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The Ireland List
Signs, Omens and Superstitiions

Signs and Superstitions

No doubt about it, the Irish have always been very superstitious. Of course, every country has its folk customs and superstitions, but Ireland does seem to have more than most. Even a brief look back in history, particularly in rural areas, will reveal a pattern for daily living that was hugely influenced by the superstitious beliefs of the community.

These superstitions took many forms: spells, potions, incantations, cures, charms, omens and rituals. They were said to have the power to heal the sick, help the lovelorn, predict good and bad luck, ward off evil, and much more. No-one really knows where they came from or how they came about, but they appear to contain a mix of Christianity, naturalism, folklore and social history in liberal measures.

The obvious fact of coincidence doesn't seem to figure at all. Human nature being what it is, people looked for a cause for things they couldn't understand or explain, and leapt to some conclusion, generally the wrong one.

Take fishermen and sailors who were, and still are, particularly superstitious. They were battling against natural elements beyond man's control, yet some explanation for accidents and events at sea still had to be sought as a justification. If a fisherman was drowned it couldn't possibly be the result of a storm, or lack of care. No, it would be more likely that someone on board was whistling, an act considered the most ill of omens. We can only assume that superstitions like this grew up because once or twice, at some point in history, a whistling seaman coincided with a drowning. So an unhappy coincidence becomes a superstition enshrined in the general belief system of a community.

Ultimately, the one thing all superstitions had in common was that they were concerned chiefly with the helplessness of the human condition. In times of trouble, crisis or illness people would turn to these old superstitions and remedies which might not have cured or helped them, but faith in their ability to work brought comfort, whether real or imagined. There was the idea, too, of tradition and the familiarity of continuing 'the old ways'.

Many of these superstitions have died out in the face of modern living, and it is hard to tell how widely-practised any of them might be today. As to whether any of them might still work, I'll leave it to you to decide.

Good Omens?

Sometimes the same things could actually represent both good and bad omens, depending on how the signs were read. For example, black cats who crossed your path were a lucky sign, but the first person seen by a cat that wiped its face with its paws would be the first in the household to die.

Any dream involving horses was thought to be very lucky, and even to dream of a hearse being drawn by plumed horses was a good omen foretelling a wedding. Strangely enough, to actually dream of a wedding had quite the opposite effect and was considered very bad news indeed. Whatever their content, dreams were never revealed before the dreamer's fast was broken and, if possible, first told to a girl called Mary.

Bad Omens? It was unlucky to accept a lock of hair or a four-footed beast from a lover, and you would never offer your left hand in greeting to a friend because of the old saying: "A curse with the left hand to those we hate, but the right hand to those we honour."

When moving house it is advisable to bring a cat with you, especially across a stream, and a red-and-white cat was particularly ominous. If a black cat came of its own accord to your new house you should keep it for it was certain to be a good spirit.

-- Thanks to George, of the Irish Heritage Group, for this submittal.

Bram Stoker

Even thought Bram Stoker is not truly a sign, omen or superstition; his book "Dracula" set off a chain of books and movies which horrified and frightened many people. I think it is very appropriate to place a short biography of him here.

Bram Stoker, born in Dublin in the year 1847, had a very troubled hildhood, riddled with illness and suffering from a late development to speech. Bram Stoker went on to become a highly popular member of "Trinity College", where he was also a very successful sportsman. His first working duty was as a civil servant, moving on to become a journalist. However, after seeing the actor, Henry Irving, act on one of his tours of Ireland, Bram Stoker became the manager of the Lyceum, London, shortly after his marriage to Florence in 1876. Stoker remained there throughout his career and it was is careful management, providing a contrast to Henry Irving`s theatrical excesses, that was probably a major reason for the Lyceum`s success.

Bram Stoker wrote a number of short stories and novels, but surely is remembered for only one, that of his tale of vampires "Dracula ", published in 1897.

Another educated at "Trinity College", was Oscar Wilde, who met Bram Stoker on numerous occasions, before Stoker left for his post in London. Indeed, Florence Stoker was Oscar Wilde`s first lady friend and he and Bram Stoker continued to cross paths, if not crossing swords, throughout the latter years of the nineteenth century.

Bram Stoker`s association and working career with Henry Irving, whom later became Sir Henry Irving, was a very hard one. It is a wonder he found the time and energy to write all these short stories let alone write the novels, including the blockbuster "Dracula" and therefore not too surprising the man is said to have died from exhaustion in 1912.

-- Thanks to George, of the Irish Heritage Group, for this submittal

Fairy Trees

My friend in Dublin tells me of a certain swimming pool that was built in Ireland, a place where a so-called 'fairy tree' lived. A very old tree, widely thought to be the home of fairies, had to be cut down to make way for the community pool. It was said, in fact written up in the newspaper, that if the tree were cut down bad luck would befall the community. My friend did not believe these stories, thought them preposterous. The first day the swimming pool opened a child was drowned.

Here is a bit about fairy trees written by Dermot MacManus, The Middle Kingdom, 1959

Except perhaps for raths, duns, and lisses - fairy forts of legend- nothing in Ireland is more closely associated with the fairy folk than are certain types of tree. Wherever one goes in the country one does not have far to look to see some lone thorn bush growing in a field. The thorn bush is locally reputed to be under fairy protection, but there are many popular misconceptions about the tree, and inaccurate generalities have too often crept into those versions of local folklore which are held by people not close enough to the earth and to the earth folk to distinguish between fact and fiction.

It is, for instance, widely thought that only the whitethorn is sacred to the fairies, and that all whitethorns growing alone in the centre of a field are 'fairy trees'. Indeed, many people include in this category all whitethorns, even when growing in a hedge, provided only that they have a sturdy and fairly venerable appearance; but the whitethorn, although it is the most unusual and most popular with the earth folk, by no means has a monopoly of fairy patronage, for it shares that honor with several other kinds of tree. In Ireland its greatest rivals are, in order of merit, the hazel, the blackthorn, the bourtree - which is the English elder - the sally, the alder, the ash, the holly, the birch, the oak - especially a twisted mountain oak - the broom, and the Scots fir; also, to my personal knowledge in at least two instances, the rowan or mountain ash, in spite of its being usually associated with white-magic properties. In addition to all these, although it is a plant, the golden-flowered buacalan bui, or ragwort, must be given a place of importance. In Scotland they have also the juniper and ivy, but I have not heard of these in such a way in Ireland.

The hazel, one of the most important of all, goes back in Irish mythology to an honoured place in the dim mists of the past. Then the hazel nut was the repository of all knowledge, as was the apple in Eden. No wonder the ancient gods and the spirits of today are reputed to revere and care for it. Of the other trees, the fairies do well in cherishing the blackthorn, for it is one of the loveliest trees in the Irish countryside, especially in early spring when its masses of bright, white flowers contrast so strongly with its yet-leafless black twigs; and the toughness of its branches is proverbial.

Excerpt from 'The Celtic Twilight'
by W.B. Yeats

A little north of Sligo, on the southern side of Ben Bulben, some hundreds of feet above the plain, is a small white square in the limestone. No mortal has ever touched it with his hand; no sheep or goat has ever browsed grass beside it. There is no more inaccessible place upon the earth, and few more encircled by awe to the deep considering. It is the door of faery-land. In the middle of night it swings open, and the unearthly troop rushes out. All night the gay rabble sweep to and fro across the land, invisible to all, unless perhaps where, in some more than commonly 'gentle' place - Drumcliff or Drum-a-hair - the night-capped heads of faery-doctors may be thrust from their doors to see what mischief the 'gentry' are doing. To their trained eyes and ears the fields are covered by red-hatted riders, and the air is full of shrill voices - a sound like whistling, as an ancient Scottish seer has recorded, and wholly different from the talk of the angels, who 'speak much in the throat, like the Irish,' as Lilly, the astrologer, has wisely said.

Some five-miles southward of Sligo is a gloomy and tree-bordered pond, a great gathering-place of water fowl, called, because of its form, the Heart Lake. It is haunted by stranger things than heron, snipe, or wild duck. Out of this lake, as from the white square stone in Ben Bulben, issues an unearthly troop. Once men began to drain it; suddenly one of them raised a cry that he saw his house in flames. They turned round, and every man there saw his own cottage burning. They hurried home to find it was but faery glamour. To this hour on the border of the lake is shown a half-dug trench - the signet of their impiety.

Sometimes animals are carried off - apparently drowned animals more than others. In Claremorris, Galway, Paddy Flynn told me, lived a poor widow with one cow and a calf. The cow fell into the river, and was washed away. There was a man thereabouts who went to a red-haired woman - for such are supposed to be wise in these things - and she told him to take the calf down to the edge of the river, and hide himself and watch. He did as she had told him, and as evening came on the calf began to law, and after a while the cow came along the edge of the river and commenced suckling it. Then, as he had been told, he caught the cow's tail. Away they went at a great pace, across hedges and ditches, till they came to a royalty (a name for the circular ditches, commonly called raths or forts, that Ireland is covered with since Pagan times). Therein he saw walking or sitting all the people who had died out of his village in his time. A woman was sitting on the edge with a child on her knees, and she called out to him to mind what the red-haired woman had told him, and he remembered she had said, Bleed the cow. So he stuck his knife into the cow and drew blood. That broke the spell, and he was able to turn her homeward.

There is hardly a valley or mountain-side where folk cannot tell you of someone pillaged from amongst them. Two or three miles from the Heart Lake lives an old woman who was stolen away in her youth. After seven years she was brought home again for some reason or other, but she had no toes left. She had danced them off. Many near the white stone door in Ben Buleen have been stolen away.

It is far easier to be sensible in cities than in many country places I could tell you of. When one walks on those grey roads at evening by the scented elder-bushes of the white cottages, watching the faint mountains gathering the clouds upon their heads, one all too readily discovers beyond the thin cobweb veil of the sense, those creatures, the goblins, hurrying from the white square stone door to the north, or from the Heart Lake in the south.

The Fairy Race
from Lady Wilde ('Speranza')
1820 - 1896

From the earliest ages the world has believed in the existence of a race midway between the angel and man, gifted with power to exercise a strange mysterious influence over human destiny. The Persians called this mystic race Peris; the Egyptians and Greeks named them demons, not as evil, but as mysterious allies of man, invisible though ever present; capable of kind acts but implacable if offended.

The Irish called them the Sidhe, or spirit-race, or the Feadh-Ree, a modification of the word Peri. Their country is the Tirnaoge, the land of perpetual youth, where they live a life of joy and beauty, never knowing disease or death, which is not to come on them till the judgment day, when they are fated to pass into annihilation, to perish utterly and be seen no more. They can assume any form and they make horses out of bits of straw, on which they ride over the country, and to Scotland and back. They have no religion, but a great dread of the Scapular (Latin words from the Gospels written by a priest and hung round the neck).

All over Ireland the fairies have the reputation of being very beautiful, with long yellow hair sweeping the ground, and lithe light forms. They love milk and honey, and sip the nectar from the cups of flowers, which is their fairy wine.

Underneath the lakes, and deep down in the heart of the hills, they have their fairy palaces of pearl and gold, where they live in splendour and luxury, with music and song and dancing and laughter and all joyous things as befits the gods of the earth. If our eyes were touched by a fairy salve we could see them dancing on the hill in the moonlight. They are served on vessels of gold, and each fairy chief, to mark his rank, wears a circlet of gold round his head.

The fairies are very numerous, more numerous than the human race. In their palaces underneath the hills and in the lakes and the sea they hide away much treasure. All the treasure of wrecked ships is theirs; and all the gold that men have hidden and buried in the earth when danger was on them, and then died and left no sign of the place to their descendants. And all the gold of the mine and the jewels of the rocks belong to them; and in the Sifra, or fairy-house, the walls are silver and the pavement is gold, and the banquet-hall is lit by the glitter of the diamonds that stud the rocks.

If you walk nine times round a fairy rath at the full of the moon, you will find the entrance to the Sifra; but if you enter beware of eating the fairy food or drinking the fairy wine. The Sidhe will, indeed, wile and draw many a young man into the fairy dance, for the fairy women are beautiful, so beautiful that a man's eyes grow dazzled who looks on them, with their long hair floating like the ripe golden corn and their robes of silver gossamer; they have perfect forms, and their dancing is beyond all expression graceful; but if man is tempted to kiss a Sighoge, or young fairy spirit, in the dance, he is lost forever - the madness of love will fall on him, and he will never again be able to return to earth or to leave the enchanted fairy palace. He is dead to his kindred and race for ever more.

On Fridays the fairies have special power over all things, and chiefly on that day they select and carry off the young mortal girls as brides for the fairy chiefs. But after seven years, when the girls grow old and ugly, they send them back to their kindred, giving them, however, as compensation, a knowledge of herbs and philtres and secret spells, by which they can kill or cure, and have power over men both for good and evil.

The fairies are passionately fond of music; it is therefore dangerous for a young girl to sing when she is all alone by the lake, for the spirits will draw her down to them to sing to them in the fairy palace under the waves, and her people will see her no more.

THE RIDE WITH THE FAIRIES
from Lady Wilde

The Fairies take great delight in horsemanship, and are splendid riders. Many fine young men are enticed to ride with them, when they dash along with the fairies like the wind, Finvarra himself leading, on his great black horse with the red nostrils, that look like flames of fire. And ever after the young men are the most fearless riders in the country, so the people know at once that they have hunted with the fairies. And after the hunt some favorite of the part is taken to a magnificent supper in the fairy palace, and when he has drunk of the bright red wine they lull him to sleep with soft music. But never again can he find the fairy palace, and he looks in vain for the handsome horseman on his fine black steed, with all the gay young huntsmen in their green velvet dresses, who rushed over the field with him, like a flash of the storm wind. They have passed away for ever from his vision, like a dream of the night.

Once on a time a gentleman, also one of the Kirwans of Galway, was riding by the fairy hill--where all the fairies of the West hold their councils and meetings, under the rule of Finvarra the king--when a strange horseman, mounted on a fiery black steed, suddenly appeared. But as the stranger bid him the time of day with distinguished grace, Mr. Kirwan returned his greeting courteously, and they rode on together side by side, discoursing pleasantly--for the stranger seemed to know everyone and everything, though Mr. Kirwan could not remember ever having seen him before.

"Now," said the black horseman, "I know that you are to be at the races tomorrow, so just let me give you a hint: if you wish to be certain of winning, allow me to send you my man to ride your horse. He never failed in a race yet, and he shall be with you early, before the start."

With that, at a turn of the road, the stranger disappeared; for he was no other than Finvarra himself, who had a friendly liking for the tribe of the Kirwans, because all the men were generous who came of the blood, and all the women handsome.

Next morning, as Mr. Kirwan was setting out for the race, his groom told him that a young jockey was waiting to see him. He was the strangest looking little imp, Mr. Kirwan thought, he had ever set eyes on, but he felt compelled to give him all the rights and power that was necessary for the race, and the young imp was off in a moment, like a flash of lightning.

Mr. Kirwan knew no more--he seemed like in a dream--till the silver cup was handed to him as winner of the race, and congratulations poured down on him, and every one asked eagerly where he got the wonderful jockey who seemed to make the horse fly like the spirit of the wind itself. But the jockey by this time had disappeared. However, the stranger on the black horse was there, and he constrained Mr. Kirwan to come with him to dinner; and they rode pleasantly, as before, till they reached a grand, beautiful house, with a crowd of gorgeous servants waiting on the steps to receive the lord and master and his guest.

One of them led Mr. Kirwan to his room to dress for dinner, and there he found a costly suit of violet velvet ready, in which the valet arrayed him. Then he entered the dining-hall. It was all lit up splendidly, and there were garlands of flowers twining round crystal columns, and golden cups set with jewels for the wine, and golden dishes.

The host seemed an accomplished man of the world, and did the honors with perfect grace. Conversation flowed freely, while soft music was heard at intervals from invisible players, and Mr. Kirwan could not resist the charm and beauty of the scene, nor the bright red wine that his host poured out for him into the jeweled cups.

Then, when the banquet was over, a great crowd of ladies and gentlemen came in and danced to sweet low music, and they circled round the guest and tried to draw him into the dance. But when he looked at them it seemed to him that they were all the dead he had once known; for his own brother was there, that had been drowned in the lake a year before; and a man who had been killed by a fall when hunting; and others whose faces he knew well. And they were all pale as death, but their eyes burned like coals of fire.

And as he looked and wondered, a lovely lady came over to him, wearing a necklace of pearls. And she clasped his wrist with her little hand, and tried to draw him into the circle.

"Dance with me," she whispered, "dance with me again. Look at me, for you once loved me."

And when he looked at her he knew that she was dead, and the clasp of her hand was like a ring of fire round his wrist; and he drew back in terror, for he saw that she was a beautiful girl he had loved in his youth, and to whom he had given a necklace of pearls, but who died before he could make her his bride.

Then his heart sank with fear and dread, and he said to his host--

"Take me from this place. I know the dancers; they are dead. Why have you brought them up from their graves?"

But the host only laughed and said, "You must take more wine to keep up your courage." And he poured him out a goblet of wine redder than the rubies.

And when he drank it, all the pageant and the music and the crowd faded away from before his eyes, and he fell into a profound sleep, and knew no more till he found himself at home, laid on his bed. And the servant told him that a strange horseman had accompanied him to the door late in the night, who had charged them to lay the master gentle in his bed and by no means awake him till noon the next day, for he was weary after the race; and he bade them take the hunter to the stables and tend him carefully, for the animal was covered with foam, and all trembling.

At noon Mr. Kirwan awoke, and rose up as well as ever; but of all the fairy revels nothing remained to him but the mark round his wrist of the clasp of a woman's hand, that seemed burned into the flesh.

So he knew the night's adventure was no mere dream of the fancy, and the mark of the dead hand remained with him to his last hour, and the form of the young girl with her necklace of pearls often came before him in a vision of the night; but he never again visited the fairy palace, and never saw the dark horseman any more. As to the silver cup, he flung it into the lake, for he thought it had come to him by the devil's magic and would bring no good luck to him or to his race. So it sank beneath the waves, and the silver cup was seen no more.

The Pooka

Variants: phouka, puca

No fairy is more feared in Ireland than the pooka. This may be because it is always out and about after nightfall, creating harm and mischief, and because it can assume a variety of terrifying forms.

The guise in which it most often appears, however, is that of a sleek, dark horse with sulphurous yellow eyes and a long wild mane. In this form, it roams large areas of countryside at night, tearing down fences and gates, scattering livestock in terror, trampling crops and generally doing damage around remote farms.

In remote areas of County Down, the pooka becomes a small, deformed goblin who demands a share of the crop at the end of the harvest: for this reason several strands, known as the 'pooka's share', are left behind by the reapers. In parts of County Laois, the pooka becomes a huge, hairy bogeyman who terrifies those abroad at night; in Waterford and Wexford, it appears as an eagle with a massive wingspan; and in Roscommon, as a black goat with curling horns.

The mere sight of it may prevent hens laying their eggs or cows giving milk, and it is the curse of all late night travellers as it is known to swoop them up on to its back and then throw them into muddy ditches or bogholes. The pooka has the power of human speech, and it has been known to stop in front of certain houses and call out the names of those it wants to take upon its midnight dashes. If that person refuses, the pooka will vandalise their property because it is a very vindictive fairy.

The origins of the pooka are to some extent speculative. The name may come from the Scandinavian pook or puke, meaning 'nature spirit'. Such beings were very capricious and had to be continually placated or they would create havoc in the countryside, destroying crops and causing illness among livestock. Alternatively, the horse cults prevalent throughout the early Celtic world may have provided the underlying motif for the nightmare steed.

Other authorities suggest that the name comes from the early Irish poc meaning either 'a male goat' or a 'blow from a cudgel'. However, the horse cult origin is perhaps the most plausible since many of these cults met on high ground and the main abode of the pooka is believed to be on high mountain tops. There is a waterfall formed by the river Liffey in the Wicklow mountains known as the Poula Phouk (the pooka's hole), and Binlaughlin Mountain in County Fermanagh is also known as the 'peak of the speaking horse'.

In some areas of the country, the pooka is rather more mysterious than dangerous, provided it is treated with proper respect. The pooka may even be helpful on occasion, issuing prophecies and warnings where appropriate. For example, the folklorist Douglas Hyde referred to a 'plump, sleek, terrible steed' which emerged from a hill in Leinster and which spoke in a human voice to the people there on the first day of November. It was accustomed to give "intelligent and proper answers to those who consulted it concerning all that would befall them until November the next year. And the people used to leave gifts and presents at the hill..."

Something similar seems to have occurred in south Fermanagh, where the tradition of gathering on certain high places to await a speaking horse was observed on Bilberry Sunday until quite recently.

Only one man has ever managed to ride the pooka and that was Brian Boru, the High King of Ireland. Using a special bridle containing three hairs from the pooka's tail, Brian managed to control the magic horse and stay on its back until, exhausted, it surrendered to his will. The king extracted two promises from it; firstly, that it would no longer torment Chr istian people and ruin their property and secondly, that it would never again attack an Irishman (all other nationalities are exempt) except those who are drunk or abroad with an evil intent. The latter it could attack with greater ferocity than before. The pooka agreed to these conditions. However, over the intervening years, it seems to have forgotten its bargain and attacks on property and sober travellers on their way home continue to this day.

-- Thanks to George, of the Irish Heritage Group, for this submittal

Bird Superstitions

The Superstition of "A bird in the house" as a sign of a death, has many variations.

In parts of America, and possibly Canada, the Superstition of "If a robin flies into a room through a window, death will shortly follow" and "If a bird flies into a house, or taps on a window, it is said to bring death to someone who dwells in the home within a years time." exist. In addition, some superstitions in America state that "If a bird flies into a room, through an open window, then with in a year a death in the family will occur".

Birds were thought, at one time, to be the carrier of souls into heaven, or the afterlife. Since Birds flew, it was easy to associate them with this practice... after all, the sould had to have a way to get to where it was going. When the Bird flew into a house, it was said that the bird's soul was inviting another soul to join it in death. Some cultures named specific birds who carried souls, such as the crow or the raven.

Many of the references date back to the Romans, Greeks and Egyptians as well as the Druids and Middle Ages. In Rome, for example, the wise old owl foretold the deaths of Roman Emperors Augustus, Aurelius and Julius Caesar.

Early Christianity was not without it's bird superstitions. The male crossbill, in the family of sparrow, has a reddish beak with a curved bill. The legend is that the bird twisted and bloodied its beak by trying to pry out the nails from Christ's cross. In Sweden, the Stork is a supposed to be a sacred bird because of the legend that it flew round the cross, crying "Styrka, Styrka" when Jesus was crucified.

Some Irish Bird Superstitions are:

THE HEDGEWARBLER, known more popularly as the "Irish Nightingale", is the object of a most tender superstition. By day it is a roystering fellow enough, almost as impish as our American Mocking Bird, in its emulative attempts to demonstrate its ability to out-sing the original songs of any feathered melodist that ventures near its haunts among the reeds by the murmuring streams. But when it sings at night, and particularly at the exact hour of midnight, its plaintive and tender notes are no less than the voices of babes that thus return from the spirit land to soothe their poor, heart-aching mothers for the great loss of their darlings. The hapless little Hedge Sparrow has great trouble in raising any young at all, as its beautiful bluish-green eggs when strung above the hob are in certain localities regarded as a potent charm against divers witch spells, especially those which gain an entrance to the cabin through the wide chimney. On the contrary, the grayish-white and brown-mottled eggs of the Wag-tail are never molested, as the grotesque motion of the tail of this tiny attendant of the herds has gained for it the uncanny reputation and name of the Devilís bird.

THE STARLING, THE MAGPIE, AND THE CROW.

When the starling does not follow the grazing cattle some witch charm has been put upon them. The Magpie, as with the ancient Greeks, is the repository of the soul of an evil-minded and gossiping woman. A round-tower or castle ruin unfrequented by Jackdaws is certainly haunted. The "curse of the crows" is quite as malevolent as the "curse of Cromwell." When a "Praheen Cark" or Hen Crow is found in the solitudes of mountain glens, away from human habitations, it assuredly possesses the wandering soul of an impenitent sinner.

If a Raven hover near a herd of cattle or sheep, a withering blight has already been set upon the animals, hence the song of the bard Benean regarding the rights of the kings of Cashel 1,400 years ago that a certain tributary province should present the king yearly "a thousand goodly cows, not the cows of Ravens." The Waxwing, the beautiful Incendiara avis of Pliny, whose breeding haunts have never yet been discovered by man, are the torches of the Bean-sidhe, or Banshees. When the Cuckoo utters her first note in the spring, if you chance to hear it, you will find under your right foot a white hair; and if you keep this about your person, the first name you thereafter hear will be that of your future husband or wife.

FOUR MOURNFUL SUPERSTITIONS.

Four other birds provide extremely mournful and pathetic superstitions. The Linnet pours forth the most melancholy song of all Irish birds, and I have seen honest-hearted peasants affected by it to tears. On inquiry I found the secret cause to be the belief that its notes voiced the plaints of some unhappy soul in the spirit land. The changeless and interminable chant of the Yellow Bunting is the subject of a very singular superstition. Its notes, begun each afternoon at the precise hour of 3, are regarded as summons to prayer for souls not yet relieved from purgatorial penance. A variety of Finch has notes which resemble what is called the "Bride-groomís song" of unutterable dolor for a lost bride" a legend of superstition easily traceable to the German Hartz mountain peasantry; while in the solemn intensity of the Bitternís sad and plaintive boom, still a universally received token of spirit-warning, can be recognized the origin of the mournful cries of the wailing Banshee.

The Story Of The Jack-O'Lantern

The "Jack-O'-Lantern" originated with Irish folklore. It is said it began with an Irishman named Jack, who was a stingy drunkard.

Jack had the misfortune to run into the Devil in a pub. Jack had too much to drink and was about to fall into the Devil's hands, but managed to trick the Devil by offering his soul in exchange for one last drink.

The Devil turned himself into a sixpence to pay the bartender, but Jack quickly placed him in his pocket. Because Jack had a silver cross in his pocket, the Devil could not change himself back. Jack would not let the Devil go until he promised not to claim his soul for ten years.

The Devil agreed and ten years later Jack came across the Devil while walking on a country road. The Devil wanted to collect, but Jack, thinking quickly, said "I'll go, but before I go, will you get me an apple from that tree?"

The Devil, thinking he had nothing to lose, jumped on Jack's shoulders to obtain the apple. Jack pulled out his knife and quickly carved a cross in the trunk of the tree. This left the Devil in the air, unable to obtain Jack or his soul. Jack made him promise to never again ask for his soul. Seeing no way out, the Devil agreed.

When Jack finally died years later, he was not admitted to Heaven, because of his life of drinking and being tightfisted and deceitful. When he went to apply for entrance to Hell, the Devil had to turn him away because he agreed never to take Jack's soul.

"But where can I go?" asked Jack.

"Back where you came from!" replied the Devil.

The way back was windy and dark. Jack pleaded with the Devil to at least provide him a light to find his way. The Devil, as a final gesture, threw a live coal at Jack straight from the fire of Hell. To light his way and to keep it from blowing out in the wind, Jack put it in a carved out turnip.

Ever since, Jack has been doomed to wander the earth until he can find a final resting place.

No one knows for certain if Jack is still roaming the earth ...

Thanks to George, of the Irish Heritage Group, for this submittal

Ghosts of Ireland

Fort Kinsale, Kinsale, Co Cork

Fort Kinsale, built in 1677, is haunted by the ghost of the White Lady, a haunting that is said to have started a short while after the fortress was built.

The fort became the home of Colonel Warrender, a strict disciplinarian. He had a daughter with the unusual name of "Wilful" who married Sir Trevor Ashurst. On their wedding day they were walking along the fort's battlements when the new Lady Ashurst saw some flowers growing on the rocks beneath. She asked her husband if she might have some of them. Sir Trevor, a bit apprehensive about climbing down the rocks himself, asked a sentry on duty if he would go down for him, the sentry only too pleased to oblige the newly-weds, agreed to do so provided that Sir Trevor stood in for him by taking his place. Sir Trevor agreed, and buttoning on the sentry's tunic took over the soldier's guard duty whilst the sentry clambered down to retrieve the flowers for her ladyship.

Time passed and "Wilful" Ashurst began to complain about the chilly night air. Her new husband advised his bride to go inside and wait for him in their apartments, saying that he would join her when the sentry returned with the flowers. Time dragged on and there was still no sign of the returning sentry. Sir Trevor was exhausted by the events of the day and was also a little drunk. He fell asleep.

He was still in a deep sleep when Colonel Warrender made his rounds. Seeing one of his sentries asleep he approached the man, drew his pistol and shot him through the heart. When the body was brought inside for examination Colonel Warrender was horrified to see that he had shot his own son-in-law.

As soon as she learned of the fate of her husband, Lady Ashurst rushed from her apartments in a distraught state and threw herself over the battlements. On learning of the second tragedy Colonel Warrender shot himself the same night. One summer in 1815, Major Black, a veteran of the Peninsular Wars, was astounded to see a strange lady enter through a doorway and walk upstairs. At first he thought she must have been one of his fellow officers' wives but there was something distinctively odd about her. He noticed that she wore an old-fashioned white dress. He followed her into a nearby room but found that she had completely disappeared.

On another occasion, two sergeants who served under Major Black, were packing equipment. One of the men had his little daughter with him. The girl wanted to know who the White Lady was who was looking at them and smiling at her. Both men looked up but could see nobody. However the little girl was adamant that she had seen a lady dressed in white, looking down at her. The same White Lady was seen some years later by a children's nurse standing over the cot of a young child.

In the 1870's, Captain Marvell Hull and Lieutenant Hartland were walking upstairs when they both saw the White Lady who looked at the officers for a short while before disappearing through a locked door.

In the 1920's a surgeon at the fort was found lying senseless at the bottom of the stairs leading to his room. When he recovered he said that he had seen the figure of a woman in white, wearing what he described as an old-fashioned wedding dress. A short while afterwards the same figure was seen by a Captain Jervis. He too was found lying senseless at the bottom of the same stairs.

Portobello Harbour, Rathmines Bridge, Dublin

The ghost of a lock-keeper, who drowned himself after being sacked for drunkenness, was blamed for a tragedy that occurred at Portobello Harbour at 9 o'clock on the evening of Saturday, 6th April, 1861.

A horse-drawn bus, driven by Patrick Hardy, had just dropped a passenger on the canal approach when one of the horses started to rear. A brilliant light was seen to rise from the canal water and turn into a human shape. Both horses become uncontrollable with fear and backed the bus through the wooden rails of the bridge. The bus, horses and six passengers inside the bus, plunged into the cold waters and were drowned. The conductor was able to jump clear and the driver was pulled from the water by a passing policeman.

Three years previously a soldier stationed at nearby Portobello Barracks was walking from camp to meet his girlfriend one November evening when he was blinded by a brilliant light that rose from the water. The young soldier panicked, missed his footing and fell into the water, where he drowned. Two people walking by at the time swore that the light rose from the water and took human shape.

St Stephens Green, Dublin

A large old house used to stand at St Stephens Green, with high windows and a massive nail-studded door. It stood empty for a number of years after the death of a foreign lady who is said to have lived a rather secluded life there.

Colonel and Mrs Launey and their family moved into the house in the 1840's after taking a three year lease. It was several weeks before anything was to happen. One November evening, Colonel Launey being away in London on a business trip and the servants all being out for the evening, Mrs Launey was sitting alone in the drawing room when she heard her children screaming in their bedroom. She stood up at once to go to their aid. As she got into the hallway she saw a dark figure walking up the staircase.

She wondered which of the servants had arrived home early or who had changed their minds and not gone out. She called out, but to her horror, when the figure turned round it was headless. After a moment the dark figure started walking upstairs again, disappearing round a bend in the stairs. Pulling herself together, Mrs Launey, concerned for her children, raced upstairs. The children had seen nothing but had heard a strange noise in their room. Mrs Launey pacified the children and went downstairs again, returning to the drawing room.

Much to her relief the servants returned home early that night and Colonel Launey arrived home the following day from his visit to London. Mrs Launey told her husband about the headless apparition that she had seen but he did not take the matter seriously. However, a few nights later the couple were at dinner when they both heard the sound of a spinet being played in the drawing room. Colonel Launey rushed to investigate but quickly returned. He, too, had seen the ghost.

Several weeks later, Guy Lorrimer, Mrs Launey's brother, came to spend Christmas with them. He scoffed at the idea of ghosts but the day after his arrival he was in his bedroom getting ready for dinner when he saw a dark figure emerge from under his bed, crawl on all fours towards a cupboard built into the walls and disappear with a loud chuckling laugh. Whilst the figure was crawling along the floor Guy Lorrimer had thrown his boots at it, only to see the boots sail straight through the apparition and hit the wall on the far side. A look inside the cupboard revealed that there was nobody there.

On Christmas Eve the Launeys gave their children, Moira and Molly, a party. After tea they crossed the hall from the dining room to put a few more presents under the tree in the drawing room. On opening the door they were startled to see that the room was illuminated by a weird light and lying on the floor was the body of a woman. The head had been cut off. A tall, swarthy-looking man stood over it, a horn-handled knife in his hand. Standing close to him was a slender foreign-looking girl, dressed in the early 18th century style, with expensive jewellery around her neck.

All the presents that had already been put on the tree by Mrs Launey were scattered on the floor and some were broken. Hanging from the centre of the tree was the decapitated head of a woman, with long black hair and wide-open glassy eyes. There was a scream of laughter and then the vision faded away, leaving the room in pitch darkness.

The Launeys left the house the following day.

118 Summerhill, Dublin

In January 1966, six workmen were demolishing the house when they reported repeatedly seeing a ghost watching them whilst they were going about their work. Three men, on separate occasions, described how they had seen the ghost of a man, described as being tall and wearing a striped shirt or overall without a collar, standing in the one room watching them. The workers became that scared that they refused to work in the house except in broad daylight and when there were two men working together at the same spot.

At the end of the 19th century the house had been owned by a family of coachbuilders and it is thought that the ghost was a member of the family, or one of its old employees, who had come to watch the workmen demolish the old house.

St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin

The ghost of a black Newfoundland dog has been seen many times at the Cathedral, sitting at the base of a memorial statue to Captain McNeill Boyd who was lost in February, 1861 whilst attempting to rescue drowning seamen at Dun Laoghaire. The apparition is said to be that of Captain Boyd's devoted dog which has also been seen many times lying on his master's grave at nearby Glasnevin Cemetery.

On the night of Saturday 8th February, 1861, the Irish Sea was swept by one of the worst gales of the century. The harbour at Kingstown, now Dun Laoghaire, was littered with debris and the wreckage of battered vessels. Scores of bodies of drowned people were found on the shoreline. Among those who helped to recover the bodies and clear the wreckage was Captain Boyd, in command of the coastguard vessel Ajax.

Three stricken vessels, the Neptune, the Industry and the Mary, were trying to get to the shelter of the harbour. The Neptune and the Industry were to be smashed against the rocks whilst the Mary was wrecked further along the coast at Sandymount. Captain Boyd and some of his men were on the rocks trying to rescue the men from the stricken vessels. Together with three of his men he was swept into the sea by a giant wave. When a lifeboat from the Ajax later went to search for Captain Boyd and the three other men, his faithful Newfoundland dog was in the rescue boat.

When the body of Captain Boyd was finally recovered it was brought ashore and he was given one of the biggest funerals ever seen in Dublin. During the funeral procession his faithful dog walked beside the coffin and followed it to Glasnevin Cemetery where Captain Boyd was interred. When the grave was filled in the dog, so devoted to his master, lay on top and refused to be moved, eventually dying of hunger. Shortly afterwards the memorial statue to Captain Boyd was erected in the Cathedral by the people of Dublin.

One of those who saw the dog many times at the base of the statue in the Cathedral was Dean Wilson, who died in 1950.

Sutton, Co Dublin

In November, 1696, the packet-ship William from Holyhead, bound for Ringsend, Dublin carrying 80 passengers, was battered on the rocks by a strong gale with the loss of all lives except for the captain and galley-boy. The captain, who later gave evidence at a public inquiry, said that lights had been seen in the area around the rocks and thinking that it was safe to guide his ship towards them, had done so and smashed into the rocks. This would suggest that wreckers had been to blame for the disaster, for at that time wreckers were very active in the area, luring ships onto the jagged rocks to seize any cargo and valuables that they could lay their hands on.

The phantom packet-ship has been seen on many occasions since that time and ghostly lanterns have also been seen, still enticing to doom on the rocks.

Kilkea Castle, nr Castledermott, Co Kildare

Now a modern hotel, Kilkea Castle is reputed to be haunted by the ghost of Garrett Ogg, otherwise known as "The Wizard Earl".

Garrett Ogg, the 11th Earl of Kildare, practised magic in the 16th century. On one occasion he is said to have been demonstrating his abilities as a magician to his rather sceptical wife when he told her that he would turn himself into a bird on condition that she showed no fear. If she did, he told her, he would vanish. The Wizard Earl duly turned himself into a bird and his wife was not in the least scared, until a cat came into the room, saw a nice juicy bird and went for it. The Earl's wife, knowing better than the cat, instantly realised that it was attacking her husband in bird form, screamed and Garrett Ogg disappeared for ever. That is except for every seven years when the Wizard Earl returns to Kilkea Castle, where he visits the room where he was attacked by the cat, before galloping off to Mullaghmast.

Kilkea Castle is also the scene of other psychic disturbances. Bedclothes have been scattered unaccountably around Room 222, which is where the Earl showed off his magical ability to his wife so many years ago with such dramatic results. Footsteps have also been heard coming from the same room. Female voices have been heard on the roof over the bedroom.

There have been no reports of any disturbances since November, 1972.

Straffan, Co Kildare

The ghost of a railway guard, who has been seen walking at night along a stretch of the local railway line carrying a lamp, is thought to be the guard of an express train that broke down on 5th October, 1853 with such terrible results. A luggage train following some distance behind ploughed into the express killing 16 people and injuring another 30.

At the inquiry it was revealed that the rear lamp of the express train had gone out and the guard admitted that he had forgotten to put oil into the lamp before the start of his duty. At that particular point the speed restriction for all railway traffic was 20 mph and the driver of the luggage train admitted that he was travelling at a speed far in excess of that.

It is thought that the spectral guard patrols the line at night with his lamp in atonement for his negligence on that fatal night and to ensure that no similar accident will happen again.

Kilkenny, Co Kilkenny

The ghost of a tall thin woman, hobbling on crutches and wearing a long coat, with long flowing hair, has been seen walking in the vicinity of St John's Parochial Hall.

In May, 1969 a young nurse and her boyfriend saw the figure whilst they were in a parked car after spending an evening at the local dance. Other people have seen the apparition including a local priest.

Granard, Co Longford

The headless ghost of a British Army officer and his headless horse have been seen at night in various parts of Co Longford. The reports of the sightings are so well-known in the district that people lock themselves in their houses at nightfall and refuse to leave again until daylight the following morning.

Captain Blundell was attached to a cavalry unit in barracks near Granard in the early part of the 18th century. He was very fond of the high life and enjoyed drinking, dancing and gambling. He as also very fond of some of the local women.

One night Captain Blundell attended a military ball in Granard. He was in the best of spirits and having partaken of his usual amount of alcohol he was the life and soul of the party. There was no sign of any problems and yet the following morning, after he had failed to report for duty, an orderly was sent to arouse him only to discover that Captain Blundell's door was locked from the inside, very unusual for him, and that the windows were barred. When the door was finally forced open the headless body of the officer was found lying on the floor.

At the inquest it was stated that the officer was a happy man and had no financial worries. He certainly had no reason to take his own life. Despite this, however, the jury returned a verdict of suicide although it was never established how a man in such a position could cut off his own head and dispose of it. Many local people, and certainly all his brother officers, did not agree with the verdict.

It was known that Captain Blundell, following his association with some of the local women, had made a number of enemies and could have been murdered by a jealous rival. It was known that one of his associations had been with the daughter of a local landowner who had planned better things for her. It was felt in many quarters that it was this father who had something to do with the tragedy.

Gill House, Portlaw, Co Waterford

Nicola Hamilton and John, Second Earl of Tyrone, were both educated at the same school and had common interests, including the subject of life after death and astrology. They entered into a pact that if there was life beyond the grave the one who died first would let the other know. Lord Tyrone left school and lived the life of a recluse. Nicola Hamilton married Sir Tristram Beresford.

In October, 1693, Sir Tristram and Lady Beresford were visiting Lady Beresford's sister at Gill House. On the 15th, leaving Lady Beresford asleep, Sir Tristram rose early and went for a walk before breakfast. On his return he found his wife agitated and embarrassed. Both Sir Tristram and Lady MacGill, Lady Beresford's sister, were very concerned about a possible injury to Lady Beresford's wrist as she had it covered with a black ribbon. Lady Beresford asked her husband and her sister, together with others present, not to mention her wrist again, adding that she would always be wearing the ribbon in future and would never be seen without it

A few days later, after breakfast, she asked if any letters had been delivered for her. When asked why she replied that she expected to learn of the death of Lord Tyrone, which she was sure had taken place the previous Tuesday. A short while later a letter was delivered. The letter was from Lord Tyrone's steward informing her that his master had died in Dublin the previous Tuesday, 14th October, 1693, at 4 pm.

Lord Tyrone had appeared to Lady Beresford soon after his death at the time when Sir Tristram was taking his pre-breakfast walk. His reason for returning was to honour the promise made when they had both been at school together. He had placed his finger on her wrist to prove that he really was there. His touch had left a black mark on the skin and the joint had shrivelled. She had then tied the wrist in a black ribbon to hide the wound. Lord Tyrone had told her that she would bear Sir Tristran a son, would marry for a second time and would die at the age of 47. All these predictions were to come true.

It is interesting to note that as Lady Beresford lay dying she asked her son to remove the black ribbon from her wrist. There indeed was a black mark and the skin surrounding it was shrivelled.

Waterford, Co Waterford

Just before midnight, one Christmas Eve in the middle of the 1850's, Eli Hayson was disturbed in his sleep by the sound of hurried footsteps running along the waterfront towards his house. Getting up to investigate, peering through the window he saw a figure racing from the river towards his front door. When the figure had almost reached his house three more figures were seen to emerge from the waterfront, apparently chasing the first figure. It was only when the original figure reached the house and started banging on the door pleading to be let in, that he realised that it was Jack, his twin brother, who he thought was in Cork on the vessel Thomas Emery.

Before Eli could get the door open the three other figures, all dressed in sailors' clothes but appearing to be wearing stags' heads, grabbed hold of Jack. At that moment the moon disappeared behind a large cloud and by the time that it had reappeared again neither Jack nor the other three figures were to be seen and all was extremely quiet. Realising that he had witnessed a ghostly vision, a very alarmed Eli went back to bed but could not sleep for the remainder of the night.

Three days later Eli's father received a letter from the captain of the Thomas Emery saying that Jack Hayson had fallen overboard and drowned whilst sleep-walking. At the inquest in Cork, Mr Hayson said that Jack had never walked in his sleep at home, but several members of the crew swore that they had regularly seen him get out of his bed at night and walk the ship, still in a state of sleep. A verdict of "Found drowned" was recorded.

The Hayson family were totally dissatisfied with the result of the inquest and were convinced that the ghostly vision witnessed by Eli suggested that Jack had been the victim of foul play. Inquiries were made about the captain and crew of the Thomas Emery but to no avail. Years passed, Mr and Mrs Hayson died an Eli abandoned all hope of solving the mystery of how his brother had died.

Twenty years later Eli was sitting in the parlour of a small hotel in Cork, where he was well-known, when the landlord told him that there was an old man, Matthew Webster, who had some news for him. Eli was advised not to delay for too long as the old man was in poor health and was not expected to live very long. Eli called upon the old man the same evening.

Matthew Webster told Eli that he had a son, Tom, who had died two months previously. Some years ago, on a Christmas Eve, Tom Webster had been on duty on the quay at Cork. At midnight he was sitting dozing in front of a brazier outside his shed when he was suddenly awakened by the sound of footsteps. He saw three extraordinary figures dressed in sailors' gear but wearing animal masks walking down the quay back to the schooner Thomas Emery. There was something extremely odd about the three men and Thomas Webster decided to follow them. He had secretly boarded the schooner and hidden himself. A short while later he was disturbed by screams and saw a man about his own age being pursued by the same three men. In the end, to escape the drunken trio, the young man had jumped overboard and subsequently drowned. As none of the other three tried to rescue him Thomas Webster ran from his hiding place but was captured by the three men. At first they wanted to kill him as well but on his oath that he would say nothing about the incident they let him go. He did not know who the men were for they were still wearing their masks.

When asked to tell him the exact date of Thomas Webster's experience Eli Hayson learned that it was 24th December, the same night that he had seen the figure of his twin brother trying to get into his cottage at Waterford.

Tullamore, Wexford, Co Wexford

In the 1880's Lord Dufferin, who was later to become British Ambassador to Paris, was on holiday at Tullamore when he saw an apparition that was later to save his life.

One night, at about 2 o'clock in the morning, he woke up suddenly after being startled from a deep sleep. Getting out of bed and going to the window he saw, in the moonlight, a hunchbacked figure on the lawn staggering with the weight of a coffin-shaped object. Lord Dufferin raced downstairs, out onto the lawn, and asked the figure what he was doing, what he was carrying and what he wanted. As the man lifted his head Lord Dufferin saw that he had an extremely ugly-looking face that utterly repelled him. The figure then disappeared before his eyes. The following morning he told his host of his experience but his friend was at a complete loss to explain the strange man Certainly there had been no reports of a ghost at Tullamore.

A few years later, Lord Dufferin, by this time British Ambassador, was to attend a diplomatic function at the Grand Hotel in Paris. He waited at the lift with his secretary and the hotel manager. Just as they were about to enter the lift Lord Dufferin drew back in horror and flatly refused to enter the cage. The lift operator was the same man he had seen carrying the coffin on the lawn at his friend's house in Wexford several years previously. The lift doors closed and the cage moved up to the fifth floor. At this point the cable snapped and the cage crashed to the bottom of the shaft, killing all it's occupants.

The accident was fully investigated but there was nobody who knew who the strange lift operator was.

Thanks to George, of the Irish Heritage Group, for this submittal

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