Straw costumes and objects
A common trait in the life of our rural ancestors was the use of those raw materials found close to hand.
Those materials could amongst others, be as varied as rushes, bramble, heather and even gorse. Straw was the customary material in the making of most of the objects found here.
A strong element of luck was associated with many of the straw costumes. Across the year, whether it was the ‘biddy boys’ of St. Brigid’s Day, Strawboys for weddings or Mummers/Wren boys at Christmas, on these and other occasions, all were involved in what has been called the ‘luck perambulation’(Gailey, p.87). They offered good luck to those they met while travelling from house to house or throughout the local community.
The names given to those bringing luck to a newly married couple, varied considerably in the different regions of the country. In the midlands/north west of the country they were referred to as Ban(d)beggars, Bangbears or 'Beggars'. In north Leinster, Cavan and Monaghan it could be ‘Grannies’, Gráinne or Buachaill bréige. In west Clare and Cork they were called ‘Bacachs’ or Bacaigh. In Kilkenny and Carlow they were known as ‘Collickers’, ‘Coileachs’ and the ‘Cailleachs’ (Cailleach) whilst in the western counties of Galway, Mayo and Roscommon, amongst many other names, they were known as Failpirí, Geamairí and Pucairí. (O'Dowd, p.109)
In marking the customs of the calendar year or the passing of the seasons, the objects below illustrate both the shared and varied traditions from across the country.
Worth noting here are the line drawings of objects that were once used for the recording of objects coming into the Irish Folklife Collection. These drawings were recorded on index cards which included the relevant information about the object itself. The photograph replaced the line drawing as a means of recording, but you can contrast both in some of the examples below.
Please click on images below to see in full and click right to view more images.
Gailey, A., ‘Straw costume in Irish Folk customs’, Folk Life Journal, Vol. VI, 1968, pp 83-93.
O'Dowd, A., Straw, Hay and Rushes in Irish Folk Tradition, Irish Academic Press, (Kildare) 2015.
Mummer's hat (N.M.I. Collection - F:1967.56 ) Made in county Fermanagh, this hat includes a plaited handle that runs from the band on the base to the top of the cone.
Strawboy's hat (N.M.I. Collection - F:1997.753) The hat for the wedding. Although described as a hat it would cover the face of the Strawboy who wore it.
Rush hat (N.M.I. Collection - F:1964.68) A change of material in the making of this hat but also a 'hat' that was worn as such.
Cailleach (N.M.I. Collection - F:1945.7) From Stradbally, Co. Laois, the Cailleach was the last sheaf from the harvest. It was also a term given to Strawboys in the Carlow/Kilkenny region.