Tag Archives: Ireland

Irish Superstition about Pearls



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.


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.


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.

Funeral – Ireland

My informant is Irish-Korean. When her grandfather passed away, her family flew to Ireland for the funeral. She explained to me a couple of the events that took place for his funeral:

“So my Granddad passed away two years ago. The first funeral event we had, we had kind of like this viewing of the body for close relatives. They are very ‘light feelings’ I guess about death in Ireland so they just had my Granddad kind of exposed in the kitchen right where the food was. No one found it weird and it was just a very normal thing to do. He was in my uncle’s house and not in a proper setting. He was in a coffin, but like an open coffin. Kind of laying super casually by all the food, and people were eating around him and I felt really weird. So we had that event, and then that night all his (Granddad’s) sons and daughters– so like my dad and he has seven siblings– all stayed in the house with him there. And they had him there in the living room and they all just slept in the house, I guess to…bond? Or as a last time remembrance? And then we had another open body funeral for the whole community since we’re from a smaller community in Ireland. They had his body in a funeral home and all my siblings and cousins and relatives that could come would kind of stand in a line around the ‘funeral home’ –I don’t really know what the building was–and everyone in the town that knew my Granddad would shake every single relatives hand as a way of showing (and) saying that they’re sorry.”

Although Irish wakes are responses to the death of relatives and close friends, they are much more casual compared to American ones. In Ireland they like to play pranks with the corpse by creating situations where the deceased seems alive. It’s representative of the strange state between life and burial. We can see this when my informant’s grandfather’s corpse was casually set out in the kitchen, as people ate and interacted with each other in a very social and optimistic environment. This is very different from all the funerals I’ve attended; people are very quiet and somber. Their sadness comes from placing emphasis more on the loss of life as opposed to celebrating the life of the deceased. I also thought it was interesting how my informant’s relatives would sleep near the corpse. It’s as though they’re treating her granddad as alive, one last time.

Irish Poem


Terry is a second generation Irish american who grew up in los Angeles in the ‘60s and 70’s. He is now a dentist working and living in the Bay area.


Informant: “There is this poem that my uncle told me back in 1970 when I was 10 years old. My parents sent me to Ireland to live with my cousins for the whole summer. I had never met any of these people before, but knew them through the stories my dad told me about all of them. But one night my uncle Paddy drove me to the Bridge at King John’s Castle in limerick… you know the one we’ve been to before. And he told me that this bridge was where the Banshee would come out late at night if you were walking alone. And then out of nowhere he started rattling off this old irish poem about the banshee called “Drunken Thady and the Bishop’s Lady” and it was a long long poem that took about twenty minutes to say. I was amazed that he had remembered all of it and then we got back in the care and drove back to the house in Janesboro. Then the rest of the summer I tried to memorize the poem just by hearing it over and over so I could tell my dad when I got back home to Los Angeles, but I was never able to remember the entire thing.

Collector: Do you remember any of the poem?

Informant: ughhh oh boy lets see

Before the famed year Ninety-eight,

In blood stamped Ireland’s wayward fate;

When laws of death and transportation

Were served, like banquets, throughout the nation

But let it pass the tale I dwell on

Has not to do with red rebellion.


Uhhhhh and then there is another part at some point that goes


There lived and died in Limerick City,

a dame of fame oh what a pity

that dames of fame should live and die

and never learn for what, or why!

That’s all I can remember.



Collector’s thoughts:

I find it amazing that the informant could remember even the slightest bit of this poem despite having half learned it more than 40 years ago. Being sent at such a young age to stay with Irish relatives reveals how, despite living in the US, his parents and family still valued their Irish heritage and culture. For a full version of the poem see:


Desprit Idjit

L is a 53-year-old homemaker living in Winnetka, IL. L grew up mainly in the northern suburbs of Illinois, but she also lived in Germany and England for a while when she was younger. L speaks English primarily but she is learning French. L attended both the University of Southern California and the University of Wisconsin Madison for her undergraduate college education. L considers herself to be American. She does not really identify with her Welsh ancestry.

Me: Where did the term come from?

L: A crazy woman named Shawna that was leading a tour around Ireland through the ring of Kerry on a huge coach bus. Every time the coach would get stuck, by some car not making room for the coach, or some person walking in front of the coach, in the middle of a sentence explaining what we were seeing at the time, she would blurt out, “Desprit ijit!”

Me: What does it mean?

L: It means a person that is so clueless and is not paying attention, so in English it would be a desperate idiot. Someone who is painfully stupid. It was really more of a pronunciation thing because she had a thick Irish accent. She repeated it throughout our entire trip probably six or seven times a day. So, there were a lot of idiots.

Me: Do you still use the phrase?

L: Desprit ijit? Yeah. All the time. It’s the funniest thing, it cracks everyone up. I use it when I’m driving a lot. But you have to say it with the accent because otherwise it just isn’t as funny.

L talks about how a random phrase that some people in the U.S. likely use, though it sounds different due to the accent, has become so funny to her. The accent of the tour guide and the phrase she said constantly, “desprit ijit,” was so funny to L, and she liked it so much that she has started to use it on a daily basis. She exudes Shawna, the tour guide’s, personality when she get behind the wheel because she has to deal with “deprit ijits” who just don’t know how to drive.

The Children of Lir

I mean I don’t remember who told me honestly. It was probably my mum or dad. They might have told us in school as well. There are two of the endings that are familiar to me, but I couldn’t say for certain which I’m supposed to know. There are a lot of parts of the story that…well I don’t know… it’s very Irish in itself. So more or less once upon a time there was a king in Ireland called Lir. Erm…anyway the king is given from someone else… a guy called Bodb… given a daughter to marry called Aoibh (pronounced Eve) and they have four children… a girl and three sons…erm…and the mother died. So to keep Lir …basically Lir was devastated and missed his wife. So to keep Lir happy, that guy Bodb gave him another woman called Aoife and Aoife married Lir and this is literally Irish version of the wicked stepmother in Cinderella. She was jealous of Lir’s love for his children. So one day she said, “Let’s go swimming in the lake” to the four children. But there are different versions of this ending as well but this is my version…the version I have been told. I’m not really sure which one I’m supposed to know or even which one is the correct ending. Anyways…erm…so she took them off swimming, and when they were in the lake, she used a spell to turn them into swans, and they were supposed to have to roam three different lakes for three hundred years as swans… and to end the spell, the children (now swans) would have to be blessed by a monk… so anyway they were blessed by a monk after nine hundred years and became humans again, but they were super old by that time and died. This is a pretty scary story to be told when you’re young. That’s my version but, again, there are several different ending to that tale, and I’m not sure anyone really knows what the correct ending to this story is. Another one of the endings is that the children were each tied together with invisible silver chains to keep them together, but the children were able to break free of the chains when they transformed into the old withered people. Also there is another version that talks about hearing a bell… and the bell being a sort of a moment for the swans/children to become human again. Another version is that the priest found them and another that they just withered and died. No one really knows what the right ending is. But anyways yeah a lot of these old Irish stories are kind of depressing…it’s a sad, scary story, especially to be told from such a young age, like I was, but yeah… that’s mostly all I know.

This legend has also been published in A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology by James MacKillop and titled “Oidheadh Chlainne Lir,” which can be found at http://www.oxfordreference.com.libproxy2.usc.edu/view/10.1093/acref/9780198609674.001.0001/acref-9780198609674-e-3323#


Background information: My aunt, Lynda Redington, was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, and she is married to my father’s brother, and they now reside in London. She stated this was fairly prominent legend that, as she already mentioned, was even told to them in schools. It is so prominent that she is not even sure where she first heard it – from her parents or in school. For her, it is just one of many intense and dark stories that make up Irish folklore in general, as she mentioned above that most Irish legends are fairly depressing. This story itself does not have very happy ending, as these children are kidnapped and are trapped on a lake for hundreds of years, only to die as old people just as they are brought back to their original human form. I think this story is incredibly interesting and it represents the main idea of folklore well in its multiple endings, and how most people are unsure of how it really ends. This really exemplifies the idea of multiplicity and variation to a point where people are unsure of which end to tell. The context of the performance was via FaceTime as my aunt is very far away. However, it was a good means of getting the story, and I was able to record her very well and word for word.

Irish Banshee

The Banshee was another story I was told about, but not by my parents. My brother used to tell me this to scare me. At night we were outside and there was like a howl, or uh, something that I didn’t recognize, and um, he knew what it was but told me it was a banshee, which is . . . like a woman spirit/witch wanders about at night time crying out with high wails when there is going to be, like, a death in the family and whoever hears it, their family will be effected. Needless to say it scared the hell out of me and I was relieved when no one was dead the next morning! Ha, haha!

Legends about fairies and elves are very important in Ireland. “Believing” in the fair folk, whether you actually believe or not, is considered patriotic. Children raised in Ireland are expected to know of and participate in the belief of the fair folk, although, as is the case with my friend, they largely grew out of the belief of these legends as they grew older.

Irish Fairy Rings

So when I was a kid I lived in the countryside in Ireland. There is a lot of folklore and myths, but the one thing I remember most is, uh, coming across a number of fairy rings in our fields–which is, um, basically a circle of mushrooms or a circle of different color or height grass. I was always told not to walk into these circles, because they are magic fairy forts–which I believed–and that if I disturbed them the faeries would come after me and cause mischief, like putting thorns in my bed, um, or misplacing things on me. Also we were told if we do step into it, to be careful not to take anything from it, or break anything because then the same thing would happen–they would come to get that stick, or, uh, whatever we took, back.

Legends about fairies and elves are very important in Ireland. “Believing” in the fair folk, whether you actually believe or not, is considered patriotic. Children raised in Ireland are expected to know of and participate in the belief of the fair folk, although, as is the case with my friend, they largely grew out of the belief of these legends as they grew older.