Bidding Farewell – A Not-So-Simple Irish Ritual

Saying goodbye and departing a friend’s home may be a simple act in America, but in Ireland there is an unwritten code of honor that guides farewell rituals.

There are superstitions that must be adhered to, or God forbid you may draw some form of ill fate upon your unsuspecting self.

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I always remember my mother’s superstitions about a first visit to a new friend’s home.

She advised me to always leave by the door through which I first entered.

I have arrived at parties in the U.S. where all the guests are streaming through an open garage door. Try as I might to forget obsolete traditions of my youth, my unwilling feet always lead me to the front door of each and every home I visit.

I find it very difficult to arrive non-chalantly through a back door with an enthusiastic announcement of my arrival.  For me, the ding dong of a door bell wards off those bad luck spirits ruling over ancient Irish greeting rituals.

And then of course there is the issue of which door I may leave through without bringing ill luck my way.

Red Gate - Cottage Rear Door

My mother’s words return and you know you should never ignore your mother.

 

Leave by the door through which you entered on your first visit to a home.

 

If I go in through an open garage when I arrive in daylight, it can be a little awkward to ask to exit through the garage, if it’s all closed up at the end of a night’s festivities.

Oh the dilemmas of carrying old cultural ways all the way to a new land.

 

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And then there is the whole drama of bidding farewell to guests in my own home.

Unsuspecting American guests might announce they are about to leave, and try to slip out the back door or through the yard unnoticed.

 

Not in my Irish American home!

 

Guests must be escorted to the front door for a proper goodbye and thank you. Even my kids know they should join the farewell party as we move out to the porch.

Into the bargain we stand there and wave goodbye as your car departs down the street. Our front door does not close until you have officially departed.  I know my neighbors think I’m crazy, but what can I say. I’m Irish.

In Ireland farewells can go on and on. Deep conversations are launched at the door. A quick exit is very difficult, so plan your departure with plenty of time to spare.

Now recently I learned of an American term called ‘an Irish goodbye’.  This phenomenon is also called ghosting, and refers to leaving a social gathering without saying your farewells.

I never heard of this expression in Ireland. Perhaps it evolved in the U.S., as those in the know slipped out the back door, to avoid the infamously prolonged real Irish goodbye.

Shakespeare may have summed it all up when he said “parting is such sweet sorrow,” but in Ireland parting is full of superstition, and endless chat.

If you know of any other Irish superstitions regarding the rituals of coming and going, please feel free to tell us in the comment section below.

And so, without any more fuss, I bid you all farewell this cold and wintery January evening.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(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.

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© 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.

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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.

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© 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.

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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

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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

Chilblains, Hot Water Bottles And Other Chilly Memories Of An Irish Childhood

Chilblains were part and parcel of an Irish childhood for many when I was growing up.  Memories of red, itchy, inflamed toes still linger for my generation, but painful, chilblain flash blacks still haunt the generation that went before me.

Chilblains and Hot Water Bottles

Now many of you are probably wondering what on earth a chilblain could possibly be. The word is not feared here in America, with very few even being familiar with the term.

One cold winter’s day I was reminiscing with an American friend, and asked her if she ever suffered from chilblains as a child. A flash of fear spread across her face, as if I had asked her if she ever had the plague. She never before had heard of the dreaded CHILBLAIN, but the very word put the fear of God in her.

A Chilblain On The Third Toe

A Chilblain On The Third Toe

She was relieved to hear they’re non-contagious, small, itchy swellings on the skin that occur as a reaction to extremely cold temperatures. I have only ever seen chilblains of the toes, but apparently they can appear on fingers, heels, ears and even on the tip of the nose.  OUCH!

I was one of the lucky ones in Ireland in the late ’60’s and early ’70’s. My little piggies seldom succumbed to the frosty bite of winter’s chilly air, but my poor sister often complained of burning, itchy toes that swelled and turned bright red. Sometimes her poor little piggies were blistered by these notorious chilblains.

Chilblains seldom occur in America, because despite the cold winter temperatures, the air is dry, unlike the cold, damp conditions found in Ireland and the United Kingdom during the winter months. Chilblains were common in my youth, in the days before we had central heating.

Now it’s time for a little technical explanation … after studying physical therapy, I just can’t resist sharing the medical rational behind this winter discomfort.

Chilblains are caused by an abnormal reaction of blood vessels to the cold. As the skin gets cold, blood vessels near the surface get narrower, and then when suddenly exposed to intense heat, the blood vessels near the skin surface grow wider too quickly, and the blood leaks into the surrounding tissue, causing none other than, a chilblain. Warming our freezing toes by an open fire was not a good idea.

Allergy to cold and hives are two diagnoses some American readers have reported, but I think a differential diagnosis of chilblains might be indicated in some cases.

A Cozy Fire

Does anyone remember coming in from the freezing rain, discarding coats and scarves by the door, and ripping off wet shoes and socks to wiggle those freezing piggies by the fire?  If you answered yes, then you must be IRISH.

Little did we know we were creating the perfect conditions for a CHILBLAIN ATTACK.

I remember sitting by the cozy fire in the living room, my legs all toasty and warm, mottled red and white from the heat of the fire. We always said we had the ABC’s on our legs when we overheated our skin. I remember trying to convince myself I didn’t need to go upstairs to the bathroom, afraid to face the arctic air of the hallway. You see, when I was young, most houses were heated by an open fire, with no central heating. The living room was the only comfortable room in the house.

Hot water bottle

At night we snuggled under a layer of wooly blankets and brought our favorite friend to bed – the hot water bottle, hoping to ward off those dreaded chilblains. In my day, if our hot water bottle was too warm at first, we wrapped it in a towel, but nowadays they come with all kinds of fancy covers.

Apparently wearing socks in bed is a better way to prevent chilblains. Our hot water bottle solution only exacerbated the situation, creating more exposure to extreme temperatures.  Little did we know!  And oh, how I loved my pink hot water bottle. It was made of pink rubber, and had no fancy knitted heart like this modern day hot water bottle pictured below.

Pink polka dot hot water bottle cover with a white heart

Chilblains are now practically a thing of the past. Central heating has ensured most houses have a nice warm, dry atmosphere promoting chilblain free Irish feet.

A few years ago when I took a guided tour of Glenveagh Castle in County Donegal, I learned a neat little fact about its previous aristocratic inhabitants.

Servants were tasked with warming the master’s bed before he retired for the night. No, the poor servant didn’t have to jump in and lie there for a while to warm the sheets.

Metal Bed Warmer

Metal Bed Warmer

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The task of heating the sheets was accomplished using a special metal bed warmer, which consisted of a copper container, shaped a little like a frying pan.  The pan was filled with hot coals from the fire, covered with a finely perforated lid, then placed under the bed covers. A long handle allowed the servant to swish the hot pan over and back across the sheets without burning them.  This process also dried out damp beds. I wonder if the gentry suffered from chilblains?????

Anyway, as I snuggle under my comforter each evening, warmed by the soothing warmth of my forced air heating system, I wiggle my pain free toes, and count my blessings. It’s lovely to live in a chilblain free age.

And so, I hope all my American readers have learned a little bit about our Irish winter time ailments of days gone by, and that my Irish readers won’t have any chilblain infested nightmares after reading this little post with a trip down a chilly memory lane.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

Villages In North Cork – An Entertaining Video Series

Cork Videos produce short films of ordinary people, telling about ordinary things in towns and villages around County Cork, Ireland. I was delighted when Tony Kennedy, the producer of these films, e-mailed me to share his entertaining and informative amateur videos of North Cork villages.

These simple films share chats with locals, images of shops, points of interest, churches and schools – all-in-all a very thoughtful exploration of what makes these little communities tick.

Now, since my family hail from North Cork, just outside Kildorrery, I simply had to share this little snapshot of the village I know so well.

 

Famous Kildorrery Town:

 

Like many places in Ireland, Kildorrery even has it’s very own song, entitled “Famous Kildorrery Town.” The town is so famous, you’ve probably never heard of it, but hopefully this little blog post will help remedy that.  Here’s the chorus of our famous song:

“Have you ever been up to Kildorrery

Indeed if you haven’t that’s quare

Sure it’s only five miles from Ardpatrick

And three from the cross of Red Chair

And when at that cross you are landed

You will see a big hill looking down

And on top of that hill bare naked and chill

Stands famous Kildorrery town.”

 

This song is sung by Kildorrery GAA supporters at matches throughout the county and province. I just had to highlight the lyrics in Kildorrery GAA blue.

 

Elizabeth Bowen:

 

The writer, Elizabeth Bowen, whose family lived at Bowen’s Court just outside the village, described the area as follows:

 

“Kildorrery is so placed as to be a landmark for miles.

Cross-shaped, and of some size, it has the characteristics of a hill-village

– rather sad weathered houses, sky seen through arches, draughty streets,

an exposed graveyard, a chapel launched over the distance like a ship.

Though its name means church of the oak grove, one can see no trees:

the Ballyhouras are very near, to the north.

Only when Kildorrery stands full in the sunset has it an all celestial smile.”

- Elizabeth Bowen, 1942

 

It sounds like Elizabeth was in agreement with the “bare naked and chill” description by our local songwriter of years gone by.

 

North Cork Videos – A Glance At Kildorrery, County Cork.

 

And so, without further ado, here is a little snapshot of the little corner of Ireland I love so well.

 

 

If you enjoyed this little glimpse of Kildorrery there are more short films of other Cork villages waiting to be viewed on the Cork Videos YouTube channel.

Thanks to Tony for giving me permission to share his work with you today.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

 

Irish American Mom