Tom Crean – An Unsung Irish Hero

Tom Crean, a remarkable and little known Irishman, ran away to sea aged fifteen, became a polar explorer extraordinaire, but unfortunately until recently, remained an unsung hero in his homeland.

TomCreanPortraitImage Credit

Believe it or not, Crean spent more time in the unexplored Antarctic than Scott or Shackleton. He served and outlived both of these famous men.

Today in County Kerry there is a movement afoot to finally recognize his amazing accomplishments by renaming Kerry Airport as Tom Crean Airport.

In today’s blog post I share his heroic and dramatic story and the wonderful work finally underway to mark his place in history.  I hope after reading his amazing story you’ll join in the quest to have him finally recognized appropriately in his home county.

 

Tom Crean:

 

Tom Crean was born near Annascaul in Co. Kerry, on February 25th 1877. One of ten children his rural Irish childhood was harsh and poverty stricken.

Tom’s schooling probably ended around the age of 12. Three years later after an argument with his father over wayward cows, he ran away from home and enlisted in the Royal Navy.  By September 1899 he had been promoted to the rank of Petty Officer 2nd Class.

 

Scott’s Expeditions:

 

In 1901 Crean’s ship was in the New Zealand port of Lyttleton where Captain Scott’s ship Discovery was docked. Crean volunteered to replace a deserter from Scott’s expedition team and ended up playing a memorable role in Antarctic exploration.

Over the next three years Crean proved himself to be a reliable and valuable crew member, despite the failure of this expedition to reach the south pole.  Scott recognized his  ‘meritorious service throughout‘ and promoted him to Petty Officer 1st Class.

In 1910 Crean rejoined Scott aboard the Terra Nova in a quest to be the first to reach the south pole. By late 1911 they were within striking distance of the pole, but Scott chose a party of 5 to strike for their target and ordered Crean and two others to return to camp, a 750 mile journey across snow, ice, and glaciers.

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One of his companions, Evans became seriously ill. To save his comrade’s life, Crean undertook an 18-hour solo march across 35 miles of ice in trecherous conditions. 

On the 19th February 1912, a disheveled, frost bitten, Crean trundled through the door of Scott’s base camp hut in Antarctica and slumped to the ground.  Thanks to his heroic trek across the harshest terrain on the planet, Evans was rescued.

When Scott failed to return by October 2012, Crean joined a search party to retrace the steps of the famous antartic explorer. They found the frozen remains of the unsuccessful Polar Party.

Crean was awarded the Albert Medal for bravery in saving the life of Lieutenant Teddy Evans.

 

The Endurance Expedition With Shackleton:

 

Crean’s physical and mental strength, his courage and bravery, made him a key member of both of Scott’s expeditions.  Earnest Shackleton requested Tom Crean be amongst his crew members to set out for Antartica on board the Endurance in 1915.

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Tom Crean was the only crew member from the Terra Nova, to ever return to Antarctica.

The Endurance Expedition ended in failure, but Crean excelled on this mission, taking part in one of the greatest survival stories of all time.

The Endurance was trapped in ice before ever reaching Antarctic shores. The crew endured months of entrapment before the ship sank into the icy depths.

Leaving the crew on Elephant Island, Crean was amongst 6 men who crossed the Weddell Sea in a life boat to find help. They battled through hurricanes and ferocious seas to reach South Georgia 800 miles away, before trekking 130 miles of uncharted land to reach the Norwegian whaling station located on the island.

Three attempts to return to Elephant Island failed because of ice, but finally Crean was amongst the rescue party which found the stranded men. Amazingly no lives were lost on the Endurance expedition.

 

An Unsung Hero:

 

Crean was a simple, unpretentious man, who shunned the limelight.   Upon retiring from the Royal Navy Crean quietly returned to Kerry and bought a pub.  He passed away in 1938.

Anascaul,_South_Pole_Inn_-_geograph.org.uk_-_256287

© Copyright Nigel Cox and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons License.

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Recognition for Tom Crean is long overdue.  After saving the lives of many of his colleagues, his achievements are only commemorated in his home town of Annascaul. 

In the year 2000 his story was finally shared with the world through Michael Smith’s book  An Unsung Hero: Tom Crean – Antarctic Survivor.

A kid’s book was also published called Ice Man: The Remarkable Adventure of Antarctic Explorer Tom Crean.

Tom Crean’s amazing life is honored on the website Tom Crean / An Irish Antartic Explorer.  Check it out if you get a chance. My brief synopsis of Crean’s courageous feats fails to do justice to his bravery.

Crean is no longer a forgotten hero outside of Ireland.  A glacier in South Georgia was named Crean Glacier in 1953 and in 1965, the Australians named the mountain he crossed to save the life of Teddy Evans, Mount Crean.

It is high time we honored this great Irish man in Ireland.

A Call To Action: 

 

Wherever you may live, you can help achieve the mission of renaming Kerry Airport in his honor, where a worldwide audience could learn more about this great Irish Hero, whose story still largely remains unsung.

Until then it’s up to us, admirers and fans of this great man, to spread the word.

Please share and please like the Facebook page, Kerry Airport Should Be Renamed Tom Crean Airport. Let our sheer weight of numbers wake a country up to a hero they did forget.

This group set a target of 5000 Facebook fans to be reached by Tom Crean’s birthday on February 25th. Just 10 days to go, so why not check it out, give them a like, and the boost they need to reach this target.

Their cause could be considered Tom Crean’s last expedition, so please, join the crew.

 

Slán agus beannacht,

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

What Is Irish Turf?

When most Americans hear the word “turf”, an image of green grass immediately comes to mind, like the lush green turf of a golf course.  For Irish people the word conjures up dreams of lapping flames, and the distinctive smells of a turf fire.

And so today I thought I might introduce my American readers to Irish turf.

http://www.geograph.ie/photo/529507

© Copyright Kenneth Allen and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License.

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Known as peat in other parts of the world, the Irish prefer the term turf, unless referring to hard, compressed fuel blocks known as peat briquettes.

But whatever you call these brown earthen blocks, I think most Irish people appreciate the warmth and comfort of a turf fire.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/paddymccann/1238684527/in/photostream/

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 Turf is dried peat and was a primary fuel source for Irish people for thousands of years.

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© Copyright Derek Mayes and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License

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Upon hearing the word ‘turf’ my husband immediately recalls days of back breaking summer toil, cutting, stacking, drying and bagging winter’s fuel supply. 

When he reached his teenage years, his poor father had to peel him off the bed to come help him in their Donegal bog.  Somehow the lure of an ice cream cone at the end of the day had lost its appeal for a cool teenager.

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© Copyright Kenneth Allen and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License

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In the past, Irish people used turf to heat their homes and cook their food.  Turf was harvested from a bog.  Cutting turf by hand is a laborious task.

A two-sided spade called a sleán is used to slice blocks of peat from the bog.

http://www.geograph.ie/photo/1842570

© Copyright Jeremy Durrance and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License

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So much work was involved entire families, in years gone by, took part in the summer turf cutting expeditions to the bog.  Everyone’s effort was necessary to save enough fuel to sustain the family throughout the cold winter season.

Preparing turf requires drying it out so that it will ignite when lighted. 

Sods of newly cut turf are laid out in the sun and turned to allow them to dry.

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© Copyright Pamela Norrington and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons License

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The turf blocks or sods are then stacked into small ‘stooks’ as shown in the photo above.

These little towers of peat allow the wind to blow through the sods and help with the drying process.

Standing the sods of turf upright and leaning them against each other is no easy task. This process is called ‘footing’ the turf.

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© Copyright Liz McCabe and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

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Stacking turf is back breaking work.

Very few people cut turf these days, but in some western counties turf stacks can still be seen in the summer months, balancing precariously against each other to dry out in the wind and the sun.

The sods of turf in the picture above are almost ready for the fire.  However, they probably wouldn’t see a match until the cold days of winter.

http://www.irishamericanmom.com/2013/01/09/county-galway-home-of-the-tribesmen

Connemara Turf Pile – © Copyright Chris N Illingworth and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons License.

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Once the turf is deemed dry enough it is gathered together into a great mound or rick for storing.

In the summer months of 1846, at the time of the Great Irish Famine (1845 – 1850) many Irish people were too hungry and weak to work in the bog. 

Cutting turf and saving it was exhausting work. A day at the bog was a daunting prospect on an empty stomach.

As a result the poorest Irish folk had an inadequate fuel supply stored for the winter months of 1846-1847. And to make matters even worse, that winter was cruel, with bitterly cold temperatures. 

I have read that people took to drying cow dung to burn in their fires for heating, since they had no turf saved.

Such sad, sad times.

  © Copyright Richard Webb and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License

© Copyright Richard Webb and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License

Image Credit

Today turf cutting is primarily completed by machinery in the vast bogs of Ireland’s inland counties. But you’ll still see turf stacks in unusual places along the coast.

In the photo above a rick of turf has been gathered on top of the high cliffs overlooking the Atlantic ocean on the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal.

Turf Fire in an old Irish hearth

Turf cut from peat bogs may be the traditional fuel in the west of Ireland, but unfortunately it is a smoky fuel. It has been  banned in smokeless urban zones.

In my granny’s cottage kitchen in rural Ireland turf was the fuel of choice. I still remember the bright, lapping flames of the turf fire, and the sweet aromatic scent that permeated her kitchen.

Cozy Fireside - Irish Thatched Cottage

Turf brings back lovely childhood memories.

Let us know in the comment section below if you have ever had the pleasure of warming your toes in front of a glowing turf fire, or perhaps you endured days on end of back breaking labor to save the precious turf when you were a child. I’m looking forward to reading all your stories.

Many Irish pubs in the west of Ireland still burn turf in open fires, helping tourists and locals experience a little bit of the olden ways of Ireland.

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

Ireland’s Arched Bridges

Arched stone bridges remind me of Ireland. Dotted around the countryside, they span Ireland’s many streams and rivers.

I love these old bridges. They seem to tell stories of days long gone, and the many generations who passed over their arches in centuries past.

Bennett's Bridge

Bennett’s Bridge, County Kilkenny – © Copyright Kevin Higgins and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons License.

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Enduring testaments to the skills of Irish and English engineers from bygone days, these bridges continue to carry their heavy loads, largely ignored by travelers and locals alike.

Shank Bridge, Kells

Shank Bridge, Near Kells and Connor, County Antrim – © Copyright Albert Bridge and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons License.

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These ancient arches have spanned the centuries, with most of Ireland’s stone bridges dating back over 150 years.

Some have stood the test of time through many hundreds of years.

Arched Bridge near Macreddin Village, County Wicklow

Arched Bridge near Macreddin Village, County Wicklow

I was surprised to learn over 18,000 masonry bridges support roads in Ireland to this very day.

That’s a long history of bridge building, and these stony masterpieces have demonstrated amazing durability.

Bridge over the Funcheon River, near Marshallstown, County Cork

Bridge over the Funcheon River, near Marshallstown, County Cork

Initially designed to carry horses, carts and carriages, these bridges display formidable inherent strength by carrying heavy traffic loads each and every day.

Droichead na Gabhair, Kildorrery, County Cork

Droichead na Gabhair, Kildorrery, County Cork

Don’t worry. I’m not going to launch into arch theories with intricate diagrams of thrust lines, compression points, or inversion and loading configurations.

My brain aches just typing these mathematical terms.

Abbeytown Bridge, Boyle, Co. Roscommon

“Abbeytown Bridge” by Chris55 at en.wikipedia

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In this post I simply wish to draw attention to these beautiful architectural gems.

Driving around Ireland you might be crossing ancient arches without even knowing it.

Abbeytown Bridge in Boyle, Co. Roscommon dates back to the late 12th century.

This 5-arch bridge could well be the oldest surviving stone bridge in Ireland, with over 800 years of labor under its belt, or above its incredible arches, however you like to look at it.

This ancient bridge has been widened but traffic continues to flow across its span on a daily basis. Simply amazing.

Old Arched Bridge, County Donegal, Ireland

Old Arched Bridge, County Donegal, Ireland

The stone walls bordering this small road are a clue to a hidden gem beneath.

Ramelton, County Donegal, Arched Bridge by Salmon Weir

Ramelton, Co. Donegal

In Ireland, the landscape, the buildings, and even the bridges connect us to the past.

To tell you the truth I’m a bit of a pain as a car passenger. Whenever I see a bridge with rustic looking stone walls, I immediately sense a little bit of history around me.  I never hesitate to interrupt our journey.

Arched bridge near Ramelton, County Donegal

Salmon Weir, County Donegal

“Whoa,” I call out at the sight of a river with old stone walls edging the road.

“What is it now,” asks my husband, pulling over to the side.

“Let’s check out that bridge.”

Before you know it I’ve climbed over the bridge wall and am down in a field with camera in hand.

Multi-arched bridge in County Donegal

Castle Bridge, Buncrana, County Donegal

These stone arches are part of Ireland’s infrastructural heritage, having served us well over the centuries.

I hope the powers that be will choose to conserve these structures for the future.

Bridge in Ramelton, Donegal

Ramelton, Co. Donegal at Christmas

As custodians of history, I hope today’s generations will honor the symbolic importance of these bridges. They are part of our cultural inheritance.

And so, as you travel around Ireland, keep an eye out for her beautiful bridges.  You never know when you may cross one of these architectural masterpieces.

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

Irish American Mom

Irish Essence Tours

Today I’m delighted to introduce you to a new Irish Tour Company, specializing in taking tourists off the beaten path, to discover a hidden Ireland. 

As you all know, I love to talk about all things Irish, especially little known, out-of-the-way places in the land of my birth. When Deborah Feery of Irish Essence Tours contacted me about her new company’s dedication to creating customized vacations, focusing on personal experiences, and fulfilling clients’ dreams, I knew this company may be a perfect match for some of my readers.

 

And so over to Deborah of Irish Essence Tours…..

 

Deborah Playing Traditional Irish Music With Her Father

Deborah Playing Traditional Irish Music With Her Father

Let me introduce myself – my name is Deborah. I’m the founder and Managing Director of Irish Essence Tours. I come from the Midlands of Ireland – County Westmeath to be exact.

The little village where I grew up, Tyrrellspass, is hugely important to me and I am so proud of my heritage.

I am Irish to the bone! Since I was a very young child, I’ve enjoyed Traditional Irish Dancing and played Traditional Irish Music. I started playing the tin-whistle at the age of 4, inspiring me to complete my degree in Traditional Irish Music and Dance at the University of Limerick.

 

So, how did I end up working in the Travel Industry?

 

Well, many years ago, I took a job working with one of the biggest Tour Operators in Ireland. During my time there, I noticed opportunities for improvement. It was apparent to me the industry needed something a little different, so I took the plunge and launched my own Company.

There are literally hundreds of companies in Ireland offering Tours of Ireland and they promise to make them ‘personal’, ‘unique’, or ‘original’, but how many of these companies can deliver on their promises?

The whole idea is a little jaded at this stage. Many of these companies are so big, they are unable to offer the level of personal attention I feel is imperative to our line of business. You receive auto-responders before you actually speak to a real person. How frustrating!

The Travel Industry in Ireland is hugely male dominated. Don’t get me wrong, I am certainly not saying that’s a negative, but a female perspective might just mix things up a little.

 

What’s Different About Irish Essence Tours?

 

Deborah Feery Of Irish Essence Tours

Deborah Feery Of Irish Essence Tours

At Irish Essence Tours I surround myself with a small, closely-knit team of people who have years of experience working in the field. I work hard to ensure I find people with my same passion for the job.  It’s important to me we don’t just see this as work– there’s more to it than just arranging a tour.

I want my team to build close working relationships with our clients, listen to their needs, and if there is anything they can do to make a trip extra special, I want them to go above and beyond, just as I would.

I put a lot of effort into sourcing new attractions and activities for our clients. I especially want to draw more tourism through the Midlands of Ireland which tends to get neglected due to its central location. The Coastal Counties of Ireland are tough to compete with and are seldom shunned in favour of the Midlands of Ireland, but I want to help people discover the magic of the Midlands.

 

Small Group Coach Tours:

 

Irish Soda BreadFor our Small Group Coach Tours, I arrange workshops in Irish soda bread making in a wonderful little Café, called The Grocery, in my local village.

We visit a charming and quaint family-owned Folk Museum just outside of Athlone, County Westmeath. The dear couple who run the Museum love to welcome our visitors; they even open at any time to accommodate our clients.

There is also a family run farm literally 15 minutes away from my home that specializes in organic produce. They conduct instructional workshops for our tour participants.  So much untapped talent!

Irish Nights are a highlight of our Small Group Coach Tours. We visit local pubs in County Westmeath. As Managing Director of Irish Essence Tours, my main tasks are administrative, but when it comes to Irish Nights I just can’t help myself but get involved.

I love to attend these nights, meet my clients and join in with the other musicians providing entertainment. Picture that scene from Titanic where Jack and Rose attend the party in Third Class and the band (Gaelic Storm) raise the roof? That was always my aim for our Irish nights and it’s now a reality.

 

Self-Drive and Private Chauffeured Tours:

 

For our Self-Drive and Private-Chauffeured tours, I ensure people are getting the best value possible in terms of attractions. I started working on a Discount Card Scheme but as we are a relatively new company, many attractions were not willing to offer much in terms of a discount until we have sent a lot of business their way.

Our remedy for this? We take the hit on the attractions that don’t offer a discount. We’ve reduced the cost of these attractions for our clients by paying a percentage of the admission. Every little bit helps when you’re traveling on a budget – right?

Irish Cliffs
As Irish Essence Tours is relatively new, one of the problems we face is people worrying if we’ll survive as a Company. Is their money safe if they book with us? Well the simple answer to that is a resounding ‘Yes!’.

We cannot become members of the I.T.O.A. just yet but we’ve prepared for this and have purchased bonding insurance. It’s important to us that people feel entirely comfortable putting their faith in us from the beginning.

 

Choosing A Name For My Company:

I’m very conscious of the Irish Experience becoming too commercialized and I really think it would be a shame to lose sight of what we are renowned for as a Country – our culture, our history, our raw, rustic magnetism, our authentic charm and gift of the gab, our friendly locals and our wonderful accommodations.

From the beginning, it was important to me the title of our Company represent what is essential to us – the essence of Ireland, the spirit, the core, the soul.

 

This truly was a trip of a lifetime for us.

I find myself looking at it and sighing, wishing we could be back there!

We couldn’t have asked for a better trip and we’re already planning our return for 2015.

The level of personal attention you devoted to every little detail will never be forgotten

– we raised many pints of Guinness to Irish Essence Tours and to you Deborah on our trip!

─ Martha & Jim Foster and Bitsy & Bob Morales, Texas

 

My Dream Is Your Perfect Vacation:

 

For me the time had come to peel back a layer on the whole Irish Tourism package and that’s what we’ve aimed for and hopefully achieved with Irish Essence Tours.

It’s my dream to arrange people’s vacations, so they don’t find the task to be a chore. Some enjoy the challenge but do not realize that as Tour Operators, we get better rates for accommodations, we know the best accommodations in Ireland, and we get better deals on attractions.

Romantic-Ireland-Private-Chauffeured

 

As a Company, we don’t slap on hefty commission charges since we don’t have a huge workforce to pay. We charge what we need to charge, but we certainly don’t believe in excessive prices. People sometimes underestimate the benefits of having a person in Ireland whom you can phone 24/7 should something go wrong. It’s insurance in itself!

So why not take a look at our website, Irish Essence Tours.

Remember we can customize any trip you like to suit your needs.

We’ll do everything we can to make this the trip of a lifetime for you.

 

A big thank you to Deborah for this very informative guest post. Wishing the Irish Essence Tours team every success with their wonderful business.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

 

Irish American Mom

 

P.S.  Irish American Mom is not affiliated with Irish Essence Tours. I hope this post promote helps Deborah spread the word about her company as she builds upon her dream of creating once-in-a-lifetime experiences for tourists to Ireland.

 

 

 

Good Friday Traditions In Ireland

Good Friday is a strange name for the day the Son of God was put to death, but it is generally believed to be derived from the term God’s Friday.  To mark Good Friday, I thought I would share some photos of Irish Celtic crosses which I took last summer, and review some old Irish traditions associated with this holy day.

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In Ireland, this day was traditionally dedicated to penance, fasting, and prayer. Some Irish Catholics fasted completely until midday. Then at noon they only broke their fast by eating a piece of dry bread washed down by three sips of cold water, each sip taken to honor the Holy Trinity.

Hot Cross Buns cooling on wire rack

For those who preferred a little less Lenten austerity, one meal and two collations (snacks) were allowed on their Good Friday menu, but fish was recommended for the main meal.  Hot cross buns could be eaten for one collation.

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In the past this was a day of rest with little or no work completed on the land.  One minor task was allowed – good luck and blessings for the summer’s crops could be attained by planting a small amount of grain or seed potatoes.

In preparation for Easter, cleaning and tidying the house and yard was permitted.

No nail could be driven on Good Friday as a mark of respect. Carpenters definitely took the day off.

No animal could be slaughtered, since shedding even a drop of blood was frowned upon.

Fishermen stayed at home with all vessels and fishing nets remaining idle on this holy day.

Good Friday was never the day scheduled for moving house or starting an important project.

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Good Friday is not an official public holiday in Ireland, but banks and pubs are closed. When I was young no pub was open on this day, but I believe in recent years a few exceptions have been made.

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Good Friday is one of the best days to visit a graveyard or holy well.  On this day it is believed holy water has curative properties.

Silence is encouraged by many older Irish people. Remaining silent between noon and 3 pm is a sign of respect for our Crucified Lord, who hung on the cross for these three hours.

Celtic Cross at Cashel

Good Friday has always been considered a good day to die. I’m not sure if any day is a good day to die, but on Good Friday the Irish believe the deceased’s soul ascends straight to heaven.

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If you happen to be a migraine sufferer today is the day to cut your hair. Our ancestors believed a good haircut would ward off headaches for the coming year.  A good toenail and finger trim was also recommended on Good Friday.  Women and girls working in the house loosened their hair, allowing it to hang down as a symbol of mourning.

Penance was practiced by remaining barefoot throughout the day.

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In years gone by there were no fancy chocolate Easter eggs to be found in Ireland. Instead, eggs laid on Good Friday were marked with a cross.  These eggs were then cooked and eaten on Easter Sunday. Also if you were in need of healthy hens, setting eggs to hatch on this day was highly recommended. 

Those born on Good Friday and baptized on Easter Sunday often possessed the gift of healing.  Boys born on Good Friday were encouraged to join the priesthood, with the expectation they would become a parish priest or a bishop.

Crucifixion Carving at Cashel, Ireland

These old Irish customs show us that in days gone by, Good Friday was not merely a day to commemorate the sorrow of Christ’s death. Through these simple, solemn customs our ancestors found a way to remember Easter’s spiritual message of ultimate hope.

 

 

Beannachtaí na Cásca Oraibh

(Easter Blessings)

Irish American Mom