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IRISH TRADITIONS

CHALK SUNDAY

Celebrated on the first Sunday of Lent-March 1st, 2009- Traditionally, Catholics were not allowed to marry during Lent, so they had to wait until after Easter. Marking unmarried people as they enter the church with chalk was a way of teasing them for not being married.

The first Sunday after Shrove Tuesday (Beginning of Lent), was known as 'Chalk Sunday'. It was then that bachelors who should have been married were marked with a heavy streak of chalk on the back of their 'Sunday coats'.

Boys, who carried bits of chalk in their pockets waited for their victims to arrive, then perpetrated the trick by proceeding to mark those who were bachelors. This was done while the congregation was assembling for Mass and after the trick was played, those who did the chalk marking ran for their lives, laughing and singing the words of some little verse they had made up such as 'And you are not married though Lent has come.'

Directly related to the escapades of Chalk Sunday was the distribution of the 'Skellig Lists'. Off the coast of Co. Kerry lies the Skellig Islands, 'the last parish before Brooklyn'. On the Great Skellig Rock are the ruins of St. Finian's monastery and all those who should've been married before Lent were supposed to make a pilgrimage there on Shrove Tuesday night.

According to custom, a local bard would compose a catalog of all the unmarried men and women and this list would be circulated on Shrove Tuesday and for some time after, causing much discomfort and embarrassment to all those singled out for still being unwed. Research indicates that this particular ritual was just make-believe, but the Skellig Lists were as real as the chalk marks on an unsuspecting bachelor's back.

Indirectly related to Chalk Sunday and the Skellig Lists is a game called 'Skellicking' that supposedly, boys in the city of Cork still play today. On the eve of Shrove Tuesday, two boys to a rope chase after a girl and attempt to capture her. If she is caught, the boys try to encircle her with the rope and pretend to 'take her off to the Skelligs.'

SAINT BRIGHT'S DAY

In the old days, February 1st was considered the start of the growth season. After Christianity was introduced, Saint Brigid (Bridie) was honored instead of the pagan gods and in many rural Ireland places; people still make Brigid Crosses in her honor.

Pageants take place at schools and churches with young women carrying green rushes and on the eve of this festival, crosses are woven of rushes and hung for a year above the doors of houses and barns. These crosses are believed to protect the house and livestock from harm or fire. It's told; no evil spirit can pass through these charms.

A girl, in playing the part of Brigid in a small folklore play, brings rushes to the door and is allowed inside. She blesses the family, eats with them, and helps them make crosses.

NOT SURE WHAT TO SAY TO YOUR LOVED ONE ON FEBRUARY 14?

My love is like a cabbage
That's easy cut in two,
The leaves I'll give to others,
But the heart I'll keep for you.

Believe it or not, those lines are in the oral tradition and hail from Co. Tyrone. Might we suggest that if you're looking for something more romantic, try reading Thomas Moore, Sheridan, Yeats or any number of Irish poets who can melt the hardest of hearts with the sweetest of words.

IRISH TEA TRADITIONS

Submitted By: Pat Jewett
Ireland is the largest tea consumer per capita than any country in the world. The Irish take their tea VERY seriously! You won't find a convention, work meeting or other event that does not allow for a morning or afternoon tea break on their schedule. The slang for tea is "cha" in Ireland and the rich and poor alike love tea time.

Tea was first imported to Ireland in 1835 where it became popular with the wealthy crowd. But it wasn't until later in the mid 1800s that it spread to the rural residents and then all of Ireland became hooked. Small grocers opened in the towns and villages and started exchanging butter and eggs for tea and sugar.

In Gaelic "cupan tae" mean cup of tea, and the Irish make it a strong cup. Irish tea is blended to be mixed with a lot of rich milk-up to 1/3 of the cup for some. The custom is to add the milk to the tea cup first, then pour in the tea. Irish breakfast tea is often a strong blend of Assam and Ceylon and some people will only drink it for breakfast. However, as the Irish love their teas strong, many now use this blend all day long. Even during the traditional Irish wake, after a family member has passed away, it's expected that a pot will be continuously boiling to make tea for the mourners.

Irish tea is served generally three times a day: 11:00 in the morning, 3:00-5:00 for afternoon tea and a high tea at 6:00 pm. Many people think of high tea as formal or fancy, but it's actually a working man's tea that serves as an evening meal. Afternoon tea is the more "fancy" of the three tea times - the one where scones, breads, shortbread, jam, curds and other sweets are served.

THE BITE of FRIENDSHIP

I heard about "the bite of friendship" and wanted to know exactly what the custom is and where it began. I found out it is a saying that was offering a visitor the hospitality of the house.

I was told that in medieval times, visitors to an Irish castle took bread and salt before entering as a token of trust. I wasn't able to corroborate this but; it would appear that the custom of dipping bread into salt as a sign of friendship and/ or welcome is still in use all over the world.

DID YOU KNOW THAT...

The Galway International Oyster Festival was founded in 1954 and draws visitors each year from all over the world. County Galway has the best oyster bed's in Ireland. In the unpolluted waters of Brady Bay and Clarenbridge, the oysters lie waiting to be harvested at the beginning of the oyster season on September 1st.

The Harp is the official Emblem of Ireland, not the Shamrock. The handheld Harp was played by our Celtic Forefathers.

St. Patrick was not Irish, his father was Italian and his mother was Scottish. He was born in Scotland.

CHRISTMAS

THE WINDOW CANDLES.

The placing of a lighted candle in the window of a house on Christmas eve is still practised today. It has a number of purposes but primarily it was an symbol of welcome to Mary and Joseph as they traveled looking for shelter.

The candle also indicated a safe place for priests to perform mass as, during Penal Times this was not allowed.

A further element of the tradition is that the candle should be lit by the youngest member of the household and only be extinguished by a girl bearing the name Mary.

CHRISTMAS DINNER

Christmas dinners in Ireland usually consist of the standard fare; turkey, a ham, stuffing, cranberry sauce, etc. Among the more traditional Irish elements are spiced beef (spiced over several days, cooked, and then pressed) which can be served either hot or cold. The traditional dessert is usually composed of mince pies, Christmas pudding, and brandy or rum sauce..

ANAM CARA

At the heart of Celtic society is the notion of relationship embodied in the Gaelic phrase, anam cara. Anam is an Irish word for "soul, cara means "friend" thus "a soul friend".

Celtic spiritual tradition teaches that the human soul hovers around the body like a vigilant halo; anam cara is what results when two souls flow together. It is believed that the potential for such relationships exists before time and is aroused when kindred spirits find each other.

Once this friendship is awakened between two people, it cannot be broken by time or space. An anam cara accepts you for who you are and, in doing so, helps you to give birth to your own soul. This image of friendship is a poignant example of Celtic wisdom that transcends the ages.

IRISH (Celtic) NEW YEAR

Celtic priests went into the woods on New Year's Eve to gather bunches of mistletoe, which they handed out to the people for protection against any harm. They also lit bonfires to drive away evil forces. They believed that it was safer to stay indoors as fairies were abroad on New Year's Eve.

Irish girls would go to bed and place sprigs of mistletoe, or holly, and ivy leaves under their pillows, in hope of a dream about their future husbands. They might also chant:

Oh, Ivy Green and Holly Red,
Tell Me, Tell Me, Whom I shall Wed!

On New Year's Eve, a large loaf of Christmas bread or cake was taken outside the house and hammered against the closed doors and windows, to drive out any misfortune and let happiness in. If they ate a very large supper that evening, it is believed that they would have plenty of food for the coming year.

JOHNNY COME LATELY-indeed!

Dad, why do they make such a production of St. Patrick's Day when the Irish are really Johnny Come Lately in the U.S.A? They didn't arrive until about eighteen forty eight, after Eire's potatoe crop failed and they had to emigrate. They had no choice, it was leave home or die of starvation. So they came in steerage by the thousands to our Nation.

Son, obviously what your history books fail to say, if the Irish have been around forever and a day. When Columbus first landed on the shores of our land, Patrick McGuire was the first to make footsteps on the sand. And when you scan the roster of the Santa Maria's crew, you find many, many more Gaelic names on that list too.

Half of the soldiers in the Colonial Army were born in Ireland. Many Murphys, 230 O'Briens, 872 Kellys, were in Washington's command, eleven of his Grandchildren had fighting Irish Blood in their veins. John Barry, our first Commodore, controlled the sea lanes. Washington himself belonged to the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick. He knew the Brirish and the Hessians, the Irish Brigade would lick.

Now, run your eye down the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Thorton Wilson, Taylor and Smith were born Irish, thanks to Providence. McKean, Read and Rutledge were of pure Gaelic parentage. Whipple and Hancock had Irish mothers, Lynch and Caroll, Celtic lineage. The first Continental Congress addressed Ireland in the year 1775. To say that thanks to the help of the Gaels, America would survive!

An ancient leprechaun told me one soft summer day in Kildare, that Paul Revere would never have made it without his fine mare. She was an Irish hunter from Lismore by the name of Shamrock, with great stamina and grand conformation from withers to fetlock. She hated tyranny, the Crown and the tangled webs they spun so she ran like a whistling wind from River Charles to Lexington.

So, Son, I see nothing wrong with a big celebration on March Seventeenth, with all our nationalities waving and wearing the green, Let McNamara head his band, let Clancy lower the boom, let the thunder of marching feet wake Crownwell in his tomb.

For if it wasn't for the help of the clans from the Irish Sea, America might not be the Home of the Brave and the land of the Free. (Author Unknown)

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Site designed and maintained by Kathleen Flanagan
Last Update: March 2013
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