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Celebrating Candlemas in Old Ireland
In Ireland, Candlemas lapsed during the time of the Penal Laws but was revived afterwards. People donated candles to their local church or took their own to be blessed. These would then be used on special occasions such as station Masses or when the holy sacraments were administered to the sick.
Weather forecasts were often made on this date. It was once believed that if the day was sunny and fair, more winter weather was to come, but if a lark was heard singing, that was a sign of an early spring. There is also a lot of folklore as well as superstitions involving candles. These are necessarily related to Candlemas and they're not exclusive to Ireland; however, since so many candles are lit on this day, it would be prudent to know what certain signs mean.
A bright spark in the wick is sometimes said to indicate that a stranger is coming or that a letter will arrive for the person nearest to the candle. A wavering flame where there is no draft is a harbinger of windy weather. A candle that doesn't light easily foretells rain, and in some areas, a bluish flame means frost.
It was considered very ill-omened to leave a candle burning in an empty room. The only exception is the Christmas candle which should be left to burn all through the night of Christmas Eve to light the way for the Holy Family and also to ensure light, warmth and plenty in the coming year.
To snuff out a candle by accident is a sign of a wedding; and no candle should ever be allowed to burn down to the socket of the candlestick. It should be blown out before that. Otherwise, misfortune may come to someone in the house, and in certain coastal areas, a sailor or fisherman may drown at sea.
At one time it was thought to be very unlucky to light three candles with a single taper. This superstition has survived in the avoidance of lighting three cigarettes with one match. It was also asking for misfortune to burn three candles at the same time. Apparently, Charles Stuart Parnell, the Irish nationalist leader was well-acquainted with the superstition. In his book, Life of Parnell, Barry O'Brien writes that a friend once visited Parnell when he was ill and found him lying in a bedroom illuminated by four candles. During the visit, one of the candles went out; Parnell immediately snuffed out another while remarking how unlucky it was to have three lights burning together.
Finally, in this brief look at candle lore, it is said to be very ill-omened to light a candle from the fire on the hearth. There are those who believe that if a person does this, they will become impoverished. As a measure of protection from this misfortune or any others for that matter, here is a blessing by Andrew Greeley, written expressly for the saints who celebrate their feast days in February:
May good St. Brighid keep you warn till spring
Resources: The Year in Ireland by Kevin Danaher, Irish American Blessings & Prayers by Andrew Greeley, Encyclopedia of Superstitions by Edwin & Mona Radford.
The Round Towers
The Round Towers of Ireland are remarkable among the world's ancient monuments; one author has called them 'Elegant, free-standing pencils of stone.' Today, 65 survive in part or whole. Hand-crafted in native stone and cemented with a sand, lime, horsehair and oxblood mortar - a technique imported from Roman Britain - it's said by many historians that they were built by monastic communities to thwart Viking invaders. And yet, there's reason to believe that the towers were built long before Christianity came to Ireland. Whatever their origins, monasteries did indeed flourish where the round towers existed. And why not. These imposing edifices provided a watch tower, a keep and a refuge.
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March 4, 2011
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