Irish Superstitions for a Fun Friday
Updated: May 9, 2021
It’s Friday again. It’s been a long and weary week. We need a bit of fun so here are a few Irish superstitions to enjoy. Of course, the Irish are known for being lucky but they know that luck isn’t always the good sort. That’s why some Irish—and Irish-Americans—aren’t comfortable just dismissing superstition as blarney. They take measures to ensure their luck is the right kind. After all, what can it hurt to salute a bird or plow around a tree? Whether you believe in superstitions or scoff at them, here’s hoping this post will give you a little joy for the week’s end.
Coming from a culture that has been both Celtic and agrarian, a considerable amount of Irish folklore involves nature. Trees, plants, and animals often have symbolic meanings and, sometimes, magical properties. It’s only natural then that a number of Irish superstitions are about birds. Here are just a few examples.
Droppings: While having to scrap bird poop off your car (or worse, yourself) is an unpleasant task, the Irish, along with some other cultures, have decided to turn this negative into a positive. Having a bird poop on you or your car, they claim, is a sign of good luck.
Robins: Seeing this joyful little bird can be good or bad, depending on the circumstance. If a robin follows you around, it’s a sign a loved one (possibly one who’s passed to the other side) is close to you. But if a robin taps on your window or—heaven forbid—flies into your house, it portends death.
Magpies: These chatty little birds are so a part of Irish superstition that there’s a poem to help remember what seeing them means. The number of magpies you see at one time makes a difference. The short version is: the more magpies the better. For example, the poem says, “five for silver, six for gold.” If you see a whole flock of them, stupendous things are in store for you! If, however, you see only one, look out! Very bad luck is headed your way. Fortunately, you can forestall or even neutralize the threat simply by saluting or waving at the bird.
As a redheaded woman (well, my hair was light auburn until I turned nineteen then, frustratingly, it turned brown), I am highly aware that there is an anti-ginger bias in the UK. It’s usually presented as a light-hearted thing but it comes up frequently. This thing against red-heads exists in the Republic of Ireland too and definitely shows up in Irish superstition.
Americans might find this odd since many members of the U.S. population buy into the stereotypical image of Irish people as blue-eyed redheads. Actually, the Irish more often have brown hair and green or brown eyes. Many scholars attribute the red-haired gene to the Vikings who raided and invaded Ireland starting in the 8th century A.D. There also is a line of academic thinking which says that the abundant superstitions the Irish have regarding
redheads stem from bad memories of the Norsemen as well.
Invariably, encountering a redhead is a bad thing. There is one other thing they all have in common. Peruse these examples and I think you’ll see the pattern.
1) Irish fishermen consider it very bad luck to see a red-haired woman before setting out. In fact, some will cancel their trip and go home, just to be on the safe side.
2) If you’re on the way to the fair and you see a red-haired woman, you’ll have miserable luck.
3) If you’re going to the market with your goods and you pass a red-haired woman, turn around and go home for you’ll sell nothing that day.
4) It’s terrible bad luck to see a red-haired woman in the morning.
If you see (or have seen) an Irish superstition which connects red-haired men with bad luck, let me know in the comments. I know I haven’t.
OTHER BODY PARTS
An itchy palm can be annoying but it also can be good news. If your left palm itches, it means you’ll be receiving money soon. Yay! However, if your right palm’s itchy, you’ll have to shell out.
If your ear is burning, people are talking about you (and not in a good way).
Are your ears ringing? It’s the poor souls in purgatory calling for your prayers. Or you may need to see a doctor. Or just turn your music volume down.
Have an itchy nose? Either someone is speaking ill of you or you’re going to get into a fight (maybe both!).
According to Irish superstition, dropping a utensil means company’s coming. Who? Dropping a knife indicates a man and a fork means a woman. If you drop a spoon, a child will visit. If you’re missing your family, why not drop the whole place setting?
As death is an inescapable part of human experience, it’s no wonder superstitions about predicting or forestalling it exist. Because of a long history of violence from uprisings and sectarian terrorism as well as the trauma of the Famine, the Irish have a bit of a preoccupation with death, at least when it comes to folklore and superstition. Here are just a few examples.
1) If a picture falls from the wall, someone you know will die.
2) Don’t walk over a person who’s lying on the floor. The person will stop growing (and, as a consequence, die).
3) Don't count the number of cars following a hearse as it goes to the cemetery. If you do, that will be the number of years you have left to live.
4) If you pick a flower from a white thorn bush (a hawthorn) and bring it home, you’ll die.
5) After someone in the house has died, open the nearest window so the person’s soul can fly up to heaven.
I’ve said it before and it can’t be emphasized enough: don’t mess with faeries or their stuff! Irish faeries are not cute little innocuous beings. Some can be benevolent. Others simply ignore humans who don’t bother them (but it takes very little to bother an Irish faerie). Then there are those who are downright malicious. Still, even good-hearted faeries don’t take kindly to humans who disturb them or their places of habitation. Therefore:
1) Don’t disturb a faerie fort, circular structures which academics say are prehistoric
remnants but many Irish claim are faerie dwellings. Violate this tenant and you may find yourself cursed with a lifetime of bad luck.
2) Never cut down a faerie tree, i.e., any tree growing alone, especially if it’s a hawthorn or a blackthorn. Farmers plow around these. Roads, even highways, have been built around them. You cut a down a faerie tree at your own peril!
A FINAL FEW
There are so many more Irish superstitions, they could fill a book. Here are just a few of my favorites to finish off the post.
1) If you put your shirt on inside out, leave it that way. Reverse it and you will have bad luck all day.
2) At a wedding, you can give the new couple good luck by throwing an old boot over their heads. Just be sure to aim well.
3) Pick a flower on May Eve and the faeries will carry you off.
4) If you see a comb lying on the ground, don’t pick it up, especially if it’s silver. The comb likely belongs to a banshee and you don’t want her coming after you to get it back!
5) Don’t knit at night until the sheep have gone to sleep.
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Slan go foil!
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