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Whitsuntide in old Ireland
by Bridget Haggerty

In contrast to Easter Sunday, which was considered a very lucky day, Whit Sunday was quite the opposite. All precautions were taken against accident or ill-fortune and very few people would set out on a journey or risk doing anything dangerous - particularly if it involved water.

Water was completely avoided, for it was thought that the danger of drowning was very great. People didn't bathe or go swimming; the fishing and sailing boats were left idle; and it was considered very foolish to even walk along the edge of the sea, river or lake. The reason for this was based on an old superstition that all of those who had perished in that water rose up on Whit Sunday to try and persuade or force the living to join them. If that gives you goose bumps, it gets even grimmer.

It was widely believed that any animal or human born at Whitsuntide would die a violent death or cause the death of another. However, there was a simple way to avoid this fate and that was to have the infant creature kill something. Most often, a live insect was put into a baby's hand and the little fingers squeezed on it until the insect was dead. Having caused a death, the child was freed from the spell. A baby animal was made to perform the same ritual so that it too, would be saved from the ill-fortune of being born on this day. Counter charms such as this one were very common in old Ireland and were often used to protect against an evil influence.

For example, it was believed that people, especially children, who were suffering from an illness were more likely to die at this time of year than at others. In some parts of Ireland, a green sod was laid on the head of the afflicted person in hopes that the mimicry of a burial might prevent an untimely death.

While Whit Sunday was rather somber and depressing, Whit Monday was a favorite day for honoring a patron saint, devotions at holy wells and enjoying the festivities at a local fair. That was until 1829, when it ceased to be a Holy day of Obligation for Catholics. Since then, most of the activities associated with Whit Monday have died out.

What does linger on around Whitsuntide, however, is that niggling anxiety about the old superstitions; so, this writer won't be taking any chances. Living in a land-locked city makes it easy enough to avoid walks on the beach; we're a fair distance from the nearest river or lake, and we took our showers last night. No births are imminent, so we're safe there, and we ran all of our errands yesterday, so there's no need to venture out on any journeys. What we'll probably do is spend a leisurely Sunday morning puttering in the yard, enjoy a pub-style lunch, and then take a nice long nap. Afterwards, we'll become couch potatoes. For this daughter of the ould sod, that sounds very appropriate and, God willing, we'll survive the evil influences of the day. We wish for you the same!


Wed, Mar 22, 2017

The Galway Hooker

This unique vessel, with its distinctive curved lines and bright red sails, originated in the village of Claddagh. During the 19th century, hookers supported a significant fishing industry and also carried goods, livestock and fuel. Seán Rainey is remembered for building the last of the original boats, the Truelight, for Martin Oliver who was to become the last king of the Claddagh; as king, he was entitled to white sails on his boat. Since the mid seventies, many of the old sailing craft which were on the verge of extinction have been lovingly restored and new ones have been built. During the summer months they can be seen at festivals such a Cruinniú na mBád - the Gathering of the Boats - in Kinvara.

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