customs have pagan origins, some have Christian origins
and some are a mixture of both, influenced no doubt, by
the good Saint Patrick himself when he arrived on our God
forsaken shore in the year 432. Customs, whatever their
origin, arose for certain reasons, be they health, economic,
fear of misfortune, or just to implore the heavens for good
luck. By Brendan Murray
Wishing for money and health
The following wish/prayer made by Cavan women of the nineteen
forties on first sighting a new moon was obviously a mixture
of both the Christian and pagan traditions. -
I see the moon and the moon sees me,
God bless the moon and God bless me.
I wish for lots of good money and good health
In the name of the Father, and of the Son
And of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
A woman had to turn a coin, preferably silver, in her pocket,
as she made her wish. If her children happened to be present,
they gladly joined in this wishing game.
Lucky you - A Dark man knocks
A lucky year ahead was foreseen for a household if a dark-haired
man was the first to knock on its door and cross its threshold
on New Years Day. The woman of the house would be
ecstatic if a dark haired man, friend or stranger, was the
first to call. Of course, she might have to inveigle him
with some excuse to cross the threshold. Shed probably
invite him in for a drink. Some men, particularly strangers,
unaware of the custom, found the invitation for an early
morning drop of the hard stuff, a little confusing. Dark
haired milkmen, fond of a drop, enjoyed the morning immensely
and might be quite inebriated on reaching the end of their
milk round. Women relatives who lived adjacent to each other,
usually had reciprocal arrangements for dark haired male
members of each others families to knock on each others
doors very early on New Years morning. They concocted
reasons, often flimsy, for their dark haired father, son,
uncle or cousin to call to each others homes; of course
on this occasion the man knocked before lifting the latch
and walking in and as he raised his glass of refreshment
he said God save all here throughout the year.Lucky
chains of buttercups
- May day
On May Day, young girls gathered buttercups, and arranged
them in chain fashion around the edges of the doorstep or
the entrance flagstone as well as the windowsills of their
parents and grandparents homes. This ensured good
luck for the house occupants for the remainder of the year.
Bad luck antidote
It was considered very unlucky to spill salt. If you accidentally
spilled salt, your immediate remedy to avoid future misfortune
was to throw three pinches of the salt over your left shoulder
and bless yourself three times.
A Fairy Tree
A lone hawthorn tree growing in a field was called a fairy
tree, - it belonged to the fairies. On no account
would a farmer even contemplate cutting it down, because
not alone would he be unlucky for the rest of his life,
but he would experience terrible misfortunes.
Some parents and children arose from their beds at 6am on
Easter Sunday morning to observe the rising sun dance to
signify Christs ascension into heaven.
Eating a number of boiled eggs on Easter Sunday morning
was also a custom of the time. How many eggs did you
eat on Easter Sunday morning, was the challenging
question children asked pals. Most kids couldnt manage
more than two, so the reply usually was, Two, but
how many did you eat yourself? If a young lads
egg devouring skills werent up to standard hed
respond, Two but my father ate seven. Including
fathers or big brothers achievements in devouring
enormous number of eggs for breakfast endeavoured to ensure
no slippage of family pride in this old custom.
On a weekend before Christmas, children combed the countryside
searching for red-berried holly. They were very satisfied
to bring home branches bearing at least some berries as
this added to their Christmas home wonderland. Soon their
mothers had two crossed twigs of holly growing up from behind
every picture in the kitchen and parlour. In some homes
the Christmas tree was a small holly which children helped
festoon with strips of coloured crepe paper and balloons.
Narrow twisted strips of coloured crepe paper were run from
the corners of the kitchen ceiling to a large multi coloured
bell decoration in the centre. The parlour ceiling was similarly
decorated but with more upbeat multi coloured concertina
type decorations, which together with the bell decorations,
were carefully retained from year to year. Christmas cards
were placed on the mantlepieces in both rooms and hung on
looped strings around the walls.
On Christmas Eve night, mothers put lighted candles in every
window, symbolically to light the way for Mary and Joseph
and also to show the way to late travellers. No blinds were
Trimmins on the Rosary
The Rosary prayer was recited by the fireside
in most Roman Catholic homes before bedtime each night,
and childer including boys and girls in their
late teens had to attend at an appointed hour for this prayer.
Following the Rosary, additional prayers, jocosely called
Trimmins, were led by a parent for a multitude
of relatives and friends, some of them long gone to their
eternal reward. Neighbours who happened to drop in
unexpectedly had to kneel down and join in the responses.
If, while the prayers were in session, one of the parents
of a farming family, wished to check if an important urgent
task, was done by a son or a daughter, the prayers were
briefly interrupted and the question asked, such as Mary!
Did you close the byre door? or Johnny! Did
you count the cattle in the far field and close the gate?
These interruptions were often humourously twisted when
related by an exasperated neighbour inordinately delayed
in a neighbours house by the length of the Rosary
trimmins; his versions of the questions would be -
Mary! Did you put the cat out? And Johnny! Did you
see any duck on the lake below?
Offerings at Funerals
Friends and neighbours of a deceased person made contributions
to the upkeep of the clergy in a parish immediately following
the service when the deceases coffin was brought to
church. Two close relatives of the deceased, together with
the priest and alter boy stood behind a small table covered
with white cloth near the alter rails. All attendees at
the service would come forward and place their contributions
on the table. Peoples contributions varied in amounts
depending on how well they knew the deceased. Contributions
were counted there and then, and the priest informed the
congregation of the total amount.
Amounts of offerings at various funerals were often the
subject of comparisons and in the minds of the public reflected
the extent of the deceaseds popularity. This competitive
element was of benefit to the beneficiaries.
Periods of Mourning
A widow dressed completely in black and did not attend any
social functions for a period of a year following the death
of her husband and then, spent a short period coming
out of mourning - wearing one or two grey items of
clothing before reverting to her usual fashion outfits.
A husband of a deceased wife wore a small diamond shaped
piece of black cloth on the left arm of his jacket and coat
as would the sons and daughters and close relatives of a
Some elderly people, in order to ensure that all their weekly
essential financial liabilities were paid, put monies due
for their rent, insurance, bread, etc in little jars or
ornaments on their kitchen dressers. The insurance agent
or rent collector knew which jar contained his payment and
helped himself to it in the absence of the occupant(s),
leaving his receipt on the table. Likewise, the bread van
man left his two of three loaves on the kitchen table and
took his payment from the bread van jar.
Keeping the home fires burning
Commercials fire lighters are a modern luxury; none existed
in the old days, so getting the fire started on a morning
with pieces of old newspapers and dried kippíns (little
pieces of sticks) could be difficult and time consuming.
To overcome this difficulty, many people, particularly farmers,
covered the burning embers in their fires with ashes at
bedtime each night, and raked out the gríosaige
(the hot embers) in the morning to start their fires. The
previous days ashes were taken out when the fire was
Straw Boys (Men, disguised in clothing, hats, and false
faces made of straw).
On the rare occasion when a couple got married and after
the dragging home (the first day they dragged
themselves home after the honeymoon and took up residence
in their permanent abode), kind neighbours who had discreetly
learned of the home coming, visited them and gave them a
prearranged warm welcome consisting of refreshments, music
and dance. During the merriment, proceedings would be dramatically
interrupted when, with great pomp and ceremony and to everyones
feigned surprise, straw boys called and entertained the
couple and their self invited guests before joining in the
Taken from Breffni Blue