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Eanair Feabhra Marta Aibrean Bealtaine Meitheamh
Iuil Lunasa Mean Fomhair Deireadh Fomhair Samhain Nollaig


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The custom of playing practical jokes on the first of April has long been current in Ireland. Probably the most popular joke was of the "send the fool further" kind. The first day of the month is universally known as "All Fools Day", but where the name came from or the custom of "fooling" people originated is not known. Up to recent times the custom prevailed of raising a laugh at some simple-minded personís expense by giving him a letter, which he was told was of urgent nature, addressed to some personal friend of the sender. When delivered, the enclosed note merely bore the legend "send the fool further ", then the addressee puts the envelope into another envelope and having told the guileless messenger that it was an important matter which was confined to his care, set the unfortunate man again on a fools errand.

The Borrowed Days

According to the old story "An tSean-bho Riabhach", the old Brindled Cow, boasted that even the rigours of March could not kill her, where upon March borrowed three days from April, and using these extra days with redoubled fury, killed and skinned the poor old cow. Henceforth, the first three days of April bring bad weather and are known as laethanta na riabhaiche, the reehy days, the borrowed days, the skinned days and other names.



Samhain the first day of winter and the end of the farming year is traditionally kept on day Nov 1st the feast of all saints and the vigil of this day oiche shamhna is celebrated with feasting and merrymaking It was believed that the ghosts of the dead were active then There was a custom of lighting candles one for each of the deceased in the family Others set up crosses and sprinkled holy water on themselves to protect them from evil spirits. Crops were harvested and stored, cattle and sheep were brought from the mountains to the security of the farmstead, and turf and wood gathered for winter fires.

Food offerings were left outside houses and a portion of some crop was left in the ground for the fairy host to ensure their favour for the coming year. Nowadays we have church offerings for the holy souls On Halloween night games such as snapapple are played in the houses with feasts of nuts. Apple cakes, stampy etc. a ring concealed in a cake foretold a marriage and a wooden boot prefigured a journey. The moon on the eve was a guide to the kind of weather for the winter. Also on this night anyone who wished to invoke the help of the evil spirits should find a briar, which was rooted at both ends and crawl through it while making their unhallowed request.

All Souls Day

The second of Nov is the festival of all the souls of the faithful departed and in accordance with the ancient church practice, prayers for the repose of the souls of the dead were recited on this day. It was commonly held that the dead members of the family returned to visit their old home on this night and care was taken to show that they were welcome.

Some old customs were to lay a table with a place for each of the dead and the poker and tongs placed in the shape of a cross on the headstone. Candles were lit when evening prayers were being said and gravestones were visited to tidy the graves. To pray and sometimes candles were left lighting by the graves.


At martinmas a bird or beast was sacrificed its flesh eaten and the blood smeared on the threshold the four corners of the house and on the foreheads of every person in the family this ceremony was performed to exclude every kind of evil spirit from the dwelling. Work who involved the turning of a wheel was frowned upon this day as St Martin reputedly met his death by being ground between the stones of a mill.

The mild close days that so often follow a brush of hard weather about mid November are known as St Martins summer.



Spring Sowing

In March farmers turn their attention to the spring sowing. One custom associated with it involved the horses in the ploughing team being "Turned with the sun" at the end of the furrow. The sower would then bless the work in the name of the trinity, and toss a handfull of soil over each horse's rump.

St. Partakes Day

St. Patrick's day was generally regarded as propitious for sowing the first potatoes and even better results would be obtained if this coincided with the period of a waxing moon. However, there are only two main customs which appear to derive from old tradition 

(1) The wearing of an emblem or symbol 

(2) The drowning of the shamrock.

St. Patricks Cross

For a week or so preceding the immovable feast of Ireland's patron saint the grown members of families of all station areas were occupied in making "St. Patrick crosses" for the youngsters, boys and girls. Each sex wore a radically different cross. The boy cross was circular and made of white paper. This was divided by elliptical lines or radii and the spaces thus formed were filled in with different hues. Thus forming a circle of many coloured compartments. This he wore on his cap or in military fashion like a cockade over his ear. The girls cross was two pieces of cardboard placed at right angles and covered with different coloured silk or ribbon. A bunch or rosette of green silk was placed in the centre. It was pinned on the bosom or shoulder. It was a girls cross whereas it was considered most unbecoming of the little miss to don a boy's paper cross.

Another form of a "St. Patrick's cross" was that which was made of twigs of wild sallow and was only made by men. It was pinned to the thatch inside - a new one being added at each recurring festival. In a new house the rule was to fix the first of these over the doorway, the succeeding ones being pinned on anywhere else on the roof of the kitchen.

The Shamrock

There appears to have been a traditional social distinction between the wearing of the shamrock and displaying the cross on March 17. Whereas the "St. Patrick's cross" was common place, it was widely regarded as a vulgar superstition to don the shamrock. It was said that by this three - leafed plant St. Patrick emblematically set forth to the people the hysteria of the holy trinity.

Drowning The Shamrock

It was also the practice to eat meat on St Patrick's day, a relaxation of the Lenten fast. However to evade the Lenten law in the middle ages Irish people apparently pretended that the meat they were eating was fish. After dinner the shamrock was unpinned from the coat and placed in the final glass of punch. Then they drunk to their health or honoured a toast. The shamrock was picked out from the bottom of the glass and thrown over the left shoulder.

Lady Day

25 March, The Feast of the Annunciation, was a holiday of obligation on which the Lenten fast was relaxed, although there was in Ireland no extensive merry - making as on St. Patrick's Day. It was also of some legal significance because, until Britain belatedly accepted Pope Gregoryís calendar in 1752, the year began officially on this date. High winds were expected on this day and if it coincided with Easter Sunday people feared that the following harvest would be poor, with consequent scarcity of food.

Palm Sunday

At least one member of the household brought a piece of blessed palm [ in Ireland usually conifers such as silver fir, spruce, cypress ] home from church in commemoration of Christís entry into Jerusalem. Men and boys broke off a sprig when leaving church and wore it all day in their cap band or coat label. Palm Sunday was "Domhnach an luil " [Yew Sunday] to many Irish speakers.



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Last modified: February 28, 2000