with her family. Due to the nature of her illness and her subsequent restlessness, she slept alone, her husband occupying another room.

The room the invalid chose overlooked the sea, and was very comfortable as well as affording magnificent views. The rest of the family slept at the back of the house.

The wife retired early the first night and had scarcely got into bed, before she became aware that someone was trying to climb over her and get into the bed. ‘It was a solid body, and I lay petrified,’ she said, ‘I could tell from the limbs, that it was a woman, and she appeared to think that the bed lay in the opposite direction, for she lay across me’.

Needless to say, my informant scuttled out of bed to rouse the family, who clearly believed she had had a nightmare. To pacify her, the husband said he would pass the night in the bedroom. He did so, and also spent the following night there, and reported that nothing untoward had occurred. The woman assumed she had suffered from a nightmare and moved back into the room.

Once again she was forced to leave as, for the second time, ‘someone’ attempted to share the bed with her, and persisted in lying across the bed. Marks on the wall-paper showed that the bed had indeed lain alongside the wall and not with its head to the wall as it stood now. The unseen contendor for the bed, therefore, did not know that the furniture had been rearranged and, more important, the unfortunate woman whose rest was being disturbed could not possibly have known that the bed had been shifted because she had never been in the bungalow before, but, from the first she had insisted the ‘someone’ or ‘something’ had lain across the bed in the manner in which the furniture had originally been placed!

At last they shut up the room and used the rest of the house. There were no other disturbances, except that the wife complained of a sensation of terrible sadness that seemed to affect only her, and seemed to be coming from the seaward side of the house.

One other incident concerned the young son of the house, whose name was David. He came running into the back door of the house one morning, asking whether it was his mother or his grandmother who had called him from the front garden? Neither had left the kitchen or been out of sight of the other in the past hour. David insisted he had heard a woman wailing his name several times. He had crossed the road from the shore to see if he was wanted for a message.

In the meantime the husband had decided to do a little discreet investigation, and discovered two interesting facts:

The previous owner of the bungalow had lost his wife by drowning: Her body had been washed up almost opposite the house. After some weeks of living alone her husband had shut up the house and gone to live elsewhere. The door to the bedroom was always kept locked after the wife’s death and they had had a son called ‘David’ too.

Local people were reluctant to give more than the bare facts of the drowning incident, but one got the impression that there had been contributory causes of a somewhat tragic nature.

When the family returned to Belfast, they got in touch with me and the woman told me her story. She had never been aware of her psychic sensitivity before, and was distressed and upset by what had occurred. One aspect which worried her considerably, and which she had confided to no one, was her awareness of ‘thinking someone elses thoughts’ and an intense feeling of sadness and despair which was totally alien to her own personality. ‘I prayed for that woman,’ she said simply ‘for I felt she needed someone’.

Not all entities of this nature need help or reassurance themselves. Some make themselves known simply to help and comfort those they have left behind, across the barrier we call Death.

A mother told me of the loss of a dearly loved and only child. The child died at the age of four in a car accident, and this will always remain with me as a tender reminder that as the Song of Songs tells us, ‘Love is strong as Death’.

The stark tragedy of such a loss to a loving parent can only be dimly appreciated by an outsider. For months after the accident the grief-stricken mother would find her way to the child’s bedroom, and sit down among the scattered toys that she hadn’t the heart to put away. ‘And always’ she told me in half whisper, ‘always he’d be there. I’d smell a smell like fresh violets and feel his hand touch my face.’ She looked at me for any sign of disbelief on my face, then continued, “It was then I knew I hadn’t really lost John; I’d never really lose him.’

Of the curious and poignant sensations she experienced in her son’s bedroom, she had told no one, not even her husband, afraid,.-as so many people are- that he would smile at her fancies, and that some would-be kind person would try to explain her feeling away in the harsh light of reality and in so doing tear the last shreds of comfort from her. ‘I wonder, will he always be there?’ she asked me after we had sat awhile in silence, and that was a question I couldn’t answer. What I could say with some assurance was that, whether she continued to feel his actual bodily presence or not, her little son would be there for as long as it took Time to heal the Memory to hold back the door; and that John would go on to take his rightful place, leaving behind him not grief but recollection, and love too strong for tears. For in this inexact science of ours, as we probe into these vast and un-chartered realms, we know there is a place where facts end and faith begins.

Taken from “Psychic Phenomena in Ireland” By Sheila St. Clair Published by the Mercier Press
1972 No ISBN.

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Psychic Phenomena: Haunted People, Part 1

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Most of us are familiar with incidents involving haunted houses, but, perhaps we are not so aware of the fact that it is often not so much the house as the person inside it who attracts the psychic manifestation.

Why do some people seem to have this power to attract phenomona? The question has always fascinated me. Is it because, whether conscious of their psychic sensitivity or not, they give off some form of sympathetic rediation causing them to become ‘psychic transmitters’? This degree of awareness and their power to evoke manifestations will of course vary from case to case.

Take the classic example of poltergeist activity in a house where a young person is living. Owing to adolescence and the unstable factors in his undeveloped psyche, such a young person might evoke formidable phenomena that might be quite senseless in their content. In another case the phenomonen, taking its cue from another sensitive, might be restrained and even beautiful in its demonstration. Now and then the other end of the scale, it could become the nightmare expression of a personality possessed by a powerful discarnate entity who would turn life into a waking hell.

This was the case with Mrs R … of Belfast. Three years ago I was called on to investigate a series of incidents in which she figured. Thanks to a telephone call from a journalist friend of mine I found myself wending my way across the city one dreary winter night. I arrived at a modern terrace house, the home of the woman who earlier in the day rung my friend in a state of restrained hysteria. A frightened and distraught woman whose home and very life had been ‘taken over’ by some unseen and menacing presence.

We were greeted by Mrs R … and her engineer husband, who having installed us in front of a blazing fire, proceeded to give us a blow-by-blow account of what had happened. Having arrived from England only a month before, the family had installed themselves very happily in their newly built home. It was in every respect ideal; close to Mr R’s work, school, and transport. Everything was normal for the first three weeks; then Mrs R … became aware that she was no longer alone in the house, after the others had gone out to work or school. At first she described it as merely ‘a feeling’ as though someone standing behind her. Then she began to feel a hand on her shoulder, and a distinct presence that followed her from room to room.

‘At first I thought it was my nerves,’ she said, ‘being away from home, and alone all day. But then I began to hear a voice; it spoke to me and called me by name, and I somehow got the feeling it was in terrible trouble.’

Mrs R … told me that she began feeling a great sense of sadness and misery, and other sensations and emotions totally foreign to her. As each day went by the unseen visitor made its presence felt more and more. Life became a nightmare. Mrs. R … knew neither sleep nor peace. At night the entity would come to her and wake her, and the children began to complain of seeing a shadowy figure in the bedroom. By day mysterious noises were heard, and objects were moved about. The modern light fittings began to behave in an extraordinary fashion switches were clicked into the ‘on’ position before the bewildered eyes of family and friends alike. Mr. R … , knew a great deal about electrical installation, examined the circuits and wiring, but found everything in order and could offer no satisfactory explanation for the manifestations he himself had witnessed.

After about three weeks of these occurrances, a friend told Mrs R…. of my research work, and, through another journalist, she was put in touch with me. We discussed the whole situation that first evening, but could think of no reason for the manifestation. Two isolated incidents occurred while we were there. Both my colleague and myself heard a distinct knocking on the front door. The husband also heard it but not Mrs R… The door was opened but there was no one there. Later my friend remarked that we could feel an area of cold between him and myself, and within a minute Mrs R … said in a very frightened voice, ‘It’s here! I can feel it’. We saw nothing, but we could see how frightened our hostess was.

Later Mrs R…. was to refer to the presence as ‘her’, and was quite convinced that it was female. The hand she felt on her shoulder was quite solid, she told us; young and soft like a girl’s hand. Feeling rather worried and helpless at my inabillity to help the frightened woman, I came away saying I would return later in the week. Then, I hoped, I could bring some help for the unhappy household.

An examination of the plan of the estate showed that, prior to the erection of the modern terrace houses, in one of which the R’s…’ lived, an old house had stood on the site. Nothing of moment had happened here; no crimes or incidents during the Troubles; no murder or any other violent incident had been reported in the area.

During the next fortnight I became a frequent visitor to Mrs R….. as the ghostly manifestations became more pronounced. The entity now communicated with Mrs R…. and told her its name was ‘May’ or ‘Mary’, and that it was afraid. It repeatedly urged Mrs R…. to pray for her, or alternatively asked for a priest. Mrs. R…. was not a Catholic, and as she was a stranger to the district, I undertook to locate the priest of the parish and, having explained the circumstances, to ask his help.

I explained my mission and my professional interest on helping the family. To my surprise the Reverend gentleman treated me with a degree of rudeness and arrogance that was far from my definition of Christian charity. In the conversation the only practical suggestion he saw fit to make was that Mrs. R … needed a head doctor, and so did I. As for the unhappy and disconsolate ‘Mary’ – well, the good father obviously considered that his cure of souls did not extend into that dimension. Let the entity shift for itself!

Fortunately, I found less orthodox but more understanding aid, in the shape of a local medium und her husband who were only too delighted to help.

After a long and trying session in Mrs R’….s bedroom, ‘Mary’ was persuaded to materialize and the medium extracted the whole pathetic story. It appears that ‘Mary’ had lived in the big house that had once occupied the ground where the new estate now stood. A dutiful, if fearful daughter of a father who, as she described him, must have been an unbending, bullying relic of Victorian repression. Eventually her father died, and ‘Mary’ herself had died soon afterwards, while still in her early twenties. She had hated and feared her father in life and she explained that she was frightened of meeting him in death.

This was why she had stayed close to the physical area she had known when alive, a tragic earthbound spirit, lonely and afraid. With the coming of the R….. family, she had felt a bond of sympathy between her and Mrs. R….. so she had clung to the only real friend she had ever known.

After long and difficult explanations, Mary was persuaded to leave her friend Mrs R….. alone, and strengthened by the prayers and heartfelt sympathy of the assembled company, she seemed happy to do so, her fears in part, at least, assuaged.

From that moment Mrs R. had no more problems, and shortly afterwards the whole family returned to England. I heard nothing more, but did ‘Mary’ keep her promise and leave the family alone, or did she follow them to another land?

Perhaps the most touching part of the story was Mrs. R’s…. insistence that neither I nor the medium should do anything to hurt ‘Mary’. ‘She came to me for help’, she insisted, ‘and I don’t want the poor lonely soul upset or frightened any more.’ A very heartwarming response from a woman who had suffered a great deal and feared at times for her sanity as a result of ‘Mary’s’ cries for help.

A curious, and to the uniniated, frightening experience!

So indeed is any first contact with the unexplored world of the psyche. To the sceptic, the whole episode may sound too melodramatic for words, totally unbelievable; and here again one has no scientific proof that the entity we called ‘Mary’ had any existence outside Mrs R’s own consciousness. Even the manifestation of the figure of a woman in the bedroom could have been a projected hallucination, of which we were all victims. But the evidence of the R. family; the testimony of friends and neighbours; the genuine fear which the sensittive Mrs R. exhibited; the intervention of a medium of solid professional reputation-all these things pointed to a not unntypical case of an earthbound entity seeking to be ‘rescued’ from the predicament in which it had found itself.

Mediums and clairvoyants, as well as members of Psychical Research and the Churches Fellowship for Psychical Study, can describe similar incidents; there have been many such cries for assistance.

Although it involved no ‘rescue circle’, a rather similar incident took place some ten years ago. The locale was a bungalow on the County Antrim coast. Again I was told of the manifestation by the person who had attracted the phenomena. A middle-aged woman had suffered a severe illness and she had taken the bungalow for a holiday with her family. Due to the nature of her illness and her subsequent restlessness, she slept alone, her husband occupying another room.

The room the invalid chose overlooked the sea, and was very comfortable as well as affording magnificent views. The rest of the family slept at the back of the house.

The wife retired early the first night and had scarcely got into bed, before she became aware that someone was trying to climb over her and get into the bed. ‘It was a solid body, and I lay petrified,’ she said, ‘I could tell from the limbs, that it was a woman, and she appeared to think that the bed lay in the opposite direction, for she lay across me’.

Needless to say, my informant scuttled out of bed to rouse the family, who clearly believed she had had a nightmare. To pacify her, the husband said he would pass the night in the bedroom. He did so, and also spent the following night there, and reported that nothing untoward had occurred. The woman assumed she had suffered from a nightmare and moved back into the room.

Once again she was forced to leave as, for the second time, ‘someone’ attempted to share the bed with her, and persisted in lying across the bed. Marks on the wall-paper showed that the bed had indeed lain alongside the wall and not with its head to the wall as it stood now. The unseen contendor for the bed, therefore, did not know that the furniture had been rearranged and, more important, the unfortunate woman whose rest was being disturbed could not possibly have known that the bed had been shifted because she had never been in the bungalow before, but, from the first she had insisted the ‘someone’ or ‘something’ had lain across the bed in the manner in which the furniture had originally been placed!

At last they shut up the room and used the rest of the house. There were no other disturbances, except that the wife complained of a sensation of terrible sadness that seemed to affect only her, and seemed to be coming from the seaward side of the house.

One other incident concerned the young son of the house, whose name was David. He came running into the back door of the house one morning, asking whether it was his mother or his grandmother who had called him from the front garden? Neither had left the kitchen or been out of sight of the other in the past hour. David insisted he had heard a woman wailing his name several times. He had crossed the road from the shore to see if he was wanted for a message.

In the meantime the husband had decided to do a little discreet investigation, and discovered two interesting facts:

The previous owner of the bungalow had lost his wife by drowning: Her body had been washed up almost opposite the house. After some weeks of living alone her husband had shut up the house and gone to live elsewhere. The door to the bedroom was always kept locked after the wife’s death and they had had a son called ‘David’ too.

Local people were reluctant to give more than the bare facts of the drowning incident, but one got the impression that there had been contributory causes of a somewhat tragic nature.

When the family returned to Belfast, they got in touch with me and the woman told me her story. She had never been aware of her psychic sensitivity before, and was distressed and upset by what had occurred. One aspect which worried her considerably, and which she had confided to no one, was her awareness of ‘thinking someone elses thoughts’ and an intense feeling of sadness and despair which was totally alien to her own personality. ‘I prayed for that woman,’ she said simply ‘for I felt she needed someone’.

Not all entities of this nature need help or reassurance themselves. Some make themselves known simply to help and comfort those they have left behind, across the barrier we call Death.

A mother told me of the loss of a dearly loved and only child. The child died at the age of four in a car accident, and this will always remain with me as a tender reminder that as the Song of Songs tells us, ‘Love is strong as Death’.

The stark tragedy of such a loss to a loving parent can only be dimly appreciated by an outsider. For months after the accident the grief-stricken mother would find her way to the child’s bedroom, and sit down among the scattered toys that she hadn’t the heart to put away. ‘And always’ she told me in half whisper, ‘always he’d be there. I’d smell a smell like fresh violets and feel his hand touch my face.’ She looked at me for any sign of disbelief on my face, then continued, “It was then I knew I hadn’t really lost John; I’d never really lose him.’

Of the curious and poignant sensations she experienced in her son’s bedroom, she had told no one, not even her husband, afraid,.-as so many people are- that he would smile at her fancies, and that some would-be kind person would try to explain her feeling away in the harsh light of reality and in so doing tear the last shreds of comfort from her. ‘I wonder, will he always be there?’ she asked me after we had sat awhile in silence, and that was a question I couldn’t answer. What I could say with some assurance was that, whether she continued to feel his actual bodily presence or not, her little son would be there for as long as it took Time to heal the Memory to hold back the door; and that John would go on to take his rightful place, leaving behind him not grief but recollection, and love too strong for tears. For in this inexact science of ours, as we probe into these vast and un-chartered realms, we know there is a place where facts end and faith begins.

Taken from “Psychic Phenomena in Ireland” by Sheila St. Clair Published by the Mercier Press
1972 No ISBN.

Forward | Psychic Phenomena: Haunted People, Part 2

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Irish Fishermen Craftsmen, Customs and Superstitions

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Irish Folk Custom and Belief (Nósanna agus Piseoga na nGael) by Seán Ó Súilleabháin.

The Fisherman

Along the sea-coast and in the vicinity of lakes and rivers, fishing served to partially replace or supplement the food won from the land. As water was a quite different element from the land, embarking on it and catching fish in it were hedged around with taboos, as well as other beliefs and customs. There is room here to mention but a few.

If fishermen on their way to the water met a woman (still worse if she happened to be red-haired or barefoot), they knew instinctively that they would catch nothing that day, and generally returned home. It was similarly regarded as unlucky to meet a hare, a rabbit, a priest, or a fox. Indeed, one way of ensuring that a fisherman would have no luck was to say to him :

Sionnach ar do dhubhán,
Girrfhia or do bhaoite,
‘S nár mharbha’ tu non bhreac
Go Lá Fhéile Bríde.

(May there be a fox on your fishing hook,
and a hare on your bait,
and may you kill no fish until St. Brigid’s Day!)

Much discussion on the probable bases for these ill-omens has been published by European Scholars.

Fishermen had many taboos to cope with as well. While fishing at sea, they
were not supposed to mention a priest, a pig or a weasel (they had to be
spoken of as ‘the man with the white collar’, “cold irons” and “the noble
little old woman” respectively). So too when setting out for the fishing
grounds, they should not bail water out of the boat; three men of the same
name could not fish together; and no fisherman should smoke while at work.
And, at home in his own house, he had to take care that a fish bone was
never thrown into the fire.  Ill-luck was supposed to ensue if these or many
other taboos were broken.

Many beliefs and customs of a pre-christian character were also associated with endeavours to ensure good luck while fishing. A branch of rowan or furze was often taken out in the boat, or sprigs of them attached to the mens clothes. A green branch was also tied to the mast on May Morn for luck.

A live coal from the fire was thrown after a fisherman as he left the house to give him good luck. Eating the first egg laid by a hen was another supposedly beneficial action, as was the strewing of shell/fish in the four corners of the house on St. Brigid’s Day (a symbolic act to ensure a supply of fish each day during the fishing season). It was also believed that dipping a fishing-bait into water in which the flesh of a corr-iasc (crane-bird, noted for its ability to catch fish) had been boiled, or spitting on the bait would confer power on it.

Christianity gave rise to some very beautiful fishing customs: nets were lowered into the water in the name of God, Mary and St. Peter; the Rosary was generally recited in boats at sea at midnight, while the men waited to shoot or haul their nets; and as fishing boats passed welts and other places on shore which were deemed holy, the sails were lowered in salute.

Certain lakes and rivers were thought to be poor for fishing, ever since some saint or other had cursed them after being badly treated by fishermen there. Finally, there was a traditional taboo against fishing at sea on Saturday nights (this was probably due to the Church law regarding observance of the Sabbath). The Eve of the Feast of St. Martin (November 11) was a closed night, so far as fishing was concerned. John Boyle O’Reilly’s well known ballad about the drowning of many fishermen who ignored the taboo on the coast of Wexford is based on an historical occurrence. “The sea belongs to Martin on that night.”

Craftsmen

In former times, far more so than now, people depended on local craftsmen to supply them with goods and articles which they needed from time to time. There were thousands of blacksmiths, tinsmiths, carpenters, boat-builders, shoemakers nail makers, tailors (who went from house to house to work), manty-makers, thatchers, weavers, masons, millers, basket makers and other tradesmen, who were normal and familiar figures in rural communities. Each of these crafts had its own particular body of traditional custom and belief associated with it.

For want of space, I shall have to confine myself to the blacksmith as an example of a rural craftsman. Possibly because of the comparatively new metal (iron) which was his medium, he was looked upon as a man of extraordinary powers-this attribution to him may well have been derived from the time when iron was first introduced to this country, over 2000 years ago. It was the proud boast of the smith that he was the only tradesman who could make his own tools. In rural areas, at least, special tribute was paid to him in the form of the head of each beef or other animal killed for food (cuid an ghabba an ceann), as well as gifts of oats and straw. The smith was supposed to have power to cure diseases in man and animals – even forge- water was effective towards this end. He could banish evil spirits too. Above all, his curse was feared; woe betide anyone against whom the smith ” turned the anvil”.

It is sad to think that such a useful and colourful member of the community has almost completely disappeared from the rural scene. Neither the articles which he forged for so long, nor his special powers in other fields, are needed in our modern age.

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The Farmer: Irish Folk Custom and Belief

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Irish Folk Custom and Belief (Nósanna agus Piseoga na nGael) by Seán Ó Súilleabháin.

The Farmer

In olden days in Ireland, hunting must have contributed substantially to the support of the people. It is now such a long time since the population became settled, rather than nomadic, however, that relatively little custom and belief concerning hunting has survived.

The land has for a long time been the man source of Irish food supplies. In early times, grain crops came to be extensively cultivated, to be followed by the potato a few hundred years ago. The fertility of the land, as well as the preservation of that fertility, were all important in the eyes of our ancient ancestors. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that a large body of folk custom and belief came to be associated with these two aspects of agriculture.

It was a general belief that the presence of a “fairy fort” or of a “fairy well” on a farm meant that the land would be fertile. To preserve this necessary quality, certain steps had to be taken : salt was sprinkled on a field before a crop was sown in it; so too was water in which a plough “sock” or coulter had been immersed (perhaps due to the belief that iron had special magical qualities). The christianisation of such customs as these can be seen in the later sprinkling on the land of holy water (blessed on Rogation Days, on Ascension Thursday or on Whit Sunday). When bonfires were lighted on May Eve or on St. John’s Eve (June 23), the farm would either be encircled with fire by taking burning reed/sheaves around it to ward off evil influences, or else some burning bushes or sticks from the fires were thrown over the fence into the fields where crops were growing; similarly, in the areas where the May-bush custom prevailed, branches from the bush were thrown among the crops. It was even believed that the fertility of a neighbour’s holding could be stolen from him by secreting eggs or raw meat (or the dead body of some animal) on his land – as these decayed, so did his prosperity by a process of sympathetic magic.

There is ample evidence from Ireland and Europe that dead bodies were not allowed to be taken for burial through the land of others; special laws were passed against this in several countries. The basic reason seems to have been the belief that the passage of a corpse brought ill-luck to land and crops.

There is not space in this booklet to enumerate the many customs and beliefs associated with the planting and care of crops. Let one suffice : it was deemed very unlucky to miss a line in a ridge when planting seed-potatoes, the whole crop and even the general prosperity of the farm might be threatened.

The securing of the harvest, no matter what the crops were was a crucial period of the agricultural year. It will not surprise us, therefore, that when this operation was completed, great celebrations took place. The spade was ceremonially placed in the fire to signify that it was no longer needed, once the potato crop had been dug. Even at the end of a long period of spinning, part of the spinning-wheel was similarly put into the fire. They would, however, be quickly rescued from the flames by the woman of the house, who was then expected to prepare a feast for the workers.
This celebration was known as the ’féil searra’ or ‘clabhsúr’ (closure), and included drinking as well as feasting, singing, dancing and storytelling. It was purely a happy social occasion and not at all based on any folk belief. So too was the cutting of the last sheaf of the grain-crop, which was known by such various names as the “church”, the “granny”, ‘an chaileach’ (the old woman) and ‘an luchtar’ (the bunch of sheaf. Sometimes the last sheaf was sent mischievously, to some neighbour who was slower at reaping his crop ; in most cases, however, it was taken home in triumph and placed on the beams of the kitchen during the feast, and harvest knots were woven from it later and worn by boys and girls.

Farm animals and their products helped also to balance the economy of rural communities in Ireland. These consisted mainly of cows and their produce, horses, donkeys, sheep, goats, pigs, as well as poultry and bees. The many customs and beliefs connected with all of these cannot be dealt with in a booklet of the present size. I have, therefore, decided to confine my remarks to the main type of farm animal, the cow and her produce of milk and butter.

Almost all of the customs and beliefs in this field were concerned with the physical welfare of the cows and the warding off of diseases and other evils which might affect them harmfully. The cow-house or byre was built on a site which would not prevent the passage of fairies or encroach on their territory (mainly, the “fairy fort”). Crosses made of straw and other materials on St. Brigid’s Eve were hung in the cow-house or fixed to the doors and windows. It was hoped to protect the cows themselves by tying red ribbons to their tails or around their necks ; rings made of rowan were similarly applied for the same purpose. Cattle were driven across the dying flames of bonfires on May Eve and St. John’s Eve, or between two of these fires. So too they were forced to swim in a lake or river at certain times to avert illness and bad luck.

A goat was generally kept with herds of cows “to bring them luck”. I have heard this custom explained by saying that goats had the capacity for eating poisonous herbs without being fatally affected, which was not the case with cattle. Another animal which was regarded as lucky in a herd was a ‘maighdean bhuaile’ (a cow which had never borne a calf). Holy water was, of course, often sprinkled on livestock and scores of charms (apocryphal folk-prayers) were recited to avert or cure the many diseases from which they might suffer whether through natural causes or, as the folk often suspected through the evil eye of an unfriendly neighbour. The fairies too were blamed for causing animals to be “elf-shot”. This was due to the fact that ailing cows, with pierced hides might be found grazing near a place where small stone arrow-heads from ancient times were ofen found lying about ; the fairies were immediately blamed for having cast these weapons at the cows in an attempt to take them off into fairyland. One of the many remedies for “elf-shot” was to give the stricken animal a drink of water in which the “fairy arrows ” had been boiled.

As soon as a cow had calved, she was ceremoniously blessed with holy water and are, while the following prayer was recited three times :

Go mbeannaí Dia dhuit, a bhó!
Go mbeannaíthear faoi dhó do do laogh!
Go mbeannaí an triúr atá i bhflaitheas Dé,
Mar atá : An t-Athair agus an Mac agus an Spiorad Naomh!
Tar, a Mhuire, agus suidh ; tar, a Bhríd, agus bligh ;
Tar, a Naomh Mícheál Ard-aingeal, agus beannaigh an mart.
In ainm an Athar ages an Mhic ague an Spiorad Naofa,
Agus Amen, a Dhia.”

(God’s blessing on thee, O cow!
twice blest be thee, O calf!
May the Three who are in Heaven bless you :
the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit!
Come, Mary, and sit down ; come, Brigid, and start milking;
come, Blessed Michael, the Archangel, and bless the beef
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen, O God.)

Although it was commonly accepted that the fairies who lived in the forts might need milk and take it from cows on the farm, this was not resented, as people wished to live in amity with their otherworld neighbours. Precautionary measures were directed more against evil-minded neighbours, who were liable to endeavour to steal one’s milk or butter “profit” (‘sochar an bhainne’) by magic means. Newly-calved cows stood in need of special protection, as their supply of milk was assured. Crushed flowers, such as marsh marigold, were rubbed to their udders, which were also singed with the flame of a blessed candle. The first steam of milk drawn from such a cow was allowed to fall on the ground ”for those who might need it” (the fairies, presumably), and then a cross was marked on the cow shank with some of her milk.

A charred sod of turf from the Midsummer bonfire was placed in the milk-house as protection. The greatest care was taken not to lose one’s milk-luck through negligence, as witness the following traditional taboos : don’t give away any milk on New Year’s Day, on May Day, on any Monday or on a Friday; don’t lend a milk-vessel; don’t take to fetch water from the well a vessel which is milk-stained; when such a vessel has been washed, do not throw the cleansing water into a river or stream ; don’t give milk to a neighbour unless salt has been put into it; don’t allow milk out of the house, if anybody is ill there.

It was a traditional custom never to drink milk on Good Friday; even the baby in the cradle, it is said had to cry three times on that day before milk was fed to it. Another old time custom, when goats were very numerous was to drink their milk in the belief that it cured tuberculosis. Ballykinlar in Co. Down and Goatstown in Co. Dublin were famous over a century ago in this regard and thousands of patients came there, even from Scotland to drink goats milk.

Farmers were constantly afraid in days gone by that their milk and butter “profit” could be stolen from them by evil minded hags, who either bailed a neighbour’s well or dragged a cloth over the dew of his fields on May Morn saying “Come all to me!” People sat up all night on May Eve to guard their wells and fields against such spells. It was believed in Ireland, as well as in many other countries that such human hags had the power of changing themselves into hares and sucking the milk from the udders of cows. These hares could be shot, so it was thought, only with a “silver bullet” (a pellet made from a florin which had a cross-device on one face).

Just as at calving-time, precautions had to be taken at churning-time against the evil intentions and wiles of others. In the old days, there were no creameries in rural areas and farmers churned their milk at home. The churn was deemed to be especially vulnerable to those who were thought to be disposed to steal the butter “profit”. Every effort was therefore made to guard it against such enemies : a live cinder was placed under the churn (many churns had charred bottoms in olden times), as well as an ass or horseshoe ; in other districts, nails of iron would be driven into the timber of the churn to protect it, or else a withy of rowan-tree was bound around it. The tongs were kept in the fire during the period of churning, and water or fire-ashes were not allowed out of the house until the operation had ended. So too, the fire was guarded : if anybody came to a house while churning was in progress and tried (by “reddening” his pipe or other, wise) to take live fire out of the house, he was prevented from doing so, and forced to take a “brash” (hand) at the churning before leaving-thus the churn and its butter were kept intact from harm. There were many other precautions which were normally taken on this important domestic occasion, but space does not allow of their mention here.

Back to Irish Customs.

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Good Luck Charms in Foundations, Co. Monaghan

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Items were buried in the foundations of the house and these were of two kinds: religious or superstitious. The main place for burial was under the foundation stone of a house. A new coin with the date of the year in which the house was built was the most favoured. A coin was supposed to bring prosperity, the owners of the house would never be without money. Again, the old English florin was considered very lucky with it’s ‘cross’ on one side. People liked to have a silver coin, those who were rich enough used a gold sovereign or a half sovereign.

As with other things, we can see customary items being buried in specific counties. In counties Offaly (King’s), Westmeath and Monaghan the people liked to place St. Benedict’s medals in the four corners of a house. A small piece of ‘Gartan clay’ -earth from St. Columcille’s sanctuary at Gartan was put into the foundations of many Donegal houses. Donegal people also used clay from Tory Island, another sanctuary of St. Columcille, the patron saint of Donegal. We are told that if this clay was in the foundations, the house would not go on fire.

Small containers of holy water have been recovered from foundations, written prayers or holy pictures in containers. Small pieces of iron in houses in Carncash, Co. Sligo; Emyvale, Co. Monaghan; Dualla, Co. Tipperary; in Inistiogue in Co. Kilkenny a horseshoe has been found; a piece of tobacco in Co. Monaghan and some whiskey in Kerrykeel, Co. Donegal. Only the people who put in their good luck charms know why they included what they did in their foundations, we can only guess.

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Matchmaking in Ireland

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This article was written about West Cork, but, we can take it that ‘Matchmaking’ was similar the country over.

Matchmaking

The tradition of matchmaking reaches back a long way into the history of West Cork and its people. At a time when love matches were not the fashion and compulsory marriages – locally referred to with a fine turn of accuracy as ‘must marriages’ – unknown, the made match was generally in vogue. It was the belief of the people that matches were made in heaven even if some of them later produced a semblance of hell on earth.

There was in every locality a professional matchmaker or go-between who brought news of a match from a farmer’s daughter, marriageable by the standards Of the generation, half on the shelf by the standards of today. The news was brought with great tact and secrecy to some farmer’s son, who, usually at forty or more, was looking for.a wife. It made no difference that the two ‘young’ people might never have seen each other in their lives, and it made even less difference whether they liked or disliked each other when they eventually met.

What mattered was that the parents of both should agree about those weighty things on which the match must be based, the fortune to be paid to the prospective bride and the number of cows which the prospective bridegroom’s farm could feed. Negotiations were set afoot, and the matchmaking wrangle was normally carried out in a special room in one of the pubs in town with only the go-between in attendance to put forward split-the-difference suggestions at the right times and in the correct places.

Full agreement was never reached in the first session, but if, between generous applications of whiskey, some progress was made, then the next step was to fix a day ‘to walk the land’. That is, of course, that certain male relatives of the lady in question should visit the gentleman’s farm, taking stock of everything it contained, sometimes of things it did not contain, for it was not unknown that an obliging neighbour might lend a cow or two, even a field or two, for the occasion, to add an air of extra well-being to the place.

The farm duly walked, further negotiations began, and if the fortune was finally fixed and the transfer of the place from the father to the son, agreed, then the match was made. Many a match was not made, however, because twenty pounds, sometimes less than that, was between the bargainers and neither side would give way in an era when matchmaking differed only in species from a purchase or sale at the local fair. Both were based on bargaining and both depended on whether or not the bargain -makers reached a final agreement.

The match made and duly wet in the local pub, a date was set for the wedding, which by tradition took place in the bride’s local parish church and was carried out by her parish priest. The marriage ceremony was, in the eyes of the neighbours, the least important part of the occasion. Of much greater importance was the night that was to follow in the bridegroom’s home, an all-night affair at which nua gacha bidh abounded and seana gacha dighe overflowed. If everything was lavish it was a dacent wedding. If anything was less than lavish, it was a mane wedding, and a couple whose wedding was mane took years to live down the disgrace of it, as the couple at the Wedding Feast at Cana would have done if they lived in West Cork in our fathers’ time and their wine ran short.

A honeymoon-was unknown in the country at that time. The wedding night was spent at home, and so, late in the night when ‘joy was unconfined’ and good-will became uproarious, what wonder if the newly-weds stole quietly away, but not unobserved, in pursuit of their lawful occasions.

Gone is the matchmaking, gone the matchmaker. Gone, too,is the country wedding as we used to know it. Whatever reservations one might have about the matchmaking only fond memories can remain of the country wedding. With its full and plenty, its dancing and songs and general merriment, a dacent country wedding was an event to remember for the rest of your life. Perhaps it was not refined by more modern standards of refinement. Perhaps it was a little vulgar in its excess of eating and drinking; Perhaps it was rough and noisy and boisterous, frequently crude when men, and women, too, were ‘well·drunk’ as the Bible puts it. But it was’ always a happy occasion for people whose ideas of happiness did not exclude elements of over-eating or over-drinking, noise and a little touch of horse-playing now and then. Such people had few opportunities in their drab lives to eat, drink and make merry. When an opportunity like a dacent wedding presented itself, at least they were able to avail of it to the full, part of their enjoyment being that they could talk about it for months to come.

Weddings brought out in men and women a side that was normally hidden deeply away. Inarticulate by nature, that day, they became great conversationalists. Shy to sing, to recite or to dance, at the wedding each man sang or recited his party piece, and every man took the floor with more vigour, perhaps, than rhythm. At a wedding it in made no difference, for everybody was a singer, a reciter, a dancer on that great occasion.

Extracted from “In West Cork long ago” written by Flor Crowley, reprinted 1980.

ISBN 0 85342 600 7

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