Category Archives: The House

Bunratty Castle Theme Park, Co. Clare, Part I

These photographs were taken in the theme park at Bunratty Castle the day I was there with Cassie and Liz back in the summer of 2013.

I have too many photographs from the theme park so I am breaking them up into a few smaller sets and posting them over the next few weeks

This is the first cottage we went into. The different cottages had different styles in a manner of speaking, belonging to people of different ‘standards’ of life so to say.  This cottage would have belonged to people who were reasonably well off.  They had a dining room, bedrooms upstairs and downstairs.

The thatch with which the cottage was covered was lying outside to let people see what it looks like.

The lady coming out of the ‘dining room’ is Cassie.  I did try to make sure I wasn’t including her in any of the photos but I’m afraid I only had the one photo of the fireplace.

The House and Fairies

We hear many stories in relation to the traditions or superstitions which the old folk practised or believed in . Most of these have to do with the house and the ‘luck’ of the house. Some houses were believed to be unlucky, and for the most part this was blamed on the choice of site or where the house was located.

Location was very important. First, there were practical considerations – was the house going to be conveniently located as regards a water supply or the public road? Or, was there going to be access to the farmers land? Most of all, a house could not be built in any place where it would interfere with the comings and goings of the ‘little people’, or those who had died. The house should never interfere with the goings on in the unseen world. Prehistoric earthworks and megalithic tombs were to be avoided, for these places were believed to be inhabited by the ancient spirits or the fairy people. Burial places old and new were not to be built on or too close to. We are told that there once was a house built for the clergy near a church in county Tipperary, but one room in this house encroached on the graveyard. The clergy who occupied that room suffered from bleeding ears until some wise person realised the error made in the building of the house. The bleeding stopped when that room was removed.

Old pathways were to be respected and not obstructed in any way, who knows, but it might be an old funeral path and to build on one of those would be disastrous. There were ‘wise’ people, who knew the ways of the unseen world, the ways of the fairies and these people were consulted when a new house was to be built. There were solutions though, for those house which were accidently built in the wrong place, sometimes these worked. If a house was on a fairy path, then you could have a front and a back door in line, and if you kept the doors open and a full bucket of water in the house at night, then the fairies and their cortege could move freely along their path, with water to satisfy them when they were thirsty. (There are some who say that this was only a folk tale told to remind people to have their buckets filled at night, many’s a person fell down the well or tripped and broke their leg while going about through the dark to fill that pail).

If you stopped the fairies passage or angered them in any way, then that meant trouble. The more you angered them the more trouble you brought on yourself. The fairies revenge could be ‘dire and swift’. Warnings begin in the form of furniture and utensils being thrown about the house or being moved about the place and noises in the night. But then, if you didn’t find out what it was you’d done to annoy the little people, and make amends matters got worse – much worse. Things were broken, first small things andthen more important articles of furniture and after that – well – after that it came the turn of the animals and the people. The animals would get sick or the people from the house would get sick and in the end, the house could burn down in a storm, or the crop would all be blighted, or the people and animals would die. Of course, there are those who tell us today about poltergeists and the likes, but they don’t know about fairies.

Before we go any farther, do you know anything about funeral paths? Or anything about the fairies? There’s one story, told by Anthony O’Neill from outside Foxford in Co. Mayo, and he swore that this happened.

He said that when he was a boy his father burned a kiln of lime one time, and set Anthony to mind it the second night. As he was sitting there minding his own business, he saw a funeral coming down the hill and there were two men carrying the coffin. So as they got closer to him, one of the men said “Who is to carry the coffin?” and the other put his hand on Anthony’s shoulder and said “Tis Anthony O’Neill” and they told him to carry it. Anthony refused but they made him do it anyway and the weight of the coffin nearly crushed him. So they led him through country he didn’t recognise and then they went into a graveyard and the two men began to dig a grave, and wouldn’t you know it but whatever or whoever was in that coffin struggled to get out. It scared the wits out of poor Anthony, and the men told him that if he let it out, then they’d put him in instead. They managed to finish their grave and put the coffin in and shovel earth on top of it. So then they took him to a house he didn’t know, and there was a big room in it and rows of tables along the walls. There were big dishes of stirabout and noggins of milk, and lots of people in the room eating and drinking, and everyone tried to persuade Anthony to eat some food, but a woman he knew called Anne Goulding was there, and she pinched him in the back to make sure he didn’t eat. But do you know what? The reason he didn’t eat was because he knew Anne Goulding and Anne Goulding was a woman who had died in child-birth and once he saw her he knew he wasn’t in the land of the living. Anthony got out of the house as fast as he could and found himself back in his own field with the kiln right in front of him. The fairies they take women who die in childbirth to nurse the babies they steal from humans. We’ll tell you all about that – eventually.

Back to the house – There were a few ways of deciding whether or not a site was suitable or whether it would displease the fairy people. One means was to lay four little bundles of corner stones or four sticks where each of the corners of the house would be and if these were still standing the next morning, then the building could go ahead. In west county Limerick, the people used to toss a coin in the air, usually a florin of the old kind (the one with a cross design on the reverse). If the coin landed with the cross facing upwards then everything was all right and the house could be built, but if the coin fell with the head up then another place was tried and on and on until the coin would fall with that cross facing upwards.

There was another test which was carried out as well, in this one, the people lit a fire on the site of the house ona day when the prevailing wind was blowing. Then, they’d make a decision as to whether or which the house could be built in that place, depending on the way that the smoke blew. Or else, in some places they’d just throw a cap in the air and watch the way it fell. Some would say that these were practical tests, to make sure the house wouldn’t be a smokey one, but don’t let that fool you – the fairies decided which way the wind would blow and if they didn’t want a house there, they made sure it blew the wrong way!

Rules and Pisheogs

There were lots of little ‘rules’ or pisheogs (sayings) related to the building of a house. A new house to replace an old one should never be built across the road from the old one. A room should never be built as an extension to the “west” of a house. Is fear nios treise na Dia a chuirfeadh faid siar as a theach (Only a man stronger than God would extend his house to the west. Although in county Westmeath it was said that it was unlucky to build on the north side of a house and in county Tipperary it was the south side was the unlucky side.

Do you realise that in learning about the customs and traditions and implements of a county, you may find hints as to where your ancestors came from? Different farming implements and other home made items had different designs or were made slightly differently in some cases from one county to another.

Now a house was supposed to be lucky, that was important. The home is where the heart is, the home is the heart of a family, the warmth found in a home cannot be compared to anything else. There were many customs associated with making the house or home a lucky place for all involved. Some went into the building of the house and some others were included after the house was built. There were two ways of bringing this luck. By prayers or blessings of some sort or other the blessings being ‘good-luck charms’ and some of these it is said, relate back to the pagan times, back to the times before Christianity came to Ireland, back to Celtic times.

Items were buried in the foundations of the house, 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 hosue 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.

The custom of putting a charm or some sort into the foundations of a house has been explained by some as a means of placating the spirit of the site, or, in the case of human or animal sacrifices to provide a spirit for the house. Then again, another explanation which rings true is that some of these items were laid in order to improve the sound in the building – to make sounds resonate better. This is quite acceptable when we think in terms of dancing and threshing activities. It is true that human skulls have been found at Ballinderry crannog and tradition says that St. Columcille’s brother Dobhran was buried alive to placate the spirits before a church could be built at Iona. Henry Morris records that when the Rev. Canon Meehan, P.P. of Keadue in Co. Roscommon was a young man in Co. Westmeath, no house would be built without some live animal being put under the foundation stone, a chicken, a kitten or a rabbit being common.

Of all the burying customs found about the country, that of burying horses or cows skulls was the most common. In the townland of Muckanstown on the Dublin-Meath border, horses skulls have been found under many floors and in one case up to ten skulls were found under the floorboards of one room alone. Many house in Ireland had a ‘flagstone’ in front of the fire (the hearth) and it was under this that a skull or skulls were most commonly buried. In some counties, (especially, Clare, Kerry, Limerick (Mahoonaghbeg) and Tipperary) an iron pot was buried and not a skull. A hole had been made in the clay and in it a small flat-bottomed oven pot was hung from two thin iron rods, which had been laid crossways over the hole. An irregularly shaped piece of iron plate had then been laid over the hole and the flagstone put in place. This flagstone measured about 8 feet by 4 feet, as was quite normal.

Whatever the reason for burying skulls and pots, the theory that it was done to help with resonation is most acceptable. The step dancers demonstrated their skills on the flagstone or hearthstone of any house and for this the sound of the steps was important.

Materials and Luck

Certain materials were considered unlucky and should not be used in building a house. Some types of white stones are included in this category (cloch scáil in Co. Kerry; cloch éibhir in Co.’s Galway and Mayo). A tale from Ballyferriter in the Dingle peninsula tells of a family who had nothing but bad luck until the ghost of a long dead grandfather appears to the head of the household and told him that a white stone was built into the house wall; once this stone was removed the families luck changed for the better. Some held that white stone’s attract lightening.

Also, the stones from an old ruined house could not be used in the building of any house although there was no objection to a house such as that being used as a byre or shed, and the stones from the walls of old houses could be unsed in erecting farm buildings. The use of stolen material would definitely bring bad luck!

A Galway tradition says that a stone which falls from the hands of a mason or his helpers, while they are at work on a wall must not be used in masonry, by fallingthe stone has become unlucky and if used may cause the wall to collapse. Should a wall fall down or scaffolding collapse, or any other untoward happening, while a house was being built then , doubts might arise as to whether the unseen-world had not in some way been offended, and a series of such minor disasters might even cause the abandonment of the building as something too dangerously unlucky to be continued.

Attainment of the highest point in the building often called for some special note or celebration. The highest point was generally considered to be either the top of the gable or the top of the main chinmey.

In northwest Connaught, the top of the gable was regarded as the highest point of the house and may have been because there were no stone chinmeystacks in many houses in the area in former times. The stone that crowns the gable was known as “”cloch an phréacháin”, the crow’s stone. When this was set in position the owner of the house called the workmen together and provided them with a drink of whiskey or póitín, or, at the very least, tea. In Louisburgh, County Mayo, the neighbours gathered on this occasion and were entertained by fiddlers. An informant from Co. Mayo reports: “”For some reason, which so far I have not found out the cloch phréacháin was never finished. The mason would leave some opening or space around it without finishing with mortar, he would deliberately use up the mortar so that he would not have sufficient to plaster around the stone, or if he had enough mortar he would, when the work was almost finished accidentally (mar dheadh!) tumble the bucket of mortar and say “”We must leave that!”” or some words to that effect.”” (From The Luck of the House, Information from Mr. Mícheál Mac Énrí, Bangor Erris, Co. Mayo.)

At Inistiogue in county Kilkenny, the mason marked a cross on the plaster of the highest point of the gable. A religious medal, a piece of blessed palm, or a little bottle of holy water, was tied to the ridge pole as soon as it was set in a number of places.

In some northern counties the custom was to erect a flag or a substitute for one when the building of a new house had reached the chimney stage. This reminded the owner that some incentives would speed up completion of the work. i.e. some refreshment or gratuity should be given to the builders. This custom was widely established in County Down, from where it appears to have spread to county Antrim, Derry and westwards to Fermanagh. Gailey (The thatched houses of Ulster, Gailey, Alan; Ulster Folklife, 7 (1961), 16-17: The Ulster Tradition, Folk Life, 2 (1964), 28-29) who recorded this custom in Ulster, concluded that it is of fairly recent origin in Ireland. The same Custom seems to have spread to other parts of the country. In Louth, a red flag was flown to indicate a victory for the men who were building the house and once it was up the owner treated the men.

An old shirt was hoisted on a pole in Sligo town, in Limerick an old piece of white cloth was tied on a stick like a flag and displayed on the highest point, and in Dublin an old pair of trousers was flown.

In other places where the main chimney was regarded as the highest point, the first fire was laid on the hearth, and the workers in places in Clare, Limerick and Tipperary expected to be treated to drinks or some other form of minor celebration. The same custom is reported from Beltra, county Sligo and Carrigtee, county Monaghan. From county Monaghan too we hear of the placing of a bone on top of the newly completed chimney.

From the Castleblayney district of county Monaghan we are told that ‘when a house was built up as far as the ridge board it was custom to have a party to celebrate the occasion. All the friends, family and neighbours were invited A night of feasting, dancing and story telling was spent. It was known as a ‘topping up party’. Another source from Monaghan says that this occurred when the wall-plate was reached.

Care was taken to begin the building of the house on a lucky day. Lucky days depended on local tradition, also in taking possession of a new house the timing was very important. This could not take place during Lent. It seems that Friday was a lucky day to move, and Monday in general an unlucky day, although there is an old saying which restricts this: “”a move to the north on Friday, to the south on Monday, or to the west on Tuesday never brought any luck in its train.”” While Dean Jonathan Swift says “”Friday and Childermas day are two cross days in the week and it is impossible to have good luck in either of them”” Irish tradition agrees with Dean Swift as regards Childermas Day: this is the 28th of December, the feast of the Holy Innocents, which in Irish is known as ‘Lá na Leanbh’ (Day of the Children), but also as Lá Crosta na Bliana, ‘the cross day of the year’ when no work of any kind should begin.

Luck Objects

Various objects were hung in a house or kept there to ensure good luck. A caul-clay from Tory island off the coast of Donegal, or house-leek (Sempervivum) would save the house from being burned and from lightening, this was grown on the roofs of thatched houses, or in specially made niches or nooks in or about the roofs or porches of houses covered with other materials. It is known by various names: ‘houseleek’ is widespread, but ‘roofleek’ occurs in parts of county Cork, ‘buachaill tí’ (houseboy) in Galway and Mayo, ‘luibh a’ tóiteáin’ in west Limerick and Kerry, ‘tóirpín’ in Clare and Tipperary, and waxplant in Offaly and Westmeath. It was also valued as a medicinal herb. Other plants grown on or about the roof of a house brought good luck and guard against fire, ‘stonecrop’ (Sedum acre) around Tramore, county Waterford and ‘snapdragon’ (Antirrhinum majus) in county Westmeath. The elder tree which grew near many houses, would protect them from lightening; the skin of a king-otter would avert general harm; there is seldom a town in Ireland where a horseshoe may not be found nailed over some house or dwelling, this was believed to bring good luck, although some believe that the shoe of an ass or donkey was much more lucky.

Take the following from a prescription in a medical manuscript of 1794:
“”Gaibh cheithre crúgh fiorasail agus dein dhá leath do gach crúgh fiorasail dein dhá leath do gach crúigh dhiobh. Cuir lethchrúgh díobh ar an ttairsicc agus leathchrúigh dhíobh ar an bhfuinneoig agus mar sin leathchrúgh ar gach doras agus fuinneoig dá mbia at an tigh agus nochan tiocfaidh sioghbhradha ná deamhan aedhir isteach tarsa.””
(Take four shoes of an entire ass, and make two halves of each shoe. Put a half-shoe on the threshold, and a half shoe on the window, and thus a half shoe over each door and window that is in the house, and there shall come no fairy or demon of the air in across them.)

St. Brigid’s crosses (placed in parts of the house and outhouses on the 31st of January, the eve of her festival; blessed palm (usually fir, yew or similar evergreen) blessed in church as part of the liturgy on Palm Sunday, holy water (blessed on Easter Saturday) brought home and sprinkled in the house, the blood of an animal or fowl slaughtered at Martinmas and likewise sprinkled in the house or a black cock (which had it’s perch over a door inside) would ward off sorcery and harm by supernatural beings; a black cat, crickets or freak eggs (placed inside the roof of the house) would ensure luck for the house and bunches of yarrow collected on the eve of St. John (June 24th) as well as May flowers (but not Whitethorn), would keep illness and mis-fortune away. People were careful never to sweep out the floor dust on a Monday, lest they sweep out their luck as well.

In the everyday life of the household there were numerous omens pertaining to the luck of the house, and these are a selection:

It was considered very lucky if a bird or a honeybee flew into the house and great care had to be taken to capture the creature and release it or otherwise ensure that it left the house unhurt. On the other hand it was believed that if a frog or a worm came into the house it was very unlucky and should be killed. Bread or meal and salt should always be in the house. The hearth should be swept clean at night, but sweepings and ashes should never be taken from the house on a Monday. Dirty water should not be thrown after dark without calling out a warning to any of the fairy or spirit world who might be near the door; this applied specially to water used for cleaning the feet.

The person who enters the house by one of two doors must go out again by the same door. Whitethorn or elder blossoms must not be brought in. Inside the house no umbrella should be opened (or you’d bring rain) and no agricultural or other implement place on the shoulder.

Fire and Luck

Some coals of fire from the old house were often taken into the new one, but the croch (chimney-crane for hanging cooking vessels) was always left behind. So too was the cat, and various tricks and restraints were employed to make sure the cat would not be brought, however, if it was sent to the new house a few days previously then that was acceptable in some places. A new cat straying in betokened the best of fortune, if it happened to be a black cat it was an extremely happy omen. . Sometimes also, a fragment of mortar from the old fireplace was laid upon or built into the new hearth.

In the past, the fire was physically and socially at the centre of the house. In very early houses (peasant cabins) it was literally in the centre of the floor. Turf-fires were the norm in most parts of rural Ireland, and they were smoored or banked (covered with ashes) each night . Some stories claim that many domestic fires remained burning for hundreds of years. “”To fail to keep your fire raked betokens bad luck””. If the hearth had to be repaired or cleaned then some of the old burning fire was set aside in a bucket in order to replace when the repairs had been done. It was a real indication of bad housewifery to have to go to a neighbour in the morning to ask for some burning embers had your fire died! No one liked letting a lighted coal out of a house “”for fear of giving luck away.”” On Candlemas day the fire could be completely doused after a bogdeal cipín had been lighted and from it the blessed candle. The hearth was cleaned out and a new fire set and re-lit using the blessed candle and this was kept going until the next candlemas day. A prayer such as the following was commonly recited when the live embers were being covered with ashes each night:
“”Coiglim an tine seo mar choigleann Críost cáidh;
Muire ar mbullach an tí, agus Bríd ina lár;
An t-ochtar ainglí is tréine I gCathair na nGrás
Ag cumhdach an tí seo’s a mhuintir thabhairt slán.””

“”I save this fire, as noble Christ saves;
Mary on top of the house, and Bridget in its centre;
The eight strongest Angels in Heaven
Preserving this house and keeping its people safe.””

The fire was kept burning or smouldering day and night and not allowed to go out completely but for one or two reasons. If a member of a family died outside the house, the fire was put out before the corpse was brought into the house. Or, when the corpse was brought to church to remain there overnight until burial, the fire was allowed to go out and not lit the following day. Another example of the deliberate allowing of the fire to go out was on the occasion of the ‘need-fire’ as described by Wood-Martin (Wood-Martin, W.G. ‘Elder Faiths: Traces of the Elder Faiths of Ireland (2 vols. 1902) I, 36.) as a remedy for a cattle disease all the fires in the townland were quenched, a fresh fire was then made by rubbing sticks together, the cattle were treated with smoke from this fire and the hearth fires re-lighted as soon as the remedy had been applied. It is said that this cusom appears to have been confined to a few places in Ulster where it probably spread from Scotland, however there are similar customs associated with May day celebrations which are through to go back to pagan times in which people jump through the fire.

The prosperity of the house and farm were through to be closely associated with the fire – the fire then had to be kept intact from evil-minde person, especially on May Day. The fire was symbolic of life, if someone from the house died the fire was allowed die and if there was someone sick in the house every effort was made to ensure that the fire did not die by accident!

Various objects were hung in a house or kept there to ensure good luck. A caul-clay from Tory island off the coast of Donegal, or house-leek (Sempervivum) would save the house from being burned and from lightening, this was grown on the roofs of thatched houses, or in specially made niches or nooks in or about the roofs or porches of houses covered with other materials. It is known by various names: ‘houseleek’ is widespread, but ‘roofleek’ occurs in parts of county Cork, ‘buachaill tí’ (houseboy) in Galway and Mayo, ‘luibh a’ tóiteáin’ in west Limerick and Kerry, ‘tóirpín’ in Clare and Tipperary, and waxplant in Offaly and Westmeath. It was also valued as a medicinal herb. Other plants grown on or about the roof of a house brought good luck and guard against fire, ‘stonecrop’ (Sedum acre) around Tramore, county Waterford and ‘snapdragon’ (Antirrhinum majus) in county Westmeath. The elder tree which grew near many houses, would protect them from lightening; the skin of a king-otter would avert general harm; there is seldom a town in Ireland where a horseshoe may not be found nailed over some house or dwelling, this was believed to bring good luck, although some believe that the shoe of an ass or donkey was much more lucky.

Take the following from a prescription in a medical manuscript of 1794
“”Gaibh cheithre crúgh fiorasail agus dein dhá leath do gach crúgh fiorasail dein dhá leath do gach crúigh dhiobh. Cuir lethchrúgh díobh ar an ttairsicc agus leathchrúigh dhíobh ar an bhfuinneoig agus mar sin leathchrúgh ar gach doras agus fuinneoig dá mbia at an tigh agus nochan tiocfaidh sioghbhradha ná deamhan aedhir isteach tarsa.””
(Take four shoes of an entire ass, and make two halves of each shoe. Put a half-shoe on the threshold, and a half shoe on the window, and thus a half shoe over each door and window that is in the house, and there shall come no fairy or demon of the air in across them.)

St. Brigid’s crosses (placed in parts of the house and outhouses on the 31st of January, the eve of her festival; blessed palm (usually fir, yew or similar evergreen) blessed in church as part of the liturgy on Palm Sunday, holy water (blessed on Easter Saturday) brought home and sprinkled in the house, the blood of an animal or fowl slaughtered at Martinmas and likewise sprinkled in the house or a black cock (which had it’s perch over a door inside) would ward off sorcery and harm by supernatural beings; a black cat, crickets or freak eggs (placed inside the roof of the house) would ensure luck for the house and bunches of yarrow collected on the eve of St. John (June 24th) as well as May flowers (but not Whitethorn), would keep illness and mis-fortune away. People were careful never to sweep out the floor dust on a Monday, lest they sweep out their luck as well.

In the everyday life of the household there were numerous omens pertaining to the luck of the house, and these are a selection:

It was considered very lucky if a bird or a honeybee flew into the house and great care had to be taken to capture the creature and release it or otherwise ensure that it left the house unhurt. On the other hand it was believed that if a frog or a worm came into the house it was very unlucky and should be killed. Bread or meal and salt should always be in the house. The hearth should be swept clean at night, but sweepings and ashes should never be taken from the house on a Monday. Dirty water should not be thrown after dark without calling out a warning to any of the fairy or spirit world who might be near the door; this applied specially to water used for cleaning the feet.

The person who enters the house by one of two doors must go out again by the same door. Whitethorn or elder blossoms must not be brought in. Inside the house no umbrella should be opened (or you’d bring rain) and no agricultural or other implement place on the shoulder.