The Irish – A Superstitious Race

Ireland is a land of superstitions. Take it from me. I grew up surrounded by these superstitions. Pheasant feathers or lilac were never to be brought into my granny’s house.

God forbid a robin landed on a window sill and flew indoors – he bore the news of imminent death. When visiting a house for the first time, we had to leave by the same door we entered.  I could go on and on.

The Irish - A Superstitious Race

 

Although most Irish people today probably don’t believe in many of these superstitions, our Irish psyche holds a healthy respect for them. Abiding by the rules of ancient Irish life comes naturally to many of us. We adhere to an unwritten mythical code out of pure habit, automatically reenacting behavioral patterns learned in our childhood years.

As I thought about Irish superstitions I was taught as a child I asked myself an inevitable question:

 

Why are the Irish so superstitious?

 

In today’s post I hope to explore some of the reasons why I believe the Irish seem to be consumed by irrational fears and beliefs. Listing all of our crazy superstitions is a job for another day, and probably fodder for a whole collection of blog posts, so instead let’s try to focus on the great big why surrounding Celtic faith in the supernatural.

 

What is a superstition?

 

Superstitions are beliefs based on myth, magic, or irrational thoughts, that are not based upon reason and knowledge.  Superstitions are intrinsically tied to traditional folklore, and let’s face it, Ireland is a country steeped in legends and myths with a vast array of characters from faeries to changelings, to wily leprechauns.

 

Two for Joy - Irish Magpies

Two for Joy

 Image Credit

The origins of superstitions:

 

The exact origins of many old superstitions may never by known, but they do appear to be an odd mixture of paganism, Christianity, and folklore, and deeply influenced by social history.

Human nature is such that we always search for a cause for things we cannot understand. That desire to figure things out is the root of all scientific progress, but on our journey in search of answers, many wrong conclusions have been reached.

When searching for a reason for things beyond their comprehension our ancestors explained situations as best they could, albeit their answers were steeped in mythical origins. The wrong answer was deemed better, than no answer at all.

 

Coincidence or a greater force at work?

 

Sometimes unhappy coincidences reoccurred frequently enough for a blind link to be acknowledged, and a superstition to become enshrined in the general belief system of a community.

Irish superstitions are ultimately concerned with addressing the helplessness of the human condition. In times of trouble, and there were plenty such times for the Irish in centuries past, our ancestors turned to old superstitions which may or may not have helped them at all.

This blind faith in haphazard cures and beliefs probably brought comfort and hope to those who felt helpless.  Whether the warding off of ill luck was real or imagined, at least reassurance lay in attempting to control these evils.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Maeve%26druid.jpg

Queen Meave and the Druid from The Boy’s Cuchulainn by Eleanor Hull 1904

 Image Credit

 

Enduring legacy of superstitions from the time of the druids:

 

Ireland remained under the influence of Druidic teachings far longer than any other European nation. This can be attributed to the island’s remoteness on the western edge of the continent, and its freedom from Roman conquest. When early missionaries converted the Irish to Christianity they did so with minimal conflict, adopting a creed of tolerance for the old way of life.

No persecutions are recorded. Rather than destroying sites of ancient worship, the new church transformed them into shrines of prayer and centers of worship by associating them with a saint.  This policy of tolerance for old Druidic superstitions may account for their survival.

The Irish have clung to the ancient customs of their forefathers for thousands of years. An enduring belief in a fairy race may be traced back to the time of the druids.

 

Irish Robin On A Planter

The Penal Laws:

 

The Penal Laws were statutes passed by the English parliament to penalize the Irish for their Catholicism. First written in 1695, the Irish suffered their consequences for more than 100 years.

A number of these laws excluded Catholics from working in any field of scientific study, thereby limiting our ability to rationalize some of these old beliefs. Irish Catholic children were forbidden to attend school.

Scholars and poets taught young Irish people in clandestine hedgerow schools, with curricular emphasis placed upon passing the legends and myths of ancient Celtic culture to the next generation. Irish belief in the supernatural was thereby strengthened.

The Penal Laws were enacted because Catholics were deemed to be superstitious and idolatrous by their Anglican rulers. I believe the Irish solidified their superstitious practices out of pure stubbornness, and in direct defiance of the laws designed to curtail them. If you tell an Irishman he cannot do something, then rest assured he will die doing it.

 

Are the Irish more superstitious than other cultures?

 

William Butler Yeats, the most famous of all Irish poets, recognized that the Irish were more superstitious than other races. He wrote:

 

“…. for everyone is a visionary, if you scratch him deep enough.

But the Celt, unlike any other, is a visionary without scratching.”

-W.B. Yeats

 

He also observed the peculiar, contradictory belief system of an old woman he met in the west of Ireland.

 

“One woman told me last Christmas that

she did not believe either in hell or in ghosts.

Hell she thought was merely an invention

got up by the priest to keep people good;

and ghosts would not be permitted, she held,

to go ‘trapsin about the earth’ at their own free will;

‘but there are faeries,’ she added,

‘and little leprechauns, and water-horses, and fallen angels.'”

- W. B. Yeats

 

http://www.irishamericanmom.com/2013/08/24/a-full-moon-over-dublin-bay/

 

Why do superstitions live on?

 

In light of all the scientific evidence that exists today to debunk these superstitions, why do old Irish superstitions live on? I don’t think there is a person alive with a drop of Celtic blood who can categorically deny they harbor an innate respect for some old wive’s tale.  Well, perhaps we don’t truly believe in all those omens of bad luck, but at the same time we wouldn’t dare change the original name of a boat, nor move house on a Saturday.

I think this adherence to an old superstitious code comes from a reverence for the past. We recognize that these old beliefs have been handed down to us from many generations that have gone before us. By sticking to their old code of mythical behavior, we acknowledge their legacy, and let the spirits know we understand the influences that helped shape their lives.

Because God between us and all harm, who knows what might happen if we blatantly went around the place ignoring flocks of magpies desperately trying to let us know if any luck might be in store for us.

 

 

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

 

Irish American Mom

 

Irish Catholic Guilt

Guilt is widely accepted as a stereotypical Catholic trait, with the guiltiest of all Catholics being the Irish.  Since we are in the Lenten season, I thought why not explore this concept of Irish Catholic guilt and its impact on the infamous Irish psyche.

By discussing Irish character traits, I hope I don’t reinforce cultural stereotypes nor create an overly simple picture of the Irish.  This is merely a light-hearted look at some attributes bestowed upon us by the rest of the world.

I’ve included my favorite Catholic guilt quotations in the graphics throughout this post. I hope you enjoy them.

 Edna O'Brien - Guilt Quote

 

So what is this guilt we speak of? It’s an uncomfortable sensation in the pit of the stomach caused by an overly functioning conscience. The guilty suffer from intense internal reactions of regret, triggered by external events barely noticeable to others.

To understand these feelings, they have to be experienced. I often wonder if there are people who never, ever feel even the slightest twinge of guilt.

 

Do you have to be raised Catholic,

with a fear of hell fire and brimstone,

to appreciate this internal battle of the mind?

 

Is the severity of a guilt attack

related to cultural, genetic or moral inheritance?

 

Let’s face it, everyone experiences guilt at some point or another. Every person who has reached an age of reason is conscious of shame and remorse. The question is, do we Irish, practice self-condemnation and reproach to a higher degree than others?

The answer eludes me. I have only seen and experienced the world through the lenses of my own Irish upbringing. I welcome your two cents worth in the comments section below.

 

Bono - Guilt Quote

As an Irish person I feel pangs of guilt from time to time, sometimes over the most trivial things. I have a tendency to volunteer, to stretch myself to the limit, born out of a serious sense of guilt. When an appeal comes out for help at a school event for example, I’m usually overcome by guilty feelings that if I don’t help, nobody else might step up to the proverbial plate.

Edward Burns - Guilt Quote

If we Irish are the most guilty of all nationalities then what might be the cause? Potential origins are wide and varied.  Some claim years of religious persecution, imperialism, and extreme poverty created a national Irish Catholic inferiority complex.

Our ideas about sin may also trigger these guilty feelings. When we do something wrong we instinctively feel bad, and do everything in our power to make it better.  No matter how hard we try to be good, we know we will fail because that is simply part of human nature.

 

” “All that praying you made us do,” complained Maggie. “And making us go to Mass.
And starving us on Good Friday … And making us feel ashamed of our bodies
and guilty about absolutely everything. No, Ma, you were the pits.”
Nuala glowed with pride, truly she had been the best of Catholic mothers.”
- From “Late Opening at The Last Chance Saloon” by Marian Keyes

 

Guilt is often portrayed as a flaw, a deep weakness of the Irish psyche. But I see guilt differently. I think it gets a bad rap.

I actually like guilt. Believe it or not, guilt can be good, giving us a great sense of responsibility for what goes wrong.  We all fail occasionally. That’s simply a manifestation of our humanity. When we fail or forget something, a twinge of regret sweeps over our Irish Catholic psyche. It’s what keeps us honest. So in my book, there’s nothing wrong with a little guilt.

But take note, I did say a ‘little’ guilt. Obsessively compulsive, over-the-top, never-letting-it-go kind of guilt is far from healthy.

Excessive guilt can be a stumbling block for some.  I personally think we should accept those guilty feelings, forgive ourselves, then move on. Never deny responsibility for a failure or project blame outwardly. Just accept life’s challenges, forgive and make the necessary changes.

Bradley Cooper - Guilt Quote

Without a smattering of guilt, we might all go around feeling unaccountable, at ease with our place in the world, believing we’re worth it, that the world owes us something. Those twinges of guilt, whether they are inherent to our nature because we are human, or because we are Irish, keep us grounded. They encourage us to try to improve, and let others feel confident that we will always give our best, because if we don’t,….. well you know …. we’ll be overcome by our Irish Catholic guilt.

 

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

 

 

 

Thou Shalt Not Blow Your Own Trumpet – A Commandment Of The Irish Psyche

Irish people do not like to show off.   We have a palpable fear of being perceived to blow our own trumpets, so much so I feel confident in claiming self-deprecation and self-effacement are traits of the Irish psyche

SONY DSC

Image Credit

 

“Who do you think you are?”

 

To most Americans this is  a question asking about family roots or ancestry.  The words have been popularized by the NBC genealogy television program.  But to an Irish person this interrogative holds a totally different meaning.

These words echo in our Irish minds, a reminder of the deadly sin of pride. How many of us were asked this question if we grew too rambunctious for poor Sr. Mary or Sr. Catherine, as she tried to maintain control of a class full of energetic children?  These words stir that infamous Irish Catholic guilt supposedly bred into us from birth.

We heard this message in many forms over the years.  We listened to it on television, on radio, from teachers, priests, and some may even have heard it at home.  Here are some other versions:

 

Don’t be blowing your own trumpet.

 

Don’t go getting a swelled head!

 

What kind of highfalutin’ idea is that?

 

Don’t be getting notions of yourself!

 

I could go on and on.  These warnings take on many forms.

I would love to hear if you have heard any in your Irish American homes.  Please feel free to share in the comments below.

When I first came to America I was taken aback by how easily people spoke of their own talents and capabilities, but soon I learned Americans also freely admire and praise others for their virtues and talents.

Americans accept admiration graciously, never feeling compelled to accept a compliment by throwing in a little negative to reduce the power of unexpected praise, a very definite Irish trait.

 

And so my question today is why do the Irish

consider humility such a prized virtue? 

 

Egotistical pronouncements and self-promotion are far more acceptable in America than in the Emerald Isle.

Does this false modesty arise from an old Irish tradition

where community was more important than the individual?

 

Did years of living under a system of colonialism

create this self-deprecating behavior?

 

Is talking boldly about oneself frowned upon,

because we prefer our actions to speak for themselves?

 

Are Irish people suspicious of praise because of

low self -esteem?

 

I can’t believe I even typed that last question – it makes me sound very American. I truly believe our outward modesty is born of something other than low self esteem.

Anyway, I don’t know the answer to these question of how and why Irish self-deprecating ways evolved, but I would love to hear your two cents worth on this world renowned trait of the Irish Psyche.

 

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

Wise Old Words From Ireland For Mother’s Day

Wishing all mothers of the world a very happy Mother’s Day this weekend. Although this holiday is celebrated on different days throughout the world,  this weekend let’s all join American families as we honor our mothers with our sincerest sentiments of love and gratitude.

 

www.irishamericanmom.com

To mark this day I thought I might share some Irish wisdom on motherhood and some Irish blessings for Mother’s Day. Our mothers are a precious gift from God.  So together let’s celebrate their selfless, unconditional love.

Some of these quotes are nostalgic and sentimental in the style of years gone by.  One is written for mothers-to-be. Kavanagh’s poetic words memorialize his mother.  One excerpt even explores the notorious Irish Catholic style of mothering, but all pay well-deserved tribute to mothers everywhere.

I hope you enjoy these quotations as much as I enjoyed gathering them.

Irish Mother In Window from Vintagerio.comImage Credit

 

“This heart, my own dear mother, bends,

With love’s true instinct, back to thee!”

~ Thomas Moore.

 

 

“All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy.

No man does. That’s his.”

~ Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest, 1895

 

 

“A man loves his sweetheart the most,

His wife the best,

And his mother the longest.”

~ Old Irish Saying

Mother And Children - www.vintagerio.comImage Credit

“A mother holds her children’s hands for a little while,

But their hearts forever.”

 

~ Unknown (I’m not sure if this is originally an Irish saying,

but it is so lovely I just had to include it.)

 

 

“Tis the month of Mary,

Blessed Queen of the May,

Mother of God we pray you,

Bless and protect all mothers,

On this their special day.”

~ Irish Prayer

 

 

“May embers from the hearth warm your hands,

May sunshine from an Irish sky warm your face,

May a child’s bright smile warm your heart,

And may everlasting love warm your soul.”

~ Irish Blessing

 

http://vintagerio.com/vintage_clip_art_g52-black_white_clipart_p2431.htmlImage Credit

“There is but one and only one,

Whose love will fail you never.

One who lives from sun to sun,

With constant fond endeavor.

There is but one and only one.

On earth there is no other.

In heaven a noble work was done,

When God gave us a Mother.”

~ Old Irish Verse

 

 

“Mothers all want their sons to grow up to be president, but

they don’t want them to become politicians in the process.”

~ John Fitzgerald Kennedy

 

 

“Whatever else is unsure in this stinking dunghill of a world,

a mother’s love is not.”

~ James Joyce

Mother and Child ClipartImage Credit

 

“May the emerging spirit of your child

Imbibe encouragement and joy

From the continuous music of your heart,

So that it can grow with ease,

Expectant of wonder and welcome

When its form is fully filled…..

 

And it takes its journey out

To see you and settle at last

Relieved, and glad in your arms.”

 

 ~ John O’Donohue - To Bless The Space Between Us

 

 

A mother’s love’s a blessing,

No matter where you roam.

Keep her while she’s living,

You’ll miss her when she’s gone.

Love her as in childhood,

Though feeble old and grey,

For you’ll never miss a mother’s love,

Till she’s buried beneath the clay.”

 

~ Thomas P. Keenan from the song  A Mother’s Love’s A Blessing.

 

Vintage Irish MotherImage Credit

 

” “All that praying you made us do,” complained Maggie.

“And making us go to Mass. And starving us on Good Friday…

And makind us feel ashamed of our bodies

and guilty about absolutely everything.

No, Ma, you were the pits.”

Nuala glowed with pride, truly she had been the best of Catholic mothers.”

 

~ Marian Keyes

Excerpt from Late Opening At The Last Chance Saloon.

 

 

“I do not think of you lying in the wet clay

of a Monaghan graveyard; I see

you walking down a lane among the poplars

on your way to the station, or happily

 

going to second Mass on a summer Sunday–

you meet me and you say:

“Don’t forget about the cattle–“

among your earthiest words the angels stray…..”

 

~ Patrick Kavanagh

Excerpt from his poem In Memory Of My Mother.

 

 

Mother and Baby - Clipart

 Image Credit

“God made a wonderful mother,

A mother who never grows old:

He made her smile of the sunshine,

And he moulded her heart of gold;

In her eyes He placed bright shining stars,

In her cheeks fair roses you see;

God made a wonderful mother,

And He gave that dear mother to me.”

 

~ Pat O’Reilly

Excerpt from his poem Wonderful Mother

 

 

 

Lá Na Máithreacha Sona Daoibh!

(Happy Mother’s Day)

 

Irish American Mom

 

 

 

Happy Easter To All

Wising everyone around the world a very happy Easter on this Sunday morning.  Today many of us will gather with our loved ones to celebrate new beginnings, renewal and the resurrection of Jesus.  I hope this weekend you too have the opportunity to be with your loved ones.  For those who can not be with family, may the blessings of Easter bring you peace and joy.

Here is a beautiful Irish blessing to help us embrace the spirit of Easter.

 

http://www.vintagerio.com/easter_day_g79-easter_greetings_p1491.htmlImage Credit

 

“At the breaking of the Easter dawn

May the Risen Savior bless your home

With grace and peace from above,

With joy and laughter, and with love;

And when night is nigh, and day is done

May He keep you safe from all harm.”

 

I pray this Easter may be a time of renewal for each and every one of us, when we find direction and meaning in our lives, no matter the trials we have overcome nor the discoveries that lie before us.

 

 

Beannachtaí na Cásca Oraibh

(Easter Blessings)

Irish American Mom