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Irish Superstitions

Superstitions were commonplace in rural Ireland in centuries gone by, as indeed they were all over Europe.

Ireland’s oldest superstitions. Image copyright Ireland Calling

Some were based on fear and how to avoid the threat of evil supernatural forces, which could mean anything from the devil, to witches and fairies. Others suggested a sense of fatalism, leading to beliefs that if a certain event happened on a particular day, then it would have consequences for the future. This could involve mundane matters such as predicting the weather, or more sinister events such as forecasts of death.

Yet more Irish superstitions related to solutions to practical matters such as illness or injury. Very few of these superstitions had any logical or scientific basis.

Here are a selection of superstitions that were popular in Ireland for hundreds of years.

Irish Superstitions Fact_Pinch,-punchImage copyright Ireland Calling

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If a person was bitten by a mad dog, the cure was said to be a touch from the hand of a seventh son. Seventh sons were said to have all sorts of special powers in rural Ireland. Those powers were even greater if the seventh son was the son of a seventh son.

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St Martin's Dasy Image copyright Ireland Calling

It’s uncertain how this kind superstition began, possibly because there was once an occasion when the weather did behave in the way described. The puzzle then is to explain how the belief continued despite what must have been numerous years when the weather didn’t turn out in the way predicted.

Perhaps the answer is that superstitions by their very nature are independent of reason and logic, and so don’t disappear no matter how many times they are disproved by the facts.

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St Switinin's Day Image copyright Ireland Calling

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If you wear an iron ring on the fourth finger, it is said to ward off rheumatism.

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You will have good luck if two magpies land to your right. However, if three magpies land to your left bad luck may pass your way.

One of the reasons these random superstitions survive is that they are so vague that they can be interpreted in whatever way the believer chooses and so cannot be disproved. Everyone experiences a degree of both good and bad luck, which they can attribute to their superstition if they so wish.

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Meeting a funeral Image copyright Ireland Calling

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If a person had a fever, they were taken to the sea-shore and stayed while the tide was coming in. When the tide went back out, the waves were said to carry away the infection and the fever.

In times when medical care was virtually non-existent, people put great store by nature and the cures it could offer.

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cross on soda bread Image copyright Ireland Calling

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In farming circles, it was said if the first lamb of the season is black, there will be a death in the family within the year.

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Fairies Irish superstition Image copyright Ireland Calling

We tend to regard fairies now as beautiful and friendly, thanks to Disney and Hollywood portrayals. However, centuries ago in Ireland, they were more generally seen as malicious and dangerous.

There was a widespread belief that fairies would even steal children – a belief which the poet W B Yeats wrote about in his poem, The Stolen Child.

See the poem The Stolen Child with links to notes and analysis.

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All images are copyright Ireland Calling.


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