Author Archives: Michael McBride

New Years Day, first person to walk through the door

New Years Day. The first person to cross your threshold (walk through your door) had to have dark hair. So my father had black hair, and New Tears Eve after midnight he had to walk through twenty fucking apartments because not many Irish people had black hair. And it had to be a man not a woman.


That was a sign of good luck. Anybody else that came in, you weren’t gonna have a good year.


Since more English people have black hair, or the Irish people that do have black hair are the black Irish, I think that it might be a sign of welcoming guests/foreigners. Or perhaps a preventative magic because the English would have had black hair. Or, simply the fact that black hair is rare, and so it entails rare things (good things) for the rest of the year.

A window open at death

When someone was dying at home, you always had to have a window open so that their soul could leave, even in the dead of winter.


If the window was closed, the soul would be tormented. And then somebody in the house could get sick from what they had. When their soul left, it took the sickness with them.


I’m going to go with a naturalistic explanation on this one. I think that at death, especially in Ireland, the whole family would have gathered around them. With this many people in places that typically wouldn’t have ventilation, perhaps opening a window actually did blow away bacteria in the air and keep family members breathing relatively fresh air.


St. Patrick in Kerry

When St. Patrick was coming through Kerry, he had a pet goat, and they killed the goat and ate it. And St. Patrick put a curse on them, that from that day forward, everyone from Kerry would speak in a way that no one would understand and all the other Irish people would laugh at them.

If we ever met an Irish person that we couldn’t understand, we’d always say they were from Kerry.

I think that this is a simple way of building cultural identity. There is a certain anxiety with not being able to understand people that are supposedly ‘from your own homeland’, so they need a reason to justify this, and being that so many Irish people are Catholic, a faux-reigious reason gives it verisimilitude.


Jewish Naming

In the Jewish religion, you always name your kid after someone who has died, it was Jewish tradition. So, I’m named after my Mother’s father, who’s name is Jack. So I never quite figured out how Jane ended up being Jack, but whatever. He passed away within 24 hours of my birth. And I’m named after him.

My mom always told me that Papa Jack would watch over me from heaven because I was named after him. All of the kids are named after relatives she thought would keep watch on them from Heaven.

The most common Jewish reason associated with this has to do with fooling the angel of death—that if you name a baby after a living person, the angel might get confused and take the baby by accident. I can see how this oikotype would appear in my family because now and in America infant mortality rates are much lower than they were, so what becomes more important is having the children ‘looked after’. Whereas concern used to be on infant death, now it’s on the growing up process.


When ever a Jewish person said something good, they always said “Kennahera”.


It prevented a kind of jinx. It wards off the evil eye.


This is basic preventative magic. It’s like a Jewish version of ‘knocking on wood’. It’s just a way of trying to control the uncontrollable– also, I notice that unlike knock on wood, you say it when something GOOD is brought up. I think this is because, at least form my family, the Jewish culture seems to always expect negative things to happen.