One for sorrow, two for joy…
As much as we smirk at many of Ireland’s ancient superstitions, most of us would suffer the heebie-jeebies if we didn’t at least give a magpie a casual wave (a pinky-finger salute is fine too if people are watching).
While ‘the luck of the Irish’ is an American phrase that originated when Irish miners struck gold during the 19th Century gold and silver rush in California, we are still a nation given to the odd notion, especially when there’s potential good fortune to be had, whether it’s a pot of gold or a stray tenner on the street.
Who doesn’t want to leave the door open for a random windfall?
Luckily for us, a number of curious beliefs and lucky charms have been carefully archived for future generations by the National Folklore Collection. Shared with the project by volunteers, many of whom were interviewed by their children and grandchildren, here are 13 Irish superstitions that are much more commonly believed that you might think…
1. Here’s the deal with magpies
“To meet one magpie is a sign of bad luck, to meet two a sign of good luck.” explains Michael Casey.
But if two persons see the one magpie the bad luck is broken, or you can break the bad luck by saying “Bad luck to you and good luck to me, and that you may meet misfortune yourself if you don’t bring your companion before me”.
LOVE AND LIFE
2. Red-haired women: According to ancient lore, if you meet a red-haired woman in the morning you will have bad luck for the day.
Bad news if you’re married to one then. But wait, there’s more: “If you meet her when setting out on a journey it is better to turn back because your journey won’t thrive with you,” says Mary O’Donnell, from Croom in Limerick, who shared a number of stories she was told by her father.
3. When an unmarried person stumbles when going upstairs it was seen as a sign that he or she will not get married that year.
4. Horseshoes: Finding a horseshoe is a well-known sign of good luck, but did you know a donkey’s shoe is ever luckier? There are strict rules to be applied, however; firstly “the shoe must be facing you as if the horse wearing it were coming towards you – if the shoe is facing the other way your luck is going away from you.”
Secondly: “You should never pass the shoe – you would be leaving your luck after you. If you can’t take it with you turn it upside down.” says Mary.
5. New Years and Mondays: Might be a good idea to skip the January 1st stroll in the country next year. Apparently, meeting a white horse on New Year’s Day is the sign of bad luck for the coming year.
On the plus side, the first Monday of the year is known as Handsel Monday. It is very lucky to get money on that day and very unlucky to have to part with it.
6. “Dream of the dead, you’ll hear from the living”. says Mary.
7. To dream you are losing a tooth means that you are losing a friend, to dream of a rat is a warning that an enemy is trying to harm you. To dream of things out of season is a warning of “blame without reason”.
8. ‘A knife on the floor, a man to the door’: Ever heard that expression? As the tale goes, when a knife falls on the ground you can expect a gentleman to visit your house.
“If it is a fork the visitor will be a lady, while if a spoon falls it is an enemy who is coming.”
9. Spilt salt: “When you spill salt you are going to have a row with the person in whose direction the salt falls. If you wash your hands in the same water in which someone else has washed, you will quarrel with that person, unless you both spit in the water.”
10. First words
If a baby says “ma-ma” before da-da” the next baby in that house will be a girl, but if “da-da” is first said the next baby will be a boy.
ITCHES AND GLITCHES
11. Got an itchy right hand? Apparently that’s a sign that you will soon be getting a strange or important handshake. “If it is the palm of your left hand you will be getting money, and with either hand, if you rub it to wood it’s sure to come good.” Mary explains.
As we’re on the topic of itching, when your nose is itchy it could be because someone is talking about you – the news is good if it itches at the right side, bad if at the left.
“If your right ear feels very hot someone is saying good of you, but if it is your left someone is “reading” you.”
12. Look over your shoulder: “It is very unlucky to see the new moon through glass, but it is lucky to see the new moon outside the house, especially lucky if you see it over your right shoulder.”
13. If your gloves fall and you pick them up yourself you will meet a disappointment, but if someone else picks them up for you, you can expect an introduction to a stranger very soon after.