Irish Customs and Rituals|Marion McGarry|Orpen Press|170pp|€12 paperback
by Síne Quinn
Ireland’s traditions and rituals consist of a combination of many influences, some reaching back to ancient beliefs, some of which are still evident today. If you look closely, it’s not hard to spot these influences in most Irish customs and traditions. As academic and author of The Irish Cottage: History, Culture and Design (2017),Marion McGarry points out, these practices and beliefs ran parallel and despite Christianity. Anyone curious about Irish heritage, social history, culture and folklore will find much to hold their interest in McGarry’s latest book: Irish Customs and Rituals: How Our Ancestors Celebrated Life and the Seasons.
It’s a treasure trove of extraordinary information, especially on the extensive range of festivals. The subtitle is key, as the emphasis is on the build up to and the celebration of events throughout the year, from the changing seasons (Imbolc, Bealtaine, Lughnasa, Samhain) to saints’ pattern days, and the detailed customs surrounding births, marriages and deaths.
McGarry also provides an insight into the Irish psyche. The sections on spirituality, wellbeing and the supernatural are explored and discussed in great detail providing incredible material, which will prompt readers to refer to the extensive endnotes and bibliographical information.
As spring draws close and Imbolc is on the horizon, heralding a little hope for longer days, it’s a good time to celebrate nature, and an extraordinary pagan goddess and one of our patron saints. It’s fascinating to read about St Brigid’s Eve: Oiche Fhéile Bhríde (31st January) and St Brigid’s Day: Lá Fhéile Bhríde. This ancient festival is starting to have a revival in Ireland with Irish embassies around the world hosting events.
In ancient Ireland female saints and deities were vital. “In Ireland there seemed to be a greater emphasis on female saints because in pagan worship female goddesses tended to be equal in significance with male gods … who exactly was worshiped – Christian saint or pagan goddess—is interchangeable according to the customs people celebrated on St Brigid’s Day.”
The majority of the text is written in a clear, light and engaging style, although the chapter introductions are not necessary as the headings convey this information. As a result, these introductions outlining what’s covered in each chapter jar from the rest of the text. Besides this there is much to entertain. On a personal note, I wish I had read McGarry’s book when I was conducting my research for Holy Shocking Saints.
From wake provisions to love spells, Irish Customs and Rituals runs the gamut of life stages, from birth to death. It’s packed full of extraordinary information, including some bizarre customs and rituals—have you heard of Handsel Monday, Hungry July or Cursing Stones? Well look no further!
Holy Shocking Saints: The Extraordinary Lives of Twelve Irish Saints by Síne Quinn and Margaret Anne Suggs is available to order from leading and independent bookshops websites. Síne Quinn, M.Phil Children’s Literature, is the managing editor at Cubicle 7 Entertainment. A Children’s Books Ireland book doctor and creative writing teacher with the Bookmarks programme at TCD, she also provides editorial and writing support to publishers.