Irish Folklore

Red sky at night, shepherds delight.
find a pin and pick it up all day long you'll have good luck.
the list is endless. pisharogues, old Irish sayings, weather lore, etc.etc.etc.

Wanted - Old Irish Sayings, and their meanings - post them here.


Lyrics of a song I heard years ago and it goes like this:

"There was a little man and he had a little Ass and he bridled him and saddled him and threw his leg across"

anyone who can finish this song can you contact me please.

I remember one man singing it in Lysters Bar Rochfortbridge about 30 years ago.

Finish it here or send it by email - thanks.
The Cuckoo An Cúach
The Cuckoo comes in April She sings her song in May In the middle of June She changes her tune In July she flies away.
We all grew up with this short poem the author of which is as elusive as the common cuckoo. Remember years ago when the relentless cuck oo, cuck oo of this aptly named bird would fill the air no matter where you were. Today it seams that the bird that gave its name to many an adage, dance, film and even weather lore has all but disappeared from most areas. Will the cuckoo join the ever growing list of birds such as the corncrake, the curlew and believe it or not, the common wood pigeon. What is the main cause of this decline? There is no singular cause but an amalgamation of several unrelated events that has led to the decline of the cuckoo. Without facing the wrath of any sector of the listed below, the following activities are the main actions responsible for the decline of not only the cuckoo, but other wild birds and animals.

  1. Development – Housing, Roads, Factories etc. ruthlessly clear land of all its natural nesting places for many birds and animals. This reduces the nesting places for birds like the wood pigeon the thrush etc. and small mammal’s such as mice voles even hedgehog’s foxes and rabbits. This deforestation of the landscape reduces the food source and nesting sites of many of the birds that the cuckoo uses as “foster parents”. Major development also hinders such birds from nesting in the locality of such development.
  2. Reduction and trimming of hedge rows. Whether for development of aesthetics is a major contributor to bird decline. Removing or trimming the hedge is removing the nesting site or the food source of many birds. Bushes like hawthorn and blackthorn play a major role as a food source for over wintering birds. Trimming these hedgerows while still bearing fruit is actually taking food out of the mouths of our prospective cuckoo foster parents and other birds and small mammals.
  3. Humans. We are encroaching upon the habitat of many wild birds and animals at an alarming rate. In the case of the cuckoo, it is a very shy bird and rarely enters our domain, so why should we enter hers. We need national sanctuaries for such birds as the cuckoo and corncrake; land zoned as wildlife friendly areas, removed from all public and private development from all public and private bodies. Prime farm land has been taken up by the network of motorways and landowners got some compensation but where the motorways cut across wildlife rich areas, virtually cutting off the lifeline of many animals and birds, no compensation or reconciliation was ever made.

Irish Folklore - Rochfortbridge, Co. Westmeath

Where did the Custom of “Trick or Treat” come from?

There could hardly be a better example of the way that language and traditions migrate over time and across different cultures than trick or treating. This is well-known to be an American tradition, but its origins lie in medieval Europe. There are myriad Christian and pagan rituals and celebrations that have taken place on or about the 1st of November each year. These occurred in virtually every English-speaking and/or Christian country. They have evolved and merged over the centuries and continue to do so. Common features of these traditions are - asking for food, dressing in disguise and a connection to the spirits of the deceased. The language of these traditions is heavily influenced by the naming of days in the Christian calendar. The central date of the rituals that herald the beginning of winter is the 1st of November, called All Saints Day or All Hallows Day. The following day is All Souls Day and the 31st of October is All Hallows Eve - shortened to Hallowe'en (i.e. the evening before All Hallows Day). The practice of souling - going from door to door on or about All Souls Day to solicit gifts of food in return for prayers for the dead - evolved from a pagan ritual that was practiced all over Europe, possibly as early as the 10th century. As a Christian tradition it goes back to at least the 14th century, when it is mentioned by Chaucer. It is still commonplace in many Catholic countries, notably Ireland, where soul-cakes are left out for the departed. Irish Folklore - Rochfortbridge, Co. WestmeathThe first reference to the practice under that name in England is John Brand's Popular Antiquities of Great Britain, 1779: "On All Saints Day, the poor people go from parish to parish a Souling, as they call it." The tradition has altered so that it is now children, usually dressed in disguise, who go about asking for gifts around the beginning of November. Some examples of this are from: England, where we have requests for 'a penny for the guy'. This derives from the bonfire celebrations that began to celebrate the thwarting of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605. Guy Fawkes was the explosives specialist of the plot. He was scheduled to be hanged, drawn and quartered, but escaped that fate by prematurely hanging himself by jumping from the scaffold with the noose around his neck. He is now symbolically executed each year on 5th November (Bonfire Night), when effigies of him, called guys, are burned on bonfires all over England. The 'pennies' that children collect are traditionally spent on fireworks. This had a secular and political rather than religious or supernatural motivation, but it clearly inherited much from souling. The USA, where the tradition is trick or treating. This 20th century tradition has many of the features of the earlier rituals, a knowledge of which were of course brought to the USA by immigrants from Europe. Scotland, where it is called guising. This is a clear predecessor of trick or treat. The main difference between the two was that the children performed small entertainments before being given gifts - poems, jokes etc. This is now merging into trick or treating, with sweets being expected without the party piece. The earliest known citation of trick or treat in print is from an item in the Oregon newspaper The Oregon Journal, 1st November 1934, headed 'Halloween Pranks Keep Police on Hop': "Other young goblins and ghosts, employing modern shakedown methods, successfully worked the 'trick or treat' system in all parts of the city." Trick or treating spread across the USA in the 1930s and is cited then in newspapers from many states. For example, the Indiana paper The Vidette-Messenger, October 30th 1937: Irish Folklore - Rochfortbridge, Co. Westmeath "Trick or treat. This seems to be the popular pastime among the younger folk and Valparaiso people... will hear it many times tonight, for it is Hallowe'en." From Washington state we have The Centralia Daily Chronicle item for 1st November 1939: "Pranksters were bought off when oldsters complied with their 'trick or treat' demand..." It seems that the practice wasn't universally popular amongst adults when it appeared in the 1930s. Many of the early references to trick or treating feature 'what's the world coming too' type comments by outraged residents and police. The Reno Evening Gazette, 1st November 1938, alludes to Nevada children using methods similar to the protection rackets of the Mafia. Its piece was headed 'Youngsters Shake Down Residents': "Trick or treat was the slogan employed by Halloween pranksters who successfully extracted candy fruit from Reno residents. In return the youngsters offered protection against window soaping and other forms of annoyance." Trick or treating was well-enough established in Montana by the end of the 1930s for The Helena Independent newspaper to be advertising a 23 cent "Trick or Treat Mix" of candies. It isn't clear how many they sold though. On 2nd November 1938, the same paper reported that some of their readers had not taken kindly to being given 'an offer they can't refuse' by small mask-wearing ghosts and ghoulies and, although they were threatened with little more than some impromptu window soaping, they expressed their annoyance in no uncertain terms - by shooting at the little devils. "Hallowe'en pranksters in several sections of the nation carried home loads of buckshot last night.
Most persons are not in favor of shotgun treatment, but they are in favor of some chastisement." A ring on the doorbell, followed by "trick or treat?", is heard in households in many countries around the world each 31st October. There are several reasons for the international spread. Partly it is due to the migration of US families and partly to the cultural dominance of the USA (what child with a television set can have failed to have seen Spielberg's ET or at least one of The Simpsons' seventeen Treehouse of Horror Halloween Specials?). Probably more significant though are the commercial interests of the media and manufacturers. If you can get away with spending just a few cents this Hallowe'en you'll have done well.

Leprechauns and Cluricauns

Irish Folklore - Rochfortbridge, Co. Westmeath


The leprechaun is a solitary creature avoiding contact with mortals and other leprechauns--indeed the whole fairy tribe. He pours all of his passion into the concentration of carefully making shoes. A leprechaun can always be found with a shoe in one hand and a hammer in the other.
Most leprechauns are ugly, stunted creatures, not taller than boys of the age of ten or twelve. But they are broad and bulky, with faces like dried apples. They have a mischievous light in their eyes and their bodies, despite their stubbiness, usually move gracefully.
They possess all the earth's treasures, but prefer to dress drab. Usually grey or green colored coats, a sturdy pocket-studded apron, and a hat---sometimes green or dusty red colored. Irish Folklore - Rochfortbridge, Co. Westmeath
They have been know to be foul-mouthed and they smoke ill-smelling pipes calld 'dudeens' and they drink quite a bit of beer from ever handy jugs. But the other fairies endure them because they provide the much needed service of cobblery.
Leprechauns guard the fairies' treasures. They must prevent it's theft by mortals. They, alone, remember when the marauding Danes landed in Ireland and where they hid their treasure. Although, they hide the treasures well, the presence of a rainbow alerts mortals to the whereabouts of gold hordes. This causes the leprechauns great anxiety---for no matter how fast he moves his pot of gold, he never can get away from rainbows.
If a mortal catches a leprechaun and sternly demands his treasure, he will give it to the mortal. Rarely does this happen.
Occassionally, especially after a wee too much beer, he will offer a mortal not only a drink but some of his treasure.
Female leprechauns do not exist.


There is much debate over whether cluricauns are actually leprechauns or their close cousins. Irish Folklore - Rochfortbridge, Co. WestmeathExcept for a pink tinge about the nose, they perfectly resemble leprechauns in all their physical characteristics. But they never wear an apron or carry a hammer, nor do they have any desire to work. They have silver buckles on their shoes, gold laces their caps and pale blue stockings up to the calves. They like to enter rich men's wine cellars, as if they were their own, and drain the casks dry.
To amuse themselves they harness sheep and goats and shepherds' dogs, jump from bogs and race them over the fields through the night.
Leprechauns sternly declare that cluricauns are none of their own. But some suspect they are really leprechauns on a spree, who, in the sobering morning, deny this double nature.

Irish Folklore - Rochfortbridge, Co. Westmeath


Oisín was the son of the legendary warrior Fionn Mac Cumhail. Oisín was a poet and one of the Fianna warriors, who recounted the tales and legends of the Fianna. Irish Folklore - Rochfortbridge, Co. Westmeath The main legend surround Oisín is the story of his journey to Tír na N’óg – the mythical land of Eternal Youth. The story tells of how Ireland’s ancient warriors the Fianna, where hunting on the shores of Lough Leane, when Oisín instantly fell in love with a beautiful blond riding a white horse; Niamh Cinn iir (Niamh of the Golden Hair). She invited him to her land of Tír na N’óg under the waters of Lough Leane in Killarney, where nobody grew old and spring was eternal. Though Oisín was very happy in Tír na N’óg with Niamh, after what he thought to be three years, he wished to visit his family. But Niamh warned him that in the land of mortals he had been away 300 years and that if he touched the land again all those years would return to him. So Oisín set off on horse back careful not to step on the ground. He discovered the land much changed, there was no trace of the Fianna anywhere and all around the island, Saint Patrick was converting people to Christianity and churches were being built. On his return to Lough Leane, Oisín came across a group of men trying to clear a boulder from the path, along what is known locally as the Bealach Oisín Pass – Oisín’s Path in the mountains close to Killarney. As one of the mighty Fianna, Oisín claimed he could move it with one hand and took up the challenge from the men. Oisín remained on his horse and to the wonder of the mortals began moving the huge rock with one hand. But as he did so, the stirrup on Oisín’s horse broke sending Oisín falling to the ground and the mighty warrior was instantly transformed into an old man.

Not Necessarily Irish, but these two superstitious days fall this week!

1. Friday the 13th

In the Western world, a significant chunk of the population suspect bad things will happen whenever the 13th day of a month occurs on the Friday of the week. Like many human beliefs, the fear of Friday the 13th (known as paraskevidekatriaphobia) isn't exactly grounded in scientific logic. But the really strange thing is that most of the people who believe the day is unlucky offer no explanation at all, logical or illogical.
As with most superstitions, people fear Friday the 13th for its own sake, without any need for background information.

Irish Folklore - Rochfortbridge, Co. Westmeath

The superstition does have deep, compelling roots, however, and the origins help explain why the belief is so widespread today. In this article, we'll look at some of the interesting stories behind this unluckiest of days.

The Christian Tradition

The fear of Friday the 13th stems from two separate fears -- the fear of the number 13 and the fear of Fridays. Both fears have deep roots in Western culture, most notably in Christian theology. Thirteen is significant to Christians because it is the number of people who were present at the Last Supper (Jesus and his 12 apostles). Judas, the apostle who betrayed Jesus, was the 13th member of the party to arrive. Christians have traditionally been wary of Fridays because Jesus was crucified on a Friday. Additionally, some theologians hold that Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden fruit on a Friday, and that the Great Flood began on a Friday. In the past, many Christians would never begin any new project or trip on a Friday, fearing they would be doomed from the start. Sailors were particularly superstitious in this regard, often refusing to ship out on a Friday. According to unverified legend (very likely untrue), the British Navy commissioned a ship in the 1800s called H.M.S. Friday, in order to quell the superstition. The navy selected the crew on a Friday, launched the ship on a Friday and even selected a man named James Friday as the ship's captain. Then, one Friday morning, the ship set off on its maiden voyage... and disappeared forever. A similar, entirely factual story is the harrowing flight of Apollo 13. Some historians suggest the Christian distrust of Fridays is actually linked to the early Catholic Church's overall suppression of pagan religions and women. In the Roman calendar, Friday was devoted to Venus, the goddess of love. When Norsemen adapted the calendar, they named the day after Frigg, or Freya, Norse goddesses connected to love and sex. Both of these strong female figures once posed a threat to male-dominated Christianity, the theory goes, so the Christian church vilified the day named after them. This characterization may also have played a part in the fear of the number 13. It was said that Frigg would often join a coven of witches, normally a group of 12, bringing the total to 13. This idea may have originated with the Christian Church itself; it's impossible to verify the exact origins of most folklore. A similar Christian legend holds that 13 is unholy because it signifies the gathering of 12 witches and the devil. The number 13 could also have been considered pagan because there are 13 months in the pagan lunar calendar. The lunar calendar also corresponds to the human menstrual cycle, connecting the number to femininity.

Other Traditions

The Christian perspective on Friday and 13 is the most relevant today, but it's only one part of the Friday the 13th tradition. Some trace the infamy of the number 13 back to ancient Norse culture. In Norse mythology, the beloved hero Balder was killed at a banquet by the mischievous god Loki, who crashed the party of twelve, bringing the group to 13. This story, as well as the story of the Last Supper, led to one of the most entrenched 13-related beliefs: You should never sit down to a meal in a group of 13. Another significant piece of the legend is a particularly bad Friday the 13th that occurred in the middle ages. On a Friday the 13th in 1306, King Philip of France arrested the revered Knights Templar and began torturing them, marking the occasion as a day of evil. Check out this site to learn more. Both Friday and the number 13 were once closely associated with capital punishment. In British tradition, Friday was the conventional day for public hangings, and there were supposedly 13 steps leading up to the noose. Ultimately, the complex folklore of Friday the 13th doesn't have much to do with people's fears today. The fear has much more to do with personal experience. People learn at a young age that Friday the 13th is supposed to be unlucky, for whatever reason, and then they look for evidence that the legend is true. The evidence isn't hard to come by, of course. If you get in a car wreck on one Friday the 13th, lose your wallet, or even spill your coffee, that day will probably stay with you. But if you think about it, bad things, big and small, happen all the time. If you're looking for bad luck on Friday the 13th, you'll probably find it.

2. St Swithens Day (Sun July 15th)

“St Swithin’s Day, if it does rain
Full forty days, it will remain
St Swithin’s Day, if it be fair
For forty days, t’will rain no more.”
We’ve had such a bad summer here in Ireland so far this year, but let us hope it doesn’t rain on Sunday 15th July – here’s the legend:
Irish Folklore - Rochfortbridge, Co. Westmeath

St. Swithin was an early Saxon Bishop of Winchester who died in 861 AD and legend says that as he lay on his deathbed, he asked to be buried in the common graveyard, “where the rain would fall on him and the feet of ordinary men could pass over him.” For nine years, his wishes were followed, but then, the monks of Winchester attempted to remove his remains to a splendid shrine.
The work began on July 15th, but it couldn’t be finished then, or for many years afterwards. Torrential rains prevented it on the first day and these continued for forty days and forty nights. It was said that St. Swithin, who had detested any outward display or ostentation, was weeping in protest. The countryside was flooded and the monks beseeched St. Swithin to intercede for them. It’s said that he appeared to one of his monks and revealed to him how displeasing it was to God to spend their time in useless expenditures of time and money which might easily be spent with more advantage in the relief of the poor and needy; he also forbade the monks to ever interfere with his remains thereafter. In AD 963, the work on the mausoleum was finally completed, but, by then, the legend of St. Swithin as a rain-saint was firmly established. Oddly enough, while most of us would rather not see rain on July 15th, apple-growers hope for it on this day, as well as on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul (June 29) for it is believed that the saints are watering the crops. If they fail to do so, the apple-crop will be a poor one. Furthermore, no apple should picked or eaten before July 15th and all apples growing at this time will ripen. Wherever you are, if you are hoping to be drenched with sunshine, may it be so. On the other hand, if you’re in an area of drought, may you be blessed with a wet St. Swithins Day!

Irish Folklore - Rochfortbridge, Co. Westmeath
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, The Pooka as a sleek, dark horsehowever, 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.

A Pooka creating havoc by destroying cropsThe 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 Pookaa 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 Christian 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.
Variants: phouka, puca.

The BansheeThe Bean-Sidhe anglicised to"The Banshee"
The bean-sidhe (woman of the fairy or woman ghost) may be an ancestral spirit appointed to forewarn members of certain ancient Irish families of their time of death. According to tradition, the banshee can only cry for five major Irish families: the O'Neills, the O'Briens, the O'Connors, the O'Gradys and the Kavanaghs. Whatever her origins, the banshee chiefly appears in one of three guises: a young woman, a stately matron or a raddled old hag. These represent the triple aspects of the Celtic goddess of war and death, namely Badhbh, Macha and Mor-Rioghain.) She usually wears either a grey, hooded cloak or the winding sheet or grave robe of the unshriven dead. She may also appear as a washer-woman, and is seen apparently washing the blood stained clothes of those who are about to die. In this guise she is known as the bean-nighe (washing woman). Although not always seen, her mourning call is heard, usually at night when someone is about to die. In 1437, King James I of Scotland was approached by an Irish seeress or banshee who foretold his murder at the instigation of the Earl of Atholl. This is an example of the banshee in human form. There are records of several human banshees or prophetesses attending the great houses of Ireland and the courts of local Irish kings. In some parts of Leinster, she is referred to as the bean chaointe (keening woman) whose wail can be so piercing that it shatters glass. In Kerry, the keen is experienced as a "low, pleasant singing"; in Tyrone as "the sound of two boards being struck together"; and on Rathlin Island as "a thin, screeching sound somewhere between the wail of a woman and the moan of an owl". The banshee may also appear in a variety of other forms, such as that of a hooded crow, stoat, hare and weasel - animals associated in Ireland with witchcraft.

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