The Folk-Lore Journal/Volume 2/Connemara Folk-Lore



WHILE the woman is sick no stranger must take anything out of the house, especially a coal of fire, or the woman will die or become a cripple, or meet with some other great affliction. Beggars and others coming to the house for anything are at once sent away: they would not have come to the place if they knew that a woman was sick. The child, the moment it is born, is spit on by the midwife. It should be christened the first mass after it is born, and should be called after the name of the saint whose day is nearest to its birth. As there are two Lady's days in the year, more girls are called Mary than any other name; while, as Michaels are so numerous, more boys seem to be born near his day than in any other time of the year. If boys are born near a double saint's day, such as St. Peter's and Saint Paul's, they should have both names, except in the case of twins, when one should be called Peter and the other Paul. I do not know how they manage in other cases of twins. If a child just born sneezes it will live; if it has a caul the latter is a charm against a number of diseases. Any one coming to see the child should bring a present, usually an egg or a pat of butter or some such trifle, and should say, "God save you!" and spit on it. Those who do not do so bring it bad luck. If born at midnight it ought to be sprinkled with holy water every night and watched for seven days, lest it may be changed by the "good people." If a child is an idiot, especially if a boy, it brings good luck. Many instances are given of people being quite poor before an idiot came, while afterwards they became suddenly rich. Three children at a birth bring luck.


No stranger should take anything out of a house, but especially fire, while milk is being churned, as they will take away the butter.

Any stranger coming into the house while churning is going on should say, "Bless the work!" and take a few turns at the dash. If the butter will not come you should put a hot ploughshare or a hot tongs or a coal of fire under the churn. There seems sense in this, as the heat will help to make the butter come. Some people are able to take away your butter by churning water while you are churning your milk; also by carrying away fire out of the house or by certain charms. Difi*erent people are said to have charms for taking it away; but no one allows they know what they are; that they have charms is proved by their always having more butter than their neighbours, although they have fewer cows.


When going out of a morning, if a hare is coming to meet you, turn back at once, as you will fail in what you were going to do. If he crosses your path from the right, you will have luck; if from the left, you will be neither lucky nor unlucky. If a hare scares an enceinte woman the child will have a hare-lip. Hares are often witches, and milk the cows and such like. A hare that is always about a house is sure to be a witch, and ought to be destroyed if possible. A dog cannot catch a witch hare, which is often a white one.

Magpie and Cuckoo.

It is unlucky to kill a magpie or rob its nest: because if either are done they will kill all your chickens and geese. Magpies are useful in a wild country, as they give you warning when the fox is afoot after the lambs, kids, or fowl. I have seen people abused, and even pelted, for shooting a magpie at a village. The cuckoo is also a sacred bird, it is very unlucky to shoot one.

An ancient Irish Saying.

"Ireland was thrice beneath the ploughshare; thrice it was wood, and thrice it was bare" (O'Flaherty, Yar Connaught). Evidently it was twice under wood, as we have records in the bog of two distinct forests; while in history we read of later woods that were cut down after the time of James I. by the English adventurers.

King of the Otters,

mentioned by O'Flaherty in his History of Yar Connaught, "of which kind the white-faced otter is very rare. It is never killed, they say, but with the loss of man or dog; and its skin is mighty precious." It is larger than ordinary, and has a white breast: it is called the king of the otters. A great virtue of its skin is that the owner is always fortunate in battles, and victory is always on his side.

Fish not Flesh.

The sea-birds, such as the guillemot, which never flies over the land, but lives altogether in the cliffs or on the sea, is considered to be a fish and not a fowl, and is eaten on fast days.


In very ancient times some of the Clan Coneely, one of the early septs of the county, were changed by "art magick" into seals; since then no Coneely can kill a seal without afterwards having bad luck. Seals are called Coneelys, and on this account many of the name changed it to Connelly.

Rats, called French Mice.

It is said that at one time there were none in Ireland. O'Flaherty, in his History of Yar Connaught, written in 1684, says there are no rats in it.

Captive Stone.

On the shore of MacDara's island there is a stone called the "Captive's Stone," where, until very lately, women during low water gathered ililuk. This was supposed to gain the intercession of the saint for a friend in captivity. MacDara is the patron saint of the sailor, and sailors when passing the island always dip their sails thrice, if not they are sure to be shipwrecked.

St. MacDara's real name was Sinach, a fox. Of his name Hardiman thus writes:—"It is a curious coincidence that the name of this favourite saint of our western fishermen should be that of an animal which, of all others, they most abhor. So great is their aversion to a fox, hare, or rabbit, that they never so much as mention their names themselves nor endure even to hear them named by others. If a fisherman of Claddagh happened to see one of these animals or hear its name mentioned he would not on that day venture to sea: and the cause of this strange superstition they neither know themselves nor can any one else account for it." A butcher of Galway is said to have taken advantage of it, and had a fox carried through Claddagh every Friday, thus preventing the men going to sea that day, and thereby kept up the price of meat on the Saturday market.

Raising the Wind.

If you want a fair wind bury a cat to its neck in the sand on the sea-shore, turning its face to the point from which the adverse wind blows, and leave it there to die. Or, erect a pile of stones on the shore, bearing a resemblance to one of the goblins, and expect a fair wind in return; but this is a serious affair, and never can be done by the same individual twice.—Hardiman's Notes to O'Flaherty's History.


Wells dedicated to saints are held in great veneration, and patrons are held at them on their saint day. Some are good for the eyes, some for sores, and some for various ailments, even for sterile women and cattle. St. Patrick's. Well, in Maumean, cures murrain in cattle, while a well on Bendouglas or Benlettery makes a person's head hoar if they wash in it. Some are evidently pre-Christian: one on Cashla Bay has a large conical mound or kitchen-midden, over fifty feet high, made up of sea-shells; as part of the obligation is to live on shell-fish while attending the patron—which are cooked on the top of the mound.

Stone Celts,

called soigheds, or "fairy darts," are used by the "good people," and any one that is "fairy struck" has been hit with one of them. If you find one, either on the ground or in the tillage, you should not bring it into the house, or bury it, or throw it away, but you should put it carefully in a hole in the field wall, or ditch, or in a tree, where it will not bo easily found, otherwise something will happen to you. Aranmore is a great place for soigheds, and they are greatly venerated, although many of them apparently are of recent make. Seals, when they were plentiful along the west coast, were an article of food, as we learn from the Book of Lismore, and other authorities. The Aranites and inhabitants of some of the other Galway islands wear pampooters, which are slippers, now made of the raw hides of the ass, calf, and cow, but formerly of the seal skin; and the celts made on Aran, of a black silicious shale, were used for skinning them — even at the present day I have seen them used while skinning a calf. The Aranites very often carry a soighed with them when they are going to a patron on the mainland, and leave it behind them at the holy well as a votive offering. Pampootie, as a name for the slipper, is said to have been introduced some two or more hundred years ago by an East Indian ship-captain, who settled on the island—the old Irish name is brog-lē-har—Anglice, coarse shoe of fresh or untanned leather.

St. Flanning's Church.

In Errisflanning are the ruins of St. Flanning church and a graveyard—"This church admits of no burial within its walls"; that is, if any one is interred therein his body is found above ground next morning. This is also a common belief elsewhere. In the graveyard of Ballytober abbey, co. Mayo, there is a space no one would bury in, as "their body would be cast up."

Lizard and Cricket.

The lizard is a vicious animal, always trying to get down people's throats; it will even try to steal into houses where children are that it may get down their throats. A cricket ought not to be disturbed or killed. If either is done, its fellows will come and eat the clothes, especially of the person who injured the cricket.

The Fairy Mound, Glendalouqh.

On the south side of Gorumna Lough, Connemara, there is a large moat or barrow, said to be inhabited by the "good people." In the centre of the top there is a green spot, said to be the entrance to it, on which the natives would be afraid to stand. About fifteen years ago there was a man in the village had a cow and a newly-born calf, and the cow died. But after it was dead, cut up, and salted, at night they used to hear a cow in the barn, while the calf throve well, although it would take no food that was offered it. At first every one was afraid to go near the cowhouse at night to see what was going on; but at last the man took courage and went, and to his great astonishment he found his cow alive and suckling the calf. When it saw him it tried to rush out of the door; but as it passed he seized it by the tail, and was pulled by it to the fairy mound and into a brightly lit-up room, in which were assembled the queen and her court. The queen asked, "What do you want?" To which he answered, "In the name of God, my cow." To which she replied, "Take it," and the cow immediately went with him, the name of God destroying the spell. My informant, one of the innumerable Joyces, offered to swear he had seen the cow alive; afterwards dead, cut up, and salted, and had even eaten part of it, yet afterwards he saw it alive. A rag tied round the tail of a newly-calved cow keeps away the fairies.

On the east of Lough Corrib, near Castle Hackett, is Knockmaa, or the hill of the plain, which is a great fairy haunt; and at times of an evening great flights of the "good people" pass over Connemara to the gathering at it. When they are passing is easily known, as you feel a rush of warm wind passing you, accompanied by a rustling noise. Fairies should always be called "good people," as fairies is a term of disrespect. When throwing water out of a door you must say, "By your leave," lest one of the "good people" was outside, and you might chance to wet it. A lighted coal of turf, carried on a stick or in a tongs, after dark, keeps away the fairies.


The highest group of hills in Connemara, or the Twelve Pins or Stacks, are called Bennabeola, after a giant of that name. Beola seems to have been a person of importance, as Great Man's Bay is said to be also called after him, and his earn was at Toombeola, but was taken away by the monks to build an abbey; and the latter was pulled down by the "cruelty to animal Martin" to build a salmon weir.

Beola had a great friend, a giant, on Aranmore, and every morning at sunrise they saluted one another. One morning, however, Beola overslept himself, and his friend threw a stone at him to wake him, which so enraged Beola that he hurled a shower of stones at him, which fully accounts for the number of large Connemara granite blocks on Aranmore. The Aranmore giant had a numerous family, who took to using these stones as seats, which fully accounts for the pedestal of limestone under each block, as their feet wore away the rock around each block.

About halfway between Corcogemore and Slieve Moidaun is a large long block of rock, standing on end, called Clogh-na-Curreel, or the stone of Curreel. Its size may be judged by its being easily mistaken for an old castle, until you are quite close to it. Curreel and Moidaun were great friends, but one day the latter, when on a visit to Curreel at Corcogemore, ran off with his wife. Curreel, who was asleep, woke up, and missed the wife and Moidaun; but, on looking across the plain, he saw them making off to Slieve Moidaun, whereupon he seized up the stone he used for his pillow and hurled it after them. The truth of the story is evident, as the marks of his five fingers and thumb can be seen under the south-east coiiier of the stone. It may here be observed that in the co. Donegal the giants are all said to have had five fingers besides the thumb; but on the three "giants' stones" that I have seen in that county there are seven impressions instead of six.

A giant whose name is now forgotten lived at Leam. He was famous for his great feats of strength. One day the devil came and challenged him to show his power. After various trials, in which they were both equal, the giant proposed that they should jump over a wide chasm with his pillow on his back, the pillow being a stone about six feet long. One side of the chasm was higher than the other, and both succeeded in jumping down; but after the giant had jumped up, just as the devil was springing off, the giant tripped him up, and he fell into the chasm, hurting his back. The stone stuck up in the bog, and was there until some years ago, when it was stolen by a mining captain who was working at the Glengoala mine. The place, after the jumping feat, was called Learn (a leap); while it is said the marks of the giant's hands and the devil's paws were to be seen on one side of the stone, impressed while holding it on their backs.

Ancient Irish Games.

There are old Irish games very like σφαῖρα, or game of ball, mentioned in the Folk-Lore Journal of February, 1884, page 59.

There are three or more players on each side, two stones or holes as stations, and one lobber. The lobber lobs either a stick about three inches long or a ball—(the ball seems to be a new institution, as a stick was always used when I was a boy)—while the batsman defends the stone or hole with either a short stick or his hand. Every time the stick or ball is hit, the boys defending the stones or holes must change places. Each one is out if the stick or ball lodges in the hole or hits the stone; or if the ball or stone is caught; or if it can be put in the hole or hits the stone while the boys are changing places. This game is also played with two lobbers, that lob alternately from each end. The game is won by a certain number of runs.

This game is sometimes called cat; but the regular cat is played with a stick four inches long, bevelled at each end, called the cat. This bevelled stick is laid on the ground, and one end hit with a stick to make it rise in the air, when it is hit by the player, who runs to a mark and back to his station. The game is made by a number of runs; while the hitter is out if he fails three times to hit the cat, or if he is hit by the cat while running.

Another form of the first game is a circle of stones, according to the number of players, generally five or seven each side. One of the out party stands in the centre of the circle, and lobs at the different stones in rotation; each hit a player gives all his side must change stations, in some places going round to the left and in others to the right. The stones are defended by the hand or a stick, according as a ball or stick is lobbed. All the players are out if the stone is hit, or the ball or stick caught, or one of the players is hit while running. In different counties or places these games are more or less modified.

These games I have seen played over half a century ago, with a lobstick, but of later years with a ball, long before a cricket-club existed, in Trinity College, Dublin, and when the game was quite unknown in a great part of Ireland. At the same time, they may have been introduced by some of the earlier settlers, and afterwards degenerated into the games mentioned above; but I would be inclined to suspect that the Irish are the primitive games, they having since been improved into cricket. At the present day these games nearly everywhere are succeeded by cricket, but often of a very primitive form, the wickets being stones set on end, or a pillar of stones; while the ball is often wooden, and very rudely formed.

An old game called Crooky was formerly played at Portarlington, Queen's co. and Kilkee, co. Clare. Fifty years ago it was played with wooden crooks and balls, but about twenty-five years ago, or a little more, mallets were introduced at Kilkee; while subsequently the name was changed to croquet. I have heard it stated that this game was introduced by the French refugees that settled at Port-arlington.

Another old Irish game was Duck-stone. A number of stones, one less than the number of players, were placed close together in a row; one player was told off to guard the stones on which smaller stones were placed. All of the players, except the guard, stood in a place about twelve or fifteen feet from the row of stones, and with their duck (stones) tried to knock off the smaller stones, which the guard had to replace as fast as possible, because if any of the small stones were off the duck-holders could carry in their ducks; but if all the stones were on, if one of the duck-holders tried to carry in his duck and he was tipped by the guard, he had to take the guard's place, who joined the duck-holders.

Hurl was a very ancient Irish game, as we have many places called after it: such as, Killahurla, the hurlers' church; Gortnahurla, the field of the hurlers; Greenanahurla, the sunny place of the hurlers; this, however, is now generally corrupted into hurling-green. The hurling-green where the famous match was played by the people of Wexford against those of Cather (now divided into the counties of Carlow and Wicklow), and where the former got the name of yellow bellies from the colour of the scarfs they wore round their waist, is a sunny flat on the western side of North Wicklow Gap, on the road from Gorey to Trinnahely. There are also many other different names that record the game.

Jack-stones, played with three or fom- small stones that are thrown up in the air and caught again, seems to have been a very ancient game, as the stones have been found in the crannogs or lake-dwellings in some hole near the fire-places, similar to where they are found in a cabin at the present day. An old woman, or other player, at the present time, puts them in a place near the hob, when they stop their game, and go to do something else.