IRELAND IS famous for its myths and legends.
You’ve probably heard of the Banshee and Tír na nÓg, but it’s the smaller, everyday superstitions that really give a view into the old Irish mindset. Some of these old wives’ tales have spread all across the world thanks to the stories told by immigrants of generations long past, but some have stayed particularly ingrained in Irish culture. Whether you’re a native to the Emerald Isle or have grown up on stories from your Irish ancestors, how many of these unique myths have you heard?
When people say the Irish have a superstition about everything, they mean literally everything. It seems like back in the day not a single thing could happen without some wise old person making a prediction about it, and it goes as far as dropping a piece of cutlery. So according to myth…
If a knife falls on the floor you will have a gentleman visitor.
If a fork falls on the floor you’ll have a lady visitor.
And if a spoon falls on the floor you’ll have a child visitor.
So if you’re stuck at home bored on a Friday night just start throwing your kitchen utensils around-- if the legend is to be believed you’ll soon have a party going!
Everyone in Ireland knows this one. If you’re a tourist and you find yourself wondering why the Irish seem to spend a lot of time waving at nothing, don’t worry, because it’s not ghosts (Well it might be, but most of the time it’s magpies). Why do we wave at magpies? Well because of the rhyme, of course! You might be familiar with it:
One for sorrow, two for joy
Three for a girl and four for a boy,
Five for silver, six for gold,
Seven for a secret never to be told.
A lot of people take this very seriously (Myself included). It’s terrible luck to see a lone magpie—to break the curse you have to salute it. On the other hand, the more magpies you see the luckier you’ll be—a friend of mine knows someone who saw no less than eight magpies sitting in a row. She went out and bought a lottery ticket, and wouldn’t you know it, she won—and subsequently got a tattoo of those eight magpies.
It’s real lads.
Second only to the boogeyman, the wind was the most ominous threat you could ever receive.
Who else heard this as a kid? “If you don’t stop pulling that face the wind will change and you’ll be stuck that way!”
(Who else still pulls stupid faces in photos twenty years later just to spite the wind? Either that or my face actually did stick that way.)
The Banshee’s Comb
There’s a pretty strong possibility that this superstition was made up to teach kids not to pick up random dirty stuff off the street, but in certain places in Ireland there’s a myth that you should never pick up a comb you find on the ground. Why you ask? Well, it might belong to the Banshee of course! And may God help you when she comes looking for it…
The Red-Haired Maiden
Just because Ireland has one of the highest concentrations of ginger hair in the world doesn’t mean we don’t engage in some light bullying (otherwise known as slagging). There are a myriad of myths and superstitions about red haired women in particular:
If you’re selling at the market and see a red haired maiden, turn back because you’ll sell nothing that day. (Although if you turn around and go home, yeah, it’s pretty certain you won’t sell anything at the market that day.)
Another one is if you meet a red-haired woman first thing in the morning, you’ll have bad luck all day. Bad news for anyone who’s married to one!
I’m starting to think whoever came up with these stories was just mad jealous of some beautiful red-haired woman…
Death is a weirdly prevalent part of Irish culture. We talk about it, sing about it—and follow superstitions about it. We’ve all heard the legend of the Banshee, whose scream you hear before someone close to you dies. Another old myth in Ireland is that it’s bad luck to count the number of cars behind a hearse on its way to the graveyard. What happens if you count the cars? Well, according to legend, the number of cars following the coffin is the number of years you have left to live. Ah, we Irish are a cheery bunch.
The Wedding Boot
There are loads of Irish wedding superstitions, but the strangest and possibly the funniest is the legend of the boot. Apparently it brings good luck to a marriage to throw an old shoe after one or both of the members of the happy couple, either the morning of the wedding or after the ceremony. Maybe this symbolised the hope that this would be the only “boot” they would get once they were married—ie that they would be together forever and no one would be booted out of the house.
If you plan to follow this superstition, be sure to let the bride know what exactly it is that you’re doing—my mother says that her father followed her up and down the hallway on the morning of her wedding, throwing the boot after her, picking it up and throwing it at her again. A confusing start to the big day, but it seems to have worked!
The Child of Prague
As everyone knows, the weather in Ireland is…well, to put it (very) lightly—unpredictable. To try and give ourselves a sense of stability or hope, or whatever you want to label it, we have several superstitions when it comes to weather. Maybe you’ve heard of “A red sky at night is a shepherd’s delight, a red sky in the morning is a shepherd’s warning” about predicting the weather, but in this case we actually try to control it.
The day before a big event—usually a wedding—families will put out a statue of the Child of Prague in the garden. This is supposed to signal to God that there is good weather needed down below. If the head falls off the statue that doubles your luck, which means there are a lot of ‘accidental’ drops leading up to the big day.
Even though Ireland has started to move away from its religious roots, everyone knows the power of the Child of Prague. On any given day when the sun is shining, you’re guaranteed to hear someone mention that somewhere in the country, a Child of Prague is doing its job.
There are literally countless weird and wonderful Irish superstitions—add your favourite in the comments section and see who else grew up following the same myth!