Leinster Leader, February 2nd 1907
Ancient Customs in Co. Kildare
Interesting Paper by Lord Walter Fitzgerald
Some Curious Historical Finds
At the annual meeting of the County Kildare Archaeological Society held in Naas on Friday last the Earl of Mayo presiding, an interesting paper was read by Lord Walter Fitzgerald entitled “Customs peculiar to certain days formerly observed in the County Kildare.” The paper amongst other entries contained - “It was customary on New Year’s Eve to take a large barm-brack, which the man of the house, after taking three bites out of it dashed against the principal door of his dwelling in the name of the Trinity, at the same time expressing the hope that starvation might be banished from Ireland and go to the King of the Turks. The fragments of the cake were then gathered up and eaten by all the members of the household. Before retiring to rest twelve candles were lit in honour of the Twelve Apostles and the family prayers were said.
St. Brigid’s Day (1st February), formerly observed as a holy day, and called the “Feil Brighde” in Irish and reckoned as the first day of spring in old times. On St. Brigid’s Day the “Breedhogo” was carried round by the young people from house to house at which collections of food and money were made “in honour of Miss Biddy.” This custom was probably a survival of a religious ceremony in which a statue of St.Brigid was carried at the head of a procession. The “Breedhogo” consisted of churn dash round which whisps of hay or cocks of straw were tied to resemble a human figure. A ball of hay served as a head and was covered with a white muslin cap such as worn by old women; the figure was clad in a woman’s dress and a shawl completed the costume. What was known as Brigid’s cross was woven out of straw and stuck up inside the house until replaced by another that night twelve months.
Lent and Easter - Easter Sunday is a moveable Feast as it falls on the first Sunday which follows the first full moon that occurs on or after the 21st March. Hence Lent commences forty days previously, that is on Shrove Tuesday or Shraft, on which day feasting is carried on preparatory to fasting and at night time the great dish is pancakes in one of which is placed a ring fortelling a marriage within a year to the bachelor or spinster in whose help it is discovered on the following day.
May Day - On May Eve it was customary to light bonfires similar to those lighted on St. John’s Eve (23rd June). May morn appears to have been the principal occasion when witch women were able to rob their neighbours of the butter in their unchurned milk; this they did by entering the fields where cows were feeding, between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m., on this particular morning in the year and with cloths wiped up the dew and wrung them into a wooden or tin gallon, which if undisturbed they carried back to their own cabins. If they succeeded in this no amount of churning would during a twelve month bring butter to the cow owner’s churn. Another method of stealing the butter was for a witch woman at the time her neighbour was churning to stir round and round the water in a gallon with a dead woman’s hand. If on May Day’s churning it was discovered that the butter has been already robbed by a witch woman, a plough chain should be looped round the churn, which should be placed on three stones and the colter of the plough should be heated and placed over the churn; it will then be found on commencing to churn again that the butter will come; but during the operation no one on any pretext should be admitted into the house. During the heating of the colter the witch woman will suffer torture, and it is she who will come and endeavour to gain admittance into the house. When the churning is in full swing if anyone thoughtlessly let her in the butter would again disappear to the witch woman’s house. The May bush was cut the day previous and stuck in the ground in front of the house. It was decorated with all the egg shells which had been saved up since Easter Sunday along with ribbons, wild flowers and bits of candles. On May night the latter were lit and dancing took place around the May bush. This custom is of Pagan origin, though at the present time it is thought by people that it is carried out in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Whom the month of May is dedicated. During the whole month of May no fire was allowed to leave the house under any pretext not even a live coal could be handed over the half-door to light a passer’s by pipe, nor could anything be lent or given away out of the house, even if a neighbour or a stranger called for a drink of water, he or she would have to enter the house, help themselves and then replace the vessel on the dresser. On St. John’s Day it was customary for every district to light a bonfire. When the fire burned itself out the cattle were driven through the ashes, this was to prevent them from being over-looked by the evil eye. As some people imagined it was not at all necessary to get drunk to drown the Shamrock. The sprig was in olden times removed from the hat, placed in a glass of grog, then a toast was drunk and the Shamrock was taken out and thrown over the left shoulder.
The Chairman said he brought some old articles of antiquarian interest with him to show them. The first was a badge from the cross belt of he North Naas cavalry in 1796.Another was the Repeal button dated 1844.Early that year Daniel O’Connell was tried with his son and five chief supporters and found guilty of inciting to rebellion and sentenced on May 30th to twelve months’ imprisonment and a fine of £2,000, and ordered to find securities in £5,000 for his good behaviour for seven years. On September 4th of the same year the House of Lords set aside the verdict as erroneous, and on its being made known bonfires blazed all over Ireland, stretching from sea to sea. Another was a button which was struck on the arrival of George 4th in Dublin on August 17th 1821. The King eleven days after his Coronation left London while his Queen was lying on her deathbed, “speeding to the long cherished isle which he loved like his bride.” This, his lordship added, was supposed to be sarcastic. Another he produced was a tenpenny bit, which was given to Mr. Arthur Newing while playing at the Kildare Street Club as part of the stakes. He had also there a bank token for 30 pence Irish. The next was an old Irish Rosary of which he didn’t know the history. He bought it from an old pedlar, who used to go round to the country houses. Fr. O’Leary having examined the rosary, said the pattern certainly was very old-probably 300 or 400 years. The chain, he thought, was modern. The ancient beads were strung on either a cord or leather.
The diary of Sir John Moore, the hero of Corunna, was next mentioned by the Chairman. It was published about four years ago. It gave one of the very few impartial accounts of the Rebellion of ’98, and he would recommend them to read it.
Sir Arthur Vicars then produced two tea caddies of paper work, which were made by ladies chiefly in the early part of the 19th century and the end of the 18th. They were made in Kent of paper work. The edges of the paper were coloured and the interstices filled up. The Chairman so produced a picture of the arrival of George 4th in Sackville Street.
On the motion of Lord Mayo, a vote of thanks was passed to the readers of the papers, and also to the High Sheriff.
The Leinster Leader of February 1907 reports on an interesting paper delivered by Lord Walter Fitzergerald to the County Kildare Archaeological Society on the subject of "Customs peculiar to certain days formerly observed in County Kildare".Our thanks to Roy O'Brien.