Tag Archives: Irish

An Irish Wake

Main piece:

(The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant and interviewer.)

Informant: Grandpa, he always used to tell the story about the Irish – I’ve told you this one before – about the Irish wakes – cause the Irish always had the big parties. And, uhh, that was back in the days, when, you know… they were having a party for one of the guys that had just expired. And he was in the kitchen laid out on the kitchen table! And everybody was, you know, laughing and going on because… they celebrate death, in a different way. And so. (laughing) and then all of a sudden the guy sat up! Because they didn’t have embalming back there, and back then and stuff, you know. You just – they just, they laid you out and you wait a couple days-they – you know, they didn’t keep you around for very long cause you start smellin’. So, you know, people with diabetic comas and stuff like that they didn’t know about that back then, so, uhh, he just sat up! (laughs) And he wasn’t dead anymore! He asked for a beer! He said, “everyone’s drinking a beer, I want one too.” I think I would’ve been scared out of my mind!

Interviewer: Right!

Informant: Eh, if your grandpa- when he told it it was always funnier.

Interviewer: No, that was funny!

Background: My informant was born and raised in southern Illinois to very strict Catholic parents. She has strong Irish and Italian heritage. This is a joke/story that I’ve heard many times since growing up, in slight variations.

Context: The informant is my grandmother, and has always had a proclivity for telling stories, jokes, and wives tales. This piece was selected out of many from a recording of a long night of telling stories in a comfortable environment.

Thoughts: I think that the main joke in this story is that the Irish drink a lot, which is a simple and common theme for Irish stories and jokes and stereotypes. There is also a layer in which the man waking up is funny in itself, though I’ve realized it has to do with who is telling the story. I’ve heard it told more straightforward and snappily, getting to the line at the end where the man says he wants a beer as if it’s more of a punchline. In this telling, however, my grandmother focused around the absurdity of someone you thought was dead sitting up and thinking everything was fine.

Irish Superstition about Pearls

Text:

Informant:

It’s an Irish superstition where it is super super bad luck for a woman to receive pearls except from her husband on their wedding day. Any other time it’s an omen of death. There’s this little thing that has sort of happened because of this since Irish people are often such devout Catholics where instead of getting a divorce, a husband will very passive-aggressively get their wife pearls. It means screw you, I wish we could get a divorce, but we can’t since we’re Catholic.

Context:

I asked a group of friends about any superstitions they were raised with. This was one of their responses.  The informant was raised Irish Catholic.

Thoughts:

I was raised Irish Catholic, and am very familiar with this both pearls being an omen of bad luck as well as husbands buying their wives pearls as an ill-wish.

Irish Goodbye

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed form a conversation between the informant and the interviewer

Informant: The Irish goodbye is when you leave a party without letting other people know that you’re leaving. You just get up and leave. You might bump into a few people on your way out, and then you would have to announce you leaving, but the point is to not be going around the room and say goodbye to everyone, especially not the host, the host can’t know that you’re leaving.

Interviewer: Why is this associated with Ireland? Why is it called the “Irish goodbye”?

Informant: I don’t think anyone knows the exact story as to who or what in Ireland started it. But it’s just an Irish thing, I guess, and people just call it that now.

Interviewer: Can you think of any reason as to what about Irish culture that would bring up an abrupt departure?

Informant: The thing with Irish people is that everyone’s so fucking kind when they invite you over to their homes. Like my grandma, for example, always always have different kinds of tea, breads, meal, dessert, and more stuff ready. That’s just kinda true for all grandmas, but all Irish people are like that. To invite someone to my house means that you have to satisfy your guests, and that makes these hosts go a little crazy with the antics. So I think leaving without letting people know is actually a kind thing to do.

Interviewer: How so?

Informant: We’re saving the host from having to be all kind and whatnot, we just get up and leave. You’ll know I’m gone when I’m gone.

Interviewer: So this practice isn’t used to show disapproval?

Informant: No, no bad feelings at all. The exact opposite, really.

Background: My informant is of Irish and Scottish descent, his parents being immigrants from those respective countries. He still has most of his relatives living in Ireland and Scotland, and the cultures he aligns himself with are close to those mainlands rather than the diaspora – Irish American or Scottish American. The grandmother that he mentions is also an immigrant, who moved from Ireland to California in the late 80s.

Context: The conversation took place army informant’s house in Orange County, California. It was a familiar, comfortable setting.

My thoughts: I can’t say that I practice the Irish goodbye often myself, I tend to say goodbye to at least my friends. But hearing my informant talk the reasoning behind an abrupt departure, I do understand how it might actually deviate the host from that duty, and how it might actually be a kind gesture.

The Banshee

The following is a story about an Irish legend.  The informant is represented by the letter S, and I am represented by the letter K.

Piece:

K: Tell me about the Banshee.

S: So, the banshee is… uh… and Irish legend. And it’s, it’s this spirit of a woman… who has this long, silver-white hair… like down to the floor.  And she’s always brushing her hair with this comb.  And her eyes are red- from like centuries of crying and grieving over people who- who other people have lost.  And uhm…uhm… and basically, the Banshee is the uhm, warning, that somebody you’re close to is going to die.  So if the Banshee comes to you, someone you love- is gonna end up dying.  And uhm, the Banshee is the…. kinda the predecessor to the… what is it? The Coach de Baron… What is it? The Cóiste Bodhar. Uh, which is… the… the coach that takes you to death, so… yeah, the Banshee is very scary. She wails. And if you hear the wailing, then you know… that somebody’s gonna die.

Context:

We were sitting at a dining room table on Easter Sunday.  We had just eaten dinner and celebrated the holiday.  We were sitting around and just talking and sharing stories and folklore that we knew about.  The informant is my friend’s younger sister, so she lives at the home we were at and she was sitting with her friend, with me, her brother, and our other friend sat across from them.

My Thoughts:

The Banshee seems to be a legend that is meant to kind of scare people into always being alert and always watching out for their family.  It was interesting because when I collected this piece of folklore, the informant told me that her dad’s friend had actually heard the Banshee at one point and then someone they knew died shortly after.  The informant seemed to strongly believe in the Banshee from hearing this story of the person her dad knew.  This goes back to the idea that with legends you never really know if these people or things exist/existed because there are stories of them existing, but there’s no proof they never did or that they don’t.  The Banshee seems to have some similar characteristics to La Llorona, actually, which was also interesting.  It’s possible that both of these legendary people are the same and the context of each story is different from culture to culture, but there’s a mass belief in this spirit of a woman with long hair that grieves. With the Banshee, a lot of the context I received from my informant and from her father, who followed up with some context is that the main thing about the Banshee is that you hear her, but you don’t really see her, which I also thought was very interesting in relevance to our class discussions about ghosts and spirits.  It seems as if in American folklore we’re much more scared of seeing actual ghosts, but here there’s a clear fear of hearing the Banshee.

 

For another version of this story, see p. 9-19 of Elliott O’Donnell’s 2010 Banshee (Project Gutenberg)

Brian O’Donnell

The following is a story about an Irish legend.  The informant is represented by the letter S, and I am represented by the letter K.

Piece:

K: Tell me more of the Irish folklore you know about.

S: So, uhm, another story I’ve heard is – uh – about a man named Brian O’Donnell and uh, it was Halloween night, which is called Samhain, and that’s when the fairies uhm, move from their winter homes to their summer homes – or uh, their summer homes to their winter homes, sorry.  And uhm, when- when they do this- the trouping fairies- when they do this, they’ll usually take somebody into their fairy fort, so that they can make them dance for them, basically.  They dance and dance until the kind of, fall over and die, I don’t know. So, uh, the story goes that- uhm, Brian O’Donnell was wanting to see the fairies or something and uh- uhm he sees them – No!- he sees the fairy fort and he hears them and he goes in and he sees fairies talking about the night of drinking and dancing they’re gonna have, uhm, after they- they bring this girl back. Uhm, so he knows that he can’t just sit around and wait, so he goes and he waits outside the fairy fort for the fairies to come with the girl and when he does, he grabs- he grabs the girl from the fairies and he holds her and he’s saying, “God bless you! God bless you!” ’cause the fairies won’t come near you if you say “God bless you.” Uhm, but one of the fairies turns and slaps the girl, and uhm, gives her the fairy stroke, so from that point on she couldn’t talk. So she couldn’t tell Brian where she lived or where she came from. So, he took care of her for a year, and then, uhm, he knew that the next Halloween, he would have to do something. So he went back to the fairy fort, and he hears, uhm, the fairies talking and saying, remember that night of drinking and dancing we were gonna have, but that Brian O’Donnell, took that fun away from us. Uhm, but we gave her the old fairy stroke, so she can’t tell him anything anyway. But then, he hears them say, “if she only had three mouthfuls of that food on the table right there, she’d be- she’d be telling him everything.” So, he doesn’t hesitate and he runs, and he grabs the food, and he gets out of there and he takes the food back to his house and uhm, the girl takes a mouthful and she starts laughing. She takes another mouthful, and she’s laughing more.  By the third mouthful, she’s able to fully talk and so, uhm, she starts telling him where she lives and how to get there and so, they set out on foot, they didn’t have any horses. And it was about a 2 day walk to where she lived, and uhm, they knock on the door and her dad answers the door, and he passes out from shock because they thought they lost her, but eventually after, he hears the story, and he says, “Brian O’Donnell, you obviously love my daughter very much and uh, I would like to give your blessing for marriage.” So, they end up getting married and there we go.  The end.

Context:

We were sitting at a dining room table on Easter Sunday.  We had just eaten dinner and celebrated the holiday.  We were sitting around and just talking and sharing stories and folklore that we knew about.  The informant is my friend’s younger sister, so she lives at the home we were at and she was sitting with her friend, with me, her brother, and our other friend sat across from them.

My Thoughts:

This legend acts as a kind of heroic model for children, in my opinion.  In a lot of tales, we see characters being brave and heroic which is meant to inspire kids to grow up as courageous young adults.  I think this legend is similar in idea.  One thing I thought was really interesting, in terms of context, is that when the informant was telling me this story, her brother was sitting nearby and before she told me the legend, he said he didn’t think she should tell me because he thinks it’s a real story.  This made me think of the discussion about how different legends are so much more believable depending on where you come from.  I remember discussing that to a lot of Americans, aliens are 100% real, but in other cultures, they’re a complete myth.  In Irish culture, fairies and leprechauns have a large number of believers, but in America, fairies and leprechauns are mythological creatures.  I thought this was so interesting to witness first hand.  Regardless of whether this legend is real or not, though, I thought it was super interesting and definitely serves to act as a model of bravery with hidden religious undertones, which we see with the “God bless you” acting as a safety technique against fairies.  Another piece of context that actually kind of freaked me out a bit was right before the informant got to the part where she said, “God bless you,” one of the other people sitting at the dining room table sneezed, which was super coincidental, but kind of weird in terms of the context.

Origin of Leprechauns and Fairies

The following is a story about the origin of leprechauns and fairies.  The informant is represented by P and I am represented by K.

Piece: 

P: Have you ever heard about how Leprechauns were born?

K: No.

P: So, many, many, many years ago, there was a great battle in Heaven.  There was the Devil and Michael the Archangel, and it was like at a time, and they were like “you’ve gotta make a choice, you’ve gotta either go with God or you go with the Devil.” So, the Devil, Satan, Beelzebub, whatever you call him, had gathered in his army and Michael the Archangel had gathered his army.  God was sitting in the middle, he was up on the throne, just watching the battle unfold. So… people had to take a choice, what were you gonna do? Were you gonna go fight with Satan? And on a battle against God in Heaven. Or were you gonna go with Michael… the Archangel and fight against Satan, and protect what they had.  So there was a group of people who didn’t go one way or the other.  So, the battle was over, we all know that Michael the Archangel won.  Satan was banished from Heaven forever to go to… the fiery pits of Hell and live a life of gnashing of teeth and gnawing and stuff. Then, there was these people in the middle that were left.  So God said, “heh, you need to get rid of ’em. They’re gone.” Michael the Archangel pleaded for them.  He said, “Look, we know that they didn’t fight for us, but they’re not bad enough to put with Him and leave ’em down in Hell.” And God said, “Okay, just get rid of them and let them fall where they are.” So, the Heavens opened, all of them “angels” that didn’t take a side, all fell and they kept falling and kept falling, they landed in Ireland.  They landed in Ireland and they became the leprechauns, they became the fairies, the sheep people… of Ireland. And… they say they have a face, the leprechaun have the face of a shriveled apple.  You know? They’re- they’re one… of the… there’s different types of fairies and leprechauns.. and.. and.. sheep people, but the leprechauns are ones that spend time on their own.  So they like to be on their own. You hear the tap tap tap when they’re making their shoes, they’re supposed to be the shoemakers of the fairy people, so the fairies come and need new shoes and the leprechaun, but you’d never see two leprechauns together.  The fairies, on the other hand, they like to hang out with each other.  They like to play, they like to party.  They’re really good with the music and the singing and the dancing and the- that whole lot. And… you know, years ago, you’d see a will-o-the-wisp or a speck of dust coming across the street, and you’d be like oh, that’s the fairy people, you know. And then, before we had toilets and running water, we used to just open the window and just… throw our… bits… out onto the street.  But the women of the house would always look- they’d always look, in case there was a will-o gone by, and if there was, they’d wait, and if there wasn’t, then they’d just… throw it out, ’cause the chances were if there was a will-o gone by, they’d throw it on the fairies or the leprechauns or the sheep people and you’d be ending up with bad luck because of that.

K: Where’d you hear all this from?

P: These are, you know, they’re all, most of them- most of what we hear are, uh, uh, vocal- oral stories, you know? I mean, there’s a lot written down about it, but you know, you just never know. You’ll just be sitting in the house when we were kids and there’d be, you know, a party going on or there’d just be some neighbors over and somebody would just start talking about that kind of  stuff, and then we- we were taught about it in school, and then we’d go to- you know, when I was a teenager, I didn’t live the typical teenage life, you know.  I wasn’t out, you know… drinking and chasing girls and going to the discos and stuff like that, I was out traveling around the country with a friend of mine and we’d go into these bars and people would tell us stories and- but it was all handed down by story-telling and oral.  But there are a lot of books out there and now with YouTube, there’s a lot of fairy channels and stuff like that, and of course, none of them really tell it the way that I heard it when I was a kid.

Context:

I was at the informant’s house, celebrating Easter.  We had finished all of the Easter festivities and the informant was walking around doing housework.  A group of us had been sitting around talking about folklore and the informant walked by, so I asked him if he knew any Irish legends, tales, or myths.  He told me a lot of those stories are real and then asked if I had heard about where leprechauns came from.  I told him I hadn’t, and he leaned against the kitchen counter and proceeded to tell me the story.

My Thoughts:

I actually thought this piece of folklore was one of the most, if not the most, interesting piece of folklore I collected.  I thought it was a super interesting story that I hadn’t heard before, but I really enjoyed hearing.   I had never heard of the creation of leprechauns or fairies before because that wasn’t ever part of the culture I was brought up in.  This piece, like others, reminded me of the idea that some things that people believe in in our society, other societies don’t believe in at all and vice versa. I also thought the idea that these stories are just constantly told around the country at bars and stuff was super interesting.  I feel like here, these stories aren’t really just told all the time, so it seems really cool that this is a natural part of Irish culture.  I think one of the interesting parts of this story is how it really incorporates religion and how these creatures just weren’t good enough but also weren’t bad enough.  The leprechauns having a shriveled face almost seems like a punishment for not choosing a side during the battle.  Overall, I thought this piece of folklore was super interesting.

The Irish Black Dog

Main piece: “The black dog is death.”

Context: The informant is half Irish and half American. Her mother’s side of the family is originally from and still resides in Atlanta, Georgia. Her paternal extended family live in Sligo, Ireland. She grew up culturally Catholic, but she does not consider herself religious. Our conversation took place in February on my couch at home in Atlanta after she began recounting her recent trip to visit family in Ireland. The informant originally heard this saying from her aunt, who recounted a story in which she was attacked by a black dog spirit that jumped on her back in the middle of the night. Her aunt caught a glimpse of the creature over her shoulder, but when she threw the dog off and turned around, it was gone. The phrase “the black dog is death” was already well-known among the informant’s family at the time, but what makes this story even more unsettling is that shortly before the black dog appeared to her aunt, a bog body was found on the family’s property. So, while the informant isn’t a necessarily spiritual or superstitious person, she does somewhat buy into the black dog death spirit, as she describes the impact-fulness of her aunt “trembling” and looking “haunted” whenever she recounted the story. Interestingly, the informant does not believe that the would ever personally encounter the black dog, as she isn’t as in-tune with the spiritual world, but she still maintains: “I’m really glad the black dog didn’t visit me.”

Personal thoughts: The informant’s mindset that part of encountering the stuff of legends is simply buying into them is particularly interesting to me; she simultaneously validates her aunt’s experiences while doubting that she could experience the same, which speaks to the potential placebo effect that folk beliefs have on people. Just because doubt could easily be lent to the details of the story does not mean that the experience itself did not occur. There is no way of knowing what exactly happened to BN’s aunt, but her story and BN’s subsequent reaction to it indicates that belief itself can be more powerful than absolute truth. Additionally, the wording of the proverb “the black dog is death” does not communicate that the appearance of a black dog heralds death, but rather that the black dog is death itself. Perhaps by giving the abstract concept of death a knowable, mortal form, the people of Ireland can feel a little more control over their own mortality. To mold death into a dog opens up the possibility of training death like you would train your own pet, and therefore conquering the unconquerable.

Banshees

Main piece: It is said that the howling winds of the Irish coast are formed from the screams of women suffering and dying – otherwise known as banshees. Therefore, any time you hear a particularly loud or chilling gust of wind, a woman is in agony somewhere.

Context: The informant (BN) is half Irish and half American. Her mother’s side of the family is originally from and still resides in Atlanta, Georgia. Her paternal extended family live in Sligo, Ireland. She grew up culturally Catholic, but she does not consider herself religious. Our conversation took place in February on my couch at home in Atlanta after she began recounting her recent trip to visit family in Ireland. BN originally heard this myth that explains Ireland’s winds from her cousin and godmother, who both reside on the coast of Ireland. As she told me about banshee winds, she visibly sunk in on herself and god chills multiple times. “Those winds will always be branded into my memory, because it’s kind of traumatizing as a child, since they really do sound like screams.” When asked if she believed in the myth in a literal sense, she said that only when she’s in Ireland does she truly believe: “everything in Ireland is just so magical and ancient.”

Personal thoughts: What I find most intriguing about this myth is that it touts the age-old trope of a woman’s suffering becoming immortalized through nature or supernatural occurrences. It is not difficult to realize that you don’t see many folk tales, legends or myths that emphasize male suffering – rather, male-centric stories tend to be about heroism or strife that is overcome through perseverance. Women, however, are historically known for subjugation and suffering, which is perhaps why when people first heard the harsh winds of Ireland, they thought of a dying woman rather than a dying animal, a shrieking child, or even just harsh weather at face value. Additionally, what makes the banshee wind myth of Ireland a myth is that it seeks to explain a very prominent and ancient natural phenomenon in Ireland with a concept we are familiar with: female suffering. For external reference of this myth, see “THE BANSHEE.” The Louisville Daily Journal (1839-1868), Nov 25 1839, p. 2. ProQuest. Web. 18 Apr. 2019 .

What’s the difference between an Irish wedding and an Irish wake?

Subject: American Joke on Irish Drinking Habits

Collection: “Q: What’s the difference between an Irish wedding and an Irish wake?

A: One less drunk.”

Background Info: This joke was told on the 30 March 2018 by A. Haynes. He is a resident of San Clemente, is a proud father of two children, and still married to his high school sweetheart.

Context: I recorded this joke from a friend of my father at dinner at an Italian restaurant in San Clemente, CA. At the table was also another childhood friend who was visiting from Hawaii, where he now lives with his wife. As part of the celebrating their reunion, the men ordered two pints of beer. This joke was shared as the waitress was setting the beer down on the table.

Analysis: The joke was shared out of the jovial spirit of the moment. The speaker knew that neither of the two people to whom he addressed the joke (I overheard on accident and then asked permission to document it) would have any objections to the unflattering portrayal of the Irish as drunkards who in turn do not properly honor the dead or the insensitivity towards the treatment of death.

In fact, one of the main subjects of conversation at dinner that night was the death of a family friend (ironically, one who suffered from alcohol addiction for the total of her adult life) who was close to all three families present at the meal. Drinking is commonly thought of as a social and jovial activity with contradicts the nature of death. The news of her death weighing heavily on the brain, all present were aware that our present happiness, might be disrespectful or, at least, not doing proper honor to her memory. The joke itself also deals with the oxymoronic relationship between death and drinking and what it means to return to normality following a death.

We later learned that the speaker of the joke has gone on a diet in the last six months, the reason for him not ordering the Rigatoni Pomodoro, his favorite dish. In this context, the joke can then also be read as a comment on excess. He is a man who is trying to improve his health through changing his diet, making his consumption of beer seem counter-intuitive. However, by sharing a joke over a pint of beer marks this occasion as one worthy of indulgence.

In conclusion, the joke capitalizes on stereotypical beliefs of the Irish to be drunks with curious funeral rites to reveal anxieties about death and indulging in drink, especially if the two are related.

For Further Readings: An interesting collection and commentary of Irish-as-drunks can be found at “SoberRecovery : Alcoholism Drug Addiction Help and Information > Social Groups > Recovery Follies” in the folder entitled “What’s the difference in an Irish Wedding and Wake?”.  One participant in the online forum, Nocellphone, responded to the joke with, “Always loved that one! You’ll find lighthearted stuff and jokes in the Recovery Follies forum. Just keep scrolling down…”. This environment shows a different type of indulgence: jokes to build support and comradery out of deprivation of the item that the group otherwise has in common.

The House Across the Street

My informant, an Irish-American male, grew up immersed in Irish culture. He was excited to share his stories with me — especially because sharing stories is an important part of Irish social culture. I collected this story (which he learned from his father) from him while we sat on his couch:

 

“Back in Ireland, there’s this house across the street with an old man — and he’s a rat bastard — he’s a piece of s***. He used to be an IRA [Irish Republican Army]. He would beat his wife — his kids… and one day he was arrested and sent to prison. The day he got out, his whole family celebrated (as they do) with lots and lots of alcohol. So everyone’s drinking and he pulls out a Ouija board and someone in the room is like, “witchcraft it’s evil.” [the informant backtracks] Oh, and the guys name is Patty. [Back to the original story] He said, “no, no, no. It’s fun we used it in prison and it’s just a nice, fun game. Let’s try to see if we can contact our grandmother.” And so they they use it on on the table and they contacted his grandmother, whatever — and the grandmother was was also just a huge b***h when she was alive. Also abusive and terrible. And then someone across the room holding a beer says, “alright, well it’s been nice talking to you we got to go now. We’re praying for you.” But then he follows it with: “I don’t need your prayers where I am.” And everyone in the room s***s their pants. They scream they run. And after that, Patty was a much more secluded guy. He never really talked to anyone. One of his sons (that was never in) was there that night he went crazy. And they lived in the house next door because they’re connected houses over there. The son got up to go to the bathroom one night. And as he was going over to the bathroom he saw this ghostly white figure come across the hallway and he was a little disturbed… but, like, it’s Ireland so you kind of don’t really pay attention that much to that. And then his wife was in the room and she goes, “honey, who’s there? I just saw someone walk across the doorway.” And the husband says, “oh my God! I just saw someone walk across the hall. That’s really creepy.” And so they sort of, like, bless themselves, and go to bed. And this was in the house directly next to it [the Ouija board event] — because the houses are connected. the figure would come out of the wall that that they shared with the other house. And, you know, ever since since that day when when they used the Ouija board legitimately the sun doesn’t shine on on that house on the street. Like I said: hardly ever.”

 

My informant added that his dad told him this story first, and then he went to see the house from the story. He says it’s true that the sun doesn’t shine on the house. Even on days where the sun is fully illuminating the houses around it, this house is still shrouded in shadow.

 

Analysis:

Because my informant did not share his belief in the dark magical curse the Ouija board left on the house, he probably sees it as a legend attached to the house. His story takes place in the real world, but the events may or may not actually be true. I personally find it to be a fun story to tell at a social gathering. I can picture my informant being told the story by an active bearer (his father), and becoming a passive bearer until he shared the story with me when I interviewed him.