Birth and Babies

Conception could be prevented if an enemy tied a knot in a handkerchief at the time of marriage; no child would be born to that couple until the knot was loosed.

A pregnant woman had to avoid meeting a hare otherwise her child would be born with a hare-lip (séanas). If the woman on meeting the hare tore the hem of her clothes, she transferred the blemish to it, or, if she could catch the hare and tear it’s ear she could prevent the hare-lip.

A pregnant woman shouldn’t enter a graveyard in case she twisted her foot on a grave, then the child would be born with a clubfoot (cam reilge).

Pregnant women should not remain in a house while a corpse was being placed in the coffin, nor act as sponsor to a bride.

A child born after its father had died was destined to have special powers.

A child born at night would have the power of seeing ghosts and fairies; but one born on Sunday, at twelve noon or twelve midnight any day, or between twelve noon and twelve midnight would not have this power.

Whit Sunday was regarded as an unlucky time to be born; such a person would either be killed, or else was destined to kill; a live worm was crushed in such a baby’s hand soon after birth to make sure it would not kill.

Animals or humans born on May Day were said to be assured of good luck.

It was not considered a lucky omen to have three persons born in any house on the same month.

The fairies (Fairies – poem)were always trying to take away new born babies or nursing mothers, so there were customs to prevent this happening:
A cloth exposed on the eve of St. Brigid’s feast day was lucky and used on the mother and child. Oatmeal was given to the mother when the baby had been born, a piece of iron or a cinder (aingeal) concealed in the baby’s dress; the tongs placed across the cradle; unsalted butter was placed in the baby’s mouth; or a red ribbon was tied across the cradle.

Holy water was, of course, in later times regarded as the stongest method of preserving both mother and child.

Any woman in child-bed and babies who ailed and wasted away after a while, had been taken by the fairies who had left sickly changelings behind in their stead.

Children who died un-baptised were not buried in consecrated ground in olden times. In many parishes, there were special places, known as cillínigh (little graveyards – children’s burial grounds), for such burials, the little bodies were also laid to rest at boundaries, in the north side of graveyards or in any of several other places. Some of these are shown on the 6 inch ordnance survey maps of Ireland. (See O’Sullivan on the burial of Children. J.R.S.A.I. 1939.)

Stories are told, of deceased children returning later to meet the soul of their mother when she too died – the baptised children appeared as strong clear lights, while the un-baptised ones shone weakly.