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Beliefs concerning the blacksmith

Many interesting beliefs were handed down in the oral tradition concerning the blacksmith, including these examples:

Dipping your hand into a blacksmith’s bosh (the water tub used to quench the hot iron) is traditionally supposed to cure such things as warts.

People would never steal from a blacksmiths forge as they believed some misfortune would befall them.
 The story goes that, on their way to Bethlehem, the Blessed Virgin Mary wanted something to button her cloak with. Joseph asked a tinker for a nail but the tinker had no time to get one. Joseph asked a shepherd for a thorn but the shepherd was too busy with his sheep. So Joseph approached a Blacksmith who obliged him by making a brooch from a coin.

Tinkers are said to be left wandering because they were the ones that made the nails used to crucify the Lord, after  the blacksmith refused to make them.


The Blacksmith in Ancient Ireland
The skill and strength of the blacksmith has been bending metal to the desired shape for well over 4000 years in Ireland. Using the heat of the fire in his forge to make the metal flexible, he then shapes it using a variety of tools, many of which he makes himself.
In Ireland, the blacksmith traditionally played an important role in the community; he not only shod horses and donkeys as a farrier, but also repaired agricultural implements, shod wheels and often made gates and railings. It used to be that every town and village in Ireland had at the very least, one forge and a blacksmith.

The Blacksmith in Irish Folklore
In ancient Ireland Goibniú was the Smith of the Tuatha Dé Danann and one of the three gods of craft (Na Trí Dé Dána), along with Credne and Luchta.
Goibniu is seen most vividly in the Battle of Moytura where he is a tireless armourer, providing Lug Lámfhota with the spear that penetrates Balor's eye. His keen tips are always lethal.
At times Goibniu himself was involved in warfare. When the Fomorian spy Rúadán , the son of Bres and Brigit, impaled Goibniu with one of his own spears, the smith took it from his body and dispatched the young man with it. This caused the mother, here known as Bríg, to wail the first keening heard in Ireland.
Genealogies disagree on Goibniu's lineage. He may be a grandson of the wargod Néit, as is Balor, and one of the four sons of Esarg, along with Credne, Luchta, and Dian Cécht, the healing god.
n another account he is the brother of the Dagda, Nuadu Airgetlám, Credne, and Luchta, with whom he helps to conquer Ireland for the Tuatha Dé Danann. In yet other texts Tuirbe Trágmar the axe-thrower, father of the Gobbán Saor, is named as Goibniu's father. Sometimes Goibniu is named as foster-father of Lug Lámfhota instead of Manannán mac Lir.
Along with his smithing, Goibniu was often seen as a healer; his name is invoked on an Old Irish charm to aid removal of a thorn. More significantly, he is host of an other-worldly feast, Fled Goibnenn, where guests imbibed great quantities of an intoxicating drink now identified with ale. Instead of getting drunk, those attending would be protected from old age and decay.
Goibniu's forge (Cerdchae Ghaibhnenn), was usually thought to lie east of Mullaghmast hill in Glenn Treithim along the Kildare-Wicklow border. The once abundant copper ore in this area allowed early metalsmiths to make shields and spear-points. Other traditions place the forge on the Beare peninsula, Co. Cork, and elsewhere.

Shrove Tuesday: (Pancake Tuesday)

The lead-in to Easter was traditionally of huge significance in the Irish Christian calendar. The Easter period still begins with the festival of Shrove Tuesday, also known as Pancake Tuesday. Pancakes are widely consumed in Ireland on this day.

Meat, eggs, and dairy were once prohibited during Lent, so people were keen to use them up before Ash Wednesday; pancakes were a good way of doing this.

Many European countries mark a period of carnival and festivities before the period of penance and fasting that begins with Ash Wednesday, when ashes are put on a believer’s forehead as a sign of repentance to God.

This carnival period appears to be pre-Christian in origin, marking the beginning of the spring season. The festival was incorporated by the Christian Church in the late 16th century.


Ireland’s festivities were primarily held in the home, with family and friends gathered around the fireplace to cook up a feast. Shrovetide also seems to have been a time for telling the future.

The family group and the neighbouring “boys and girls” gather round the fireside; and each in turn try skill in tossing the pancake. The first to try their luck  is always given  to the eldest unmarried daughter of the host, who performs the task not altogether without trepidation, for much of her “luck” during the year is supposed to depend upon her good or ill success on the occasion.

She tosses it, and usually so cleverly as to receive it back again without a ruffle on its surface, on its reverse, in the pan. Congratulations upon her fortune go round, and another makes the effort: perhaps this is a sad mischance; the pancake is either not turned or falls among the turf ashes; the unhappy maiden is then doomed - she can have no chance of marrying for a year at least - while the girl who has been lucky is destined to have her ‘pick of the boys’ as soon as she likes. The cake she has tossed, she is at once called upon to share, and cutting it into as many slices as there are guests, she hands one to each: sometimes the mother’s wedding ring has been slipped into the batter out of which the first cake is made, and the person who receives the slice in which it is contained, is not only to be first married, but is to be doubly lucky in the matter of husband or wife.

Men are also permitted to have a chance; and it is a great source of amusement to jog their elbows at the important moment, and so compel them to “toss the cake crooked”.

Ireland does not have a public Mardi Gras celebration but in recent years St. Patrick’s Day festivities have come close to resembling it. The festival marks the life and times of St. Patrick, the Christian saint, kidnapped from Wales by Irish pirates, and widely credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland in the fifth century. Patrick is most likely one of several early-Christian preachers, including Palladius, who spread the new religion in around the fifth and sixth centuries.

According to legend, Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland (in fact, Ireland is snake free because of the last ice age, but maybe the snakes referred to are  “serpents” or perceived false gods of the pagan religion, who were driven out of Ireland through Patrick’s influence).

A parade has been held in Dublin since the 1950s (an industrial pageant.) Nowadays St. Patrick Day is the focus of a four-day festival aimed at the international and domestic tourism markets.

Many local communities across Ireland hold their own parades, which are planned throughout the year and which draw on local community groups and artistic and musical organisations to take part, firmly rooting the event back into the local calendar. At the same time, the parades have grown to reflect the multi-cultural nature of Ireland, which has absorbed hundreds of thousands of immigrants from across the world since the mid-1990s.
The festival is observed by Irish people worldwide. It is not just a major national holiday in Ireland, but a national day that is celebrated throughout the world, with parades happening in Argentina, America, Australia, the UK, Canada, Japan, Korea, China, South Africa, and many other countries.

Rivers are dyed green, Irish foods such as bacon and cabbage are served up (in America, corned beef and cabbage),greeting cards are sent, Irish music and dancing takes place, Irish symbols such as the harp, the shamrock, and the leprechaun are used and celebrations are held. Alcohol, particularly Irish drinks such as whiskey and Guinness, have become associated with the day – perhaps more due to slick marketing than any true association with the day.

The religious roots of the day have, to a large extent, become shrouded and forgotten; the festival today is as much associated with emigration, carnival, commercialisation, and other influences, and is celebrated by people of all religions and none.

St. Patrick’s Day

Ash Wednesday & Lent in rural Ireland

Ash Wednesday marks the start of Lent, one of the holiest times of the year in Ireland. For many generations people have gone to church on this day to have their brow symbolically marked with a cross of ashes. The ashes came from burning the palms saved from the previous Palm Sunday.

At least one person from each household attended the Ash Wednesday ceremony and they would bring home a pinch or two, so that all family members could have their foreheads marked. The priest used his right thumb to apply the ashes while reciting “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return”.

This ritual marked the start 40-day Lenten season. It was once a time of austere fasting. No animal products of any kind were eaten or used in cooking. This meant total abstinence from meat, eggs, butter, milk and animal fats. The frying pan was cleaned and put away.

For breakfast, a family might have had a small meal of dry bread, or porridge, washed down with black tea - and then the same for supper. For their midday dinner, the meal was usually potatoes seasoned with fish or onions. Families living on the coast most likely would have augmented the dinner menu with shellfish and edible seaweed.

Traditionally, children over the age of seven years received no milk, while younger children were given it sparingly, and an infant, according to folklore was "allowed to cry three times before he got his milk on fast days".

Lent was supposed to be spent in penitential prayer; all socializing came to a halt. That meant no music, dancing, card games or even visiting with the neighbours. In many homes, the musical instruments were stored away, and the deck of cards was burned. A new deck would not be purchased and brought into the house until Lent was over. Many people also gave up smoking as well as alcohol 'for the duration'.

By the mid nineteenth century the rules for Lenten fast were relaxed so that the majority of Irish people observed 'the black fast'- one meal and just water to drink only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. There was also a welcome break from fasting on St. Patrick’s Day.

Stained glass depicting the artists impression of St Patrick

“The Brideog”
On Saint Brigid’s Eve, in many areas children would tour the village carrying an effigy of the saint, called the Brideog ... basically a doll in white clothes. They had the right to pick up the offerings left out. Coming around they would chant some ancient rhymes like:  

St Brigid’s Day  Là la Brid

 Imbolg February 1st.

In ancient Ireland we had many pagan festivals which with the coming of Christianity were changed to saints feast days. Other traditions, once vibrant in the pre-Christian tradition, survive in folk memory but are losing pace. St. Brigid’s Day celebrated on February 1, has its origins in a pagan festival, Imbolc, derived from the old Irish “I mbolc” (in the belly), which refers to the pregnancy of ewes.

St. Brigid’s Day is a celebration of the coming of spring, the promise of renewal, and the hope of rebirth. The Christian saint Brigid probably did exist; her memory survives in folk tradition as the Abbess of Kildare, but it is a memory shrouded in legend and myth.

The first of February marks the first day of spring and has many names mainly because it was such an important date for farmers and people growing crops to survive, as it was the first day of Spring and it was very important to gain favours with the Gods and Goddesses and Saints to help with the new crops and therefore a good harvest. On this day St. Brigid is said to bring light awakening the land and bringing the possibility of new growth. 

On her feast day butter was always freshly churned and bread baked for supper. After supper the family made St Brigid's crosses out of rushes gathered for this purpose. The crosses were then hung over the doors in the house, the dairy and the cowshed to gain her protection in the year ahead.

There were several sayings passed down in folklore regarding St. Brigid’s Day. One stated that: “Every second day from St. Brigid’s Day onwards would be fine”, while another claimed that a wet February is supposed to herald a fine summer!

The saint’s character was most likely confused – somewhat deliberately – with the pagan goddess Brighid. Both born of a pagan father, the saint and the goddess share many of the same characteristics and both are associated with fire, fertility, land, and creative arts. The best-known of Brigid’s traditions is the St. Brigid’s Cross, but other traditions “The Brideog”, a doll who represented the saint and St Brigid's Mantle (Brat Bríde.)

Brigid’s Cross

Making a St. Brigid’s cross is one of the traditional rituals in Ireland to celebrate the beginning of early spring, 1st February. The crosses are made of rushes that are pulled rather than cut. They are hung by the door and in the rafters to protect the house from fire and evil. According to tradition a new cross is made each St Brigid's Day, and the old one is burned to keep fire from the house.

Many homes have several crosses preserved in the ceiling the oldest blackened by many years of hearth fires. Some believe that keeping a cross in the ceiling or roof is a good way to preserve the home from fire which was always a major threat in houses with thatch and wood roofs. St. Brigid and her cross are linked together by the story that she wove this form of cross at the death bed of either her father or a pagan lord, who upon hearing what the cross meant, asked to be baptized.

Brat Bríde

The brat or cloak or mantle of Brigid was a ribbon, piece of cloth, or an article of clothing. They were left outside on the evening before the feast of Imbolc to receive the blessing of Brigid as she passed through the household. After wards, the cloths and ribbons were used as talismans of protection and healing, particularly aiding childbirth.

Ribbons and strips of cloth were sewn into clothing or carried in a pocket. Articles of clothing were worn in times of stress and need; for example, a woman might wear a man’s vest while giving birth. Shawls that had been blessed might be laid on ailing human or animal while a prayer of healing was recited.

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