Religion and Calendar Customs FAQs
Read the most frequently asked questions on the topic of Religion and Calendar Customs
- What is a harvest knot?
- What is a relic?
- What is a reliquary?
- What is Lent?
- What was a cailleach?
- What was a quarter day?
- What were the Penal Laws?
- When is St Brigid’s Day?
- When is St Patrick’s Day?
- Where can I find out more about Irish traditional Religion and Calendar Customs?
What is a harvest knot?
Harvest knots were made using pieces of corn at the end of the harvest. Two or more pieces would be plaited to make the harvest knots, which were exchanged as tokens of affection at the end of the harvest.
What is a relic?
A relic is an object associated with a holy person or place. There are two principal types of relic. Firstly there are corporeal relics, that is parts of the bodies of holy people, for example teeth, hair or bones.
Then there are associative relics, which are objects that were used by the saint or were associated with the saint during his or her lifetime.
What is a reliquary?
A reliquary is a container made to hold the relics of a holy person or saint. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, depending on the object they were intended to house.
Sometimes the shape of the reliquary reflects the shape of the object it held. For example, cross-shaped relics were usually housed in cruciform reliquaries.
What is Lent?
Lent is a season of religious observance that takes place before Easter. It is traditionally 40 days long and begins on Ash Wednesday.
In Ireland, this season was traditionally marked by fasting and abstinence from meat, eggs and dairy products.
Prior to the privation of Lent, people feasted on those foodstuffs which would soon be forbidden, using up their remaining stock. On Shrove Tuesday, the eve of Lent, pancakes were made to use up surplus eggs, butter and milk.
What was a cailleach?
Cailleach is an Irish word meaning 'witch' or 'hag'.
At the end of the harvest an object called a cailleach would be made using the last sheaf. This would be presented to the woman of the house and hung above the table at a celebratory harvest meal.
It was thought that cailleach contained a spirit that inhabited the vegetation and could be heard moving around in the long vegetation during the harvest.
What was a quarter day?
The first day of each season was a quarter day. Spring was marked by St Brigid’s Day on 1 February, Summer by Bealtine on 1 May, Autumn began with Lúnasa on 1 August and winter by Samhain on 1 November.
These marked important times in the farming calendar and represent continuity in calendar customs from pagan times.
What were the Penal Laws?
The Penal Laws were a series of laws passed between 1691 and 1727. They resulted in repression of worship by Catholics and excluded Catholics from holding political office. Catholic masses and worship had therefore to be carried out discreetly or even in secret at times.
Thus there were penal crosses, which were narrow and could be carried up one’s sleeve, and altar stones and mass rocks used to denote an often temporary place of worship.
When is St Brigid’s Day?
St Brigid’s Day is on 1st February, the first day of Spring and the first day of the farmer’s year. St Brigid’s Crosses were made and hung in the home, as well as the byre and stable, to honour the saint and gain her protection. Crosses were made in four-legged and three-legged versions, usually from rushes.
When is St Patrick’s Day?
St Patrick’s day falls on 17 March and is a national holiday and church holiday. It celebrates St Patrick, one of Ireland’s patron saints who was a native of late Roman Britain and is often credited with introducing Christianity to Ireland in the fifth Century.
St Patrick’s crosses were traditionally worn on this day, as was shamrock. This three-leaved plant was said to have been used by St Patrick to explain the Trinity to the Irish.
Where can I find out more about Irish traditional Religion and Calendar Customs?
Augusteijn, J. (ed) (1999). Ireland in the 1930s: New Perspectives. Four Courts Press, Dublin.
Butler, A. and Burns, P. (2000). Butler’s Lives of the Saints. The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota.
Carroll, D. (1999). Religion in Ireland: Past, Present and Future. Columba Press, Dublin.
Cronin, M. and Adair, D. (2002). The Wearing of the Green: A History of St Patrick’s Day. Routledge, London.
Danaher, K. (1972). The Year in Ireland: Irish Calendar Customs. Mercier Press, Cork.
Donelly, J.S. and Miller, K.A. (eds). Irish Popular Culture 1650-1850. Irish Academic Press, Dublin.
Evans, E.E. (1957). Irish Folk Ways. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.
Fallon, B. (1998). An Age of Innocence: Irish Culture 1930-1960. Gill and Macmillan, Dublin.
Farmer, D. (2004). Oxford Dictionary of Saints. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Hughes, H. (1991). Croagh Patrick: An Ancient Mountain Pilgrimage. Harry Hughes, Westport, Co. Mayo.
Marshall, R. (2003). Celebrating Irish Festivals: Calendar of Seasonal Celebrations. Hawthorn Press, Gloucestershire.
McMahon, S and O’Donoghue, J. (2004.) Brewer’s Dictionary of Irish Phrase and Fable. Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London.
O’Loughlin, T. (1999). St Patrick: The Man and His Works. Triangle, London.
Roe, H.M. (1976). The cult of St Michael in Ireland. In: C. Ó Danachair (ed.) Folk and Farm. Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Dublin.