Author Archives: Mary Overbey

Folk Belief – Ireland

“In Ireland, when you sneeze, someone’s supposed to say “Dia linn” – literally “God be with us”, fairly standard stuff. But if you sneeze more than once, you have to follow up with a whole load of saints. Usually it goes “Dia lin – Dia ‘s Muire linn – ‘s Padraig, ‘s Seamus, ‘s Brid… (Mary, Patrick, James, Bridget)” and then you need to start getting creative. I am prone to sneezing fits, and have occasionally caused my mother to run out of saints.”

This tradition not only reflects the strong Christian tradition present in Ireland, but shares similarities with the English “God bless you!” and the German “Gesundheit!” (literally “healthy-hood” [] or, less literally “To your health!”
All three reflect general well-wishes toward the individual as he or she experience the minor trauma that is a sneeze, as well as the hope that nothing more serious than a sneeze is approaching.

The Selkie

This is a version of the Scottish selkie legend that Christabel remembers her father telling her when she was small.

” The story is that the selkie is a kind of creature that lives in the sea and looks like a seal, and at the full moon it can shed its seal-skin and turn into a human. This one selkie-girl came up onto the shore one full moon and turned into a human, and a fisherman sitting on the shore saw her and fell in love with her. They talked, and the selkie loved him too, but she put her skin back on and went back to the sea. She came back at the next full moon, and the one after that, and they both fell completely in love, but she always put her skin back on at the end of the night and went back to the sea. Then one night, the fisherman distracted her and stole the seal-skin away so she couldn’t go back to the sea and had to stay with him, and hid it in his chimney. The selkie stayed with him, and had two children, and almost forgot the sea, but every full moon she would go back down to the shore and look out to sea. Then, after a very long time, she found the seal-skin hidden in the chimney, and she was so angry with the fisherman that she cut two pieces out of the skin and wrapped her children up in them, and put her skin back on and took them back to the sea, where they lived as selkies for the rest of their days. ”

There are several theories as to the origin of the selkie story- mostly notably the idea the ancient Scots encountered nomads who were clad in seal skins and began to formulate legends about seal-people (similar to the way that centaur legends formed when Native-American cultures like the Aztecs encountered conquistadors on horseback). The Selkie is a kind of liminal being, existing in-between the sea and the land.

What is fascinating about this particular incarnation of the legend for me is that it features a woman forced to choose between her nature and her love and when the choice is taken away, she reverts to her nature and brings her children with her. It seems a little like Medea with a happier ending.

Annotation: The film The Secret of Roan Inish directed by John Sayles features a selkie story very similar to the one above.

Sea Shanty

This is a folk song that Gabi, who grew up in Rhode Island learned from the “Provincetown Portuguese” side of her family.
“Cape Cod girls they got no hair.
Look away! Look away!
They make their hair with codfish fins,
We are bound for Australia.

Hey-ho, my Billy-billy boys,
We are bound for Australia,
Hey-ho my Billy-billy boys,
We are bound for Australia.

Cape Cod girls they got no combs.
Look away! Look away!
They make their combs with codfish bones,
We are bound for Australia.
(And so on it goes, replacing more and more obscene parts of Cape Cod girls with bits of codfish)”

Research reveals that sea shanties were developed as a way of occupying sailors as they toiled long hours on the seas. One aspect of them that this particular song reflects aptly is the fact that, because up until the early 20th century the American Navy did not allow female sailors, it was easy for the men to sing bawdy songs about females, reflecting a gender divide that existed for a long time in much of military culture (and can still be found in some long-standing traditions like the bawdy song).
The song could also be reflective of a rite of passage, with the sailors leaving home behind for the wilds (and wilder women) of Australia.

Folk Song

“Maresy-dotes andoesy-dotes an liddleambsy-divie, A kiddleedivydoo, woodnchoo?”
Repeat that, with on “Oh” between, and that’s the first verse. Verse two is:
“Oh, it may seem queer, or funny to your ear, a little bit dappled or
jivey, but sing ‘Mares eat oats, and does eat oats, and little lambs eat ivy.'”

This is a happy song that Gabi learned from her grandmother, whom she described as “born and raised working-class Rhode Island Irish.” Research revealed that this is a novelty song that has been around at least since 1943 when the first recording of it was released. Since then, it’s been recorded by several other artists and found success on the pop charts several times, most recently in 1967. []

Annotation: Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver recorded a version of this song that incorporated some of his own lyrics. It can be heard here: and found on promotional copies of the album “12 Bar Blues.”

Folk Song

“So high, you can’t go over it,
So wide, you can’t go ’round it,
So deep, you can’t go under it,
You gotta go right through the door.”

Gabi learned this song from her father when she was a child and remarked that she had always found it a little disturbing. Upon reading those lyrics alone, it would seem to be unsettling because it invokes feelings of a traditional rite of passage (i.e. the inevitable crossing the threshold into adulthood) or intimations of mortality (i.e. in inevitable crossing of the threshold into the afterlife and the potential of subsequent judgment).

Upon research, I found that this song is derivative from a traditional gospel piece called “Rock my soul in the bosom of Abraham.” The full lyrics are:
“Rocka’ my soul in the bosom of Abraham
Rocka’ my soul in the bosom of Abraham
Rocka’ my soul in the bosom of Abraham
Oh, rocka’ my soul.

So high you can’t get over it
So low you can’t get under it
So wide you can’t get ’round it
You gotta’ go in at the door.

Rock, rock, rocka’ my soul
Rocka’ my soul
Rock, rock, rocka’ my soul
Rocka’ my soul.”
Though the song might be referencing “sheol,” in Judaism, the place where the righteous dead await judgment, it seems more likely that it is referring to the “bosom of Abraham” referenced in the Christian Bible in Luke 16:20-23, when the righteous beggar Lazarus is carried there while an unrighteous rich man is sent to Hell. []
In popular culture, the gospel song has been recorded by Elvis Presley, The Temptations, and George Clinton and the Funkadelics.