Old Irish Superstitions and Folklore

Posted on August 9, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: |


lucky shamrock

One thing is for sure; there is no lack of Irish superstitions in the world. The Irish people, my family included, seem to be a very superstitious lot. I don’t know about you, but I think this is what gives them their charm.

The Irish have many sayings and proverbs, too. These will show the wit of the Irish. They will be covered in other pages on this website. There will also be a page of Irish blessings and blessing poems. These will show the Irish faith with a touch of humor thrown in for good measure.

From this page you’ll also find a place for the popular Irish toasts.

There are many superstitions sprinkled throughout the Irish culture. Looking through other sections of this website I noticed I have superstitions sprinkled throughout the site too. In the wedding section there are Irish wedding superstitions for you to look over.


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This page is a little longer than I usually write; I like to keep things brief so I don’t bore you to death. But Ireland has a good many old Irish superstitions. Speaking of death, just jump right in to the first section of Irish superstitions.


Irish Superstitions Concerning the Dead

It is believed that the souls of the dead that die abroad, wish to be buried in Ireland. The dead will not rest peaceably unless buried with their forefathers and people of their own kind. A dead hand is believed to be a cure for all diseases. Many times sick people were brought to a house where a corpse was laid out, so that the hand of the dead might be laid on them. (There are quite a few Irish superstitons concerning dead hands, but they start getting really weird. The one above seemed the less creepy of them. I thought I’d stop at one dead hand superstition.) The corner of a sheet that was wrapped around a corpse is a cure for a headache, when tied around your head. It will also reduce the swelling of a limb, if tied around the affected limb. The ends of candles used at wakes are good for curing burns. The spirit of the dead last buried has to watch in the churchyard until another corpse is buried. Duties include carrying water for the dead that are waiting in Purgatory. This keeps them very busy. Purgatory is a very hot place. This superstition has been known to cause fights when two funeral processions try to enter the same churchyard at the same time. No one wants their loved one to be the last buried and have to perform these duties. If anyone stumbles at a grave it is considered a bad omen. If you fall and touch the ground you will most likely die by the end of the year. (I have to admit here that I’ve tripped and fallen at the cemetery. I’ve spent time at several cemeteries chasing down my family history. Those little foot stones seem to jump right out at you if you don’t pay attention. I’ll let you know how things turn out.) If you meet a funeral you must turn back and walk at least four steps with the mourners. If the nearest relative touches the hand of a corpse it will shout out a wild cry if not quite dead. On Twelfth Night the dead walk the Earth. On every tile of your house a soul is sitting waiting for your prayers to take it out of purgatory. If a magpie comes to your door and looks at you it is a sure sign of death. Nothing can be done to avert the doom. When a swarm of bees suddenly quits the hive it is a sign that death is hovering near the house.


Animals in Irish Superstitions

A crowing hen, a whistling girl, and a black cat are considered very unlucky. Beware of them in a house. If a rooster comes to your threshold and crows, you may expect visitors. While on a trip if you see three magpies on your left it is unlucky; but two on the right is a good omen. If you hear a cuckoo on your right you will have good luck for a year. Whoever kills a robin redbreast will never have good luck, even if they lived to be a thousand years old. A water wagtail near the house means bad news is on its way to you. If the first lamb of the year is born black, it means mourning garments in the family within the year. It’s very lucky for a hen and her chicks to stray into your house. It is good to meet a white lamb in the early morning with the sunlight on its face. It’s a sign of bad luck to meet a magpie, a cat, or a lame woman on a trip. If you meet a rooster at your door and it crows, your trip should be postponed. If one magpie comes chattering at your door it’s a sign of death, but if two come chattering it’s a sign of prosperity. It’s very unlucky to ask a man on his way to fish where he is going. Many would turn back knowing it was an evil spell. The shoe of a horse or an ass nailed to the doorpost will bring good luck. But the shoe must be found, not given in order to bring good luck. In whatever quarter you are looking when you hear the first cuckoo of the season, that is the direction you will be traveling before the year is out.


Irish Superstitions for Home Remedies

(Remember these are just old Irish superstitions, “old wives tales” in my part of the world. Don’t try these at home!) A bunch of mint tied around the wrist is a sure remedy for disorders of the stomach. A sick persons bed must be placed north and south not cross ways. Nettles gathered in a churchyard and boiled down for a drink have the power to cure dropsy. The touch from the hand of a seventh son is said to cure the bite of a mad dog. An iron ring wore on the fourth finger will ward off rheumatism. The seed of docks tied to the left hand of a woman will prevent her from being barren. Drinking boiled down carrot juice will purify the blood. The clippings of the hair and nails of a child tied up in linen and placed under their bed will cure convulsions. A bunch of mint tied around the wrist is believed to ward off infection and disease. To cure a fever, place the person on the shore when the tide is coming in. When the tide begins to go back out, the retreating waves will carry away the disease and the fever. To make your skin beautiful, wash your face with May dew on May morning (May Day) at sunrise.


Miscellaneous Irish Superstitions

It is not safe to pick up an unbaptized child without making the sign of the cross. It is unlucky to accept a lock of hair from a lover. If a chair falls when a person stands up, it is an unlucky omen. If you possess a four-leaf shamrock you will have good luck in gambling, good luck in racing, and witchcraft will have no power over you. But, you must always carry it on you. You cannot give it away. You cannot show it to anyone. If chased at night by a ghost or an evil spirit, try to get to a stream of running water. If you can cross it no devil or evil spirit will be able to follow. Do not turn off a light while people are at supper. If you do there will be one less at the table before the year is out. If you want a person to win at cards, put a crooked pin in his coat. If the palm of your hand itches you will be coming into money. If it’s your elbow you will be changing beds. If your ear itches and it is red and hot, someone is speaking bad of you. (These Irish superstitions are ones still mentioned at my house.) If you want to know the name of the person you are to marry, put a snail on a plate sprinkled with flour. Cover the plate and leave it overnight. In the morning the initial of the person will be on the plate, traced by the snail. Sticking a penknife into the mast of a boat while under sail is considered unlucky. It’s unlucky to have a hare cross your path before sunrise. To take away lighted sod from a house on May days or churning days is unlucky. To do so takes away the blessing of the house.


Ok, I think you will have plenty of Irish superstitions to look over. This is only a small sampling. There are many, many more where these came from. History is so old in Ireland that there have been a lot of beliefs handed down from generation to generation. Some of the Irish superstitions have Celtic roots and some are Christian. Don’t get me started on the fairies . I’ll save them for another page. There are Irish superstitions aplenty about the fairies.

By Lucky Meriam & Michael


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