You may know the classic Irish good luck associated with finding a four-leaf clover, or hanging a horseshoe with its points up, but ‘The luck of the Irish’ may be internationally recognised and, when it comes to well-established local superstitions, there are as many bad omens as good – if not more.
So don’t be surprised if your Irish friend interrupts themselves to salute a magpie, or seems more pleased than you’d expect to have an itchy hand.
Have you heard of these strange Irish superstitions?
First, many Irish people believe in leprechauns and fairies and, If you ever speak of them, always refer to them as “the good people” or they will play pranks on you!
As sweet as the name sounds, fairies are not to be disturbed, and revenge for any upheaval could range from sleepless nights to death, causing many farmers to still report being afraid to disturb a fairy fort on their land.
In fact, It’s bad luck to destroy a fairy ring (natural circles of mushrooms or trees), or to disturb a fairy fort (the remnants of stone circles)—especially in the spring, when “the good people” are believed to be most active.
Archaeologists, however, explain the presence of these circular structures or ‘raths’ as the mounds and protective enclosures that family groupings made around their living quarters during the Iron Age to early-Christian periods.
If you see magpies, similar to crows, the number of them has significance, as told by the nursery rhyme:
One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,
Seven for a secret never to be told.
Many Irish superstitions in fact revolved around the pesky crow, who antagonised farmers in myriad ways and so made for a convenient collective enemy.
However, a solo magpie can strike fear into the heart of a passerby as no crow can. There is some muddying between the Irish and English versions of magpie folklore, but the general belief is that saluting the magpie (and sometimes telling him or her the time) will stave off the sorrow, and a duo of magpies conversely brings joy. Another bird-related Irish superstition states that anyone who kills a robin will have lifelong bad luck.
New shoes on the bed is bad.
Save yourself and your life and never ever put your new shoes on the table or on the bed. It might be one of the oldest superstitions, but the Irish still don’t try to test it.
Another curious superstition originated with the selling of livestock in ancient Ireland: If you’re buying something at fair, give a luck penny to the seller in addition to the sale price. To seal the luck, the seller must then spit on your hand and slap you!
Also having a bird poo on you is good luck, and this one feels like it might have come about to make unlucky people feel a bit better. This superstition supposedly originated in Russia, and maybe the Irish have just taken to it so strongly as it happens relatively frequently on the Emerald Isle.
The belief also extends to a bird pooing on your car.
And, if your ears are burning, It means that people are talking about you! If your left ear is warm, they’re saying nice things…but, if it’s the right, they’re saying the opposite!
It’s often remembered with the rhyme, “Left for love, right for spite.”
Well, If both ears are burning, you’ve probably had too much Irish whiskey. While the origins of this ancient expression are murky, it is an example of a superstition that is wholeheartedly embraced by the Irish and has permeated also other cultures.
On the other hand, an itchy nose can be annoying enough as it is, but the belief that it signifies a fight is coming in your near future brings another level of irritation. To nip the conflict in the bud, some believe a light punch and handshake with the suspected combatant will be enough.
There is also another itchy, but this has both a positive and negative spin. An itchy palm on your left hand means that someone is going to pay you money – although some also believe you need to spit on your hand to bring that to fruition. An itchy right palm means you will have to pay out money soon, and no amount of spit will turn that fortune around.
Never enter one door and exit out another!
For example, entering through the front door and exiting out the back, because it’s believed that removes the luck from the home.
Alway about your home, plant rosemary near your front door to keep evil away.
Through the ages, rosemary has been regarded by the Irish as well as many different cultures as a magical herb for protection.
Us poor clumsy folk should worry about more than just an awkward exit when getting out of our chairs.
In fact, If you happen to knock over your chair as you get up, it’s said to bring bad luck and not only embarrassment.
And, If you break a looking glass, on the other hand, you’ll have seven years of bad luck!
This one dates back to Roman times, in which folks believed that when you looked into a looking glass, you were actually looking into your soul and, as such, breaking the mirror damaged your soul. There was some respite, however, provided by the counter-belief that our souls regenerate every seven years, so the damage was over.
But don’t look too long at yourself in the mirror or the devil will appear over your shoulder!
When you’re making Irish soda bread, mark it with a “cross” to let the devil out!
Soda bread was traditionally a staple of many Irish households as it could be cooked easily from basic, cheap ingredients, flour, soured milk, baking soda, in a bastible pot suspended over the home fire with no need for an oven. To this day, the person who is baking scores a cross through the top of the bread before baking – the practical reason is to facilitate more even cooking, but the more spiritual interpretation traditionally was the other…
And, If your husband or wife is leaving, throw a boot (or shoe) after them and you’ll live together forever. (Because you’ll have already given them the boot!)
If a candle doesn’t burn in the window throughout Christmas, bad luck will come to the house the following year.
Well, soft lights in the window aren’t just for hygge at Christmas in Ireland. A candle in the window of an Irish home at Christmas traditionally signified that the holy family would be welcomed, and acted as a more general symbol of hospitality and interrupting the hospitality by letting the light go out is still thought to be bad luck to many.
Giving something sharp to a friend can literally “cut” your friendship. In Ireland and several other countries, giving or passing someone a knife or scissors is said to sever the relationship.
Luckily, there is a way around this: by accepting a coin in exchange. So you can still get your friends and family some fancy kitchen knives for Christmas, but be sure they give you (at least) 10 or 20 cents in return.
Ha’pennies were taken out of circulation in Ireland in January 1987, and even one and two cent euro coins ceased being physically circulated in the country in 2015. However, it’s still seen as bad luck to leave a coin lying around, so many people ignore any hygiene trade-off to pick up and pocket whatever shiny piece they see on the pavement.
And, when a fisherman is boarding the boat, throw a piece of coal at them for good luck!
Do you believe in any of these Irish superstitions?
Or did you know it?
Images from web – Google Research