From fairy trees to magpie salutes, here are 10 Irish traditions that people outside Ireland may find a bit odd.
Ireland is famous for its weird and wonderful culture. Although you may find variations of Irish traditions in other places, most visitors to the Emerald Isle are left feeling a bit confused by the strange customs and superstitions they encounter here.
Here are 10 Irish traditions the rest of the world might find a bit odd.
10. Believing an itchy nose is the sign of a fight to come
Still commonly quoted across the island is the superstition that an itchy nose can only mean one thing—it won’t be long before a fight comes your way.
In a similar vein, burning ears traditionally denote that someone is talking behind your back. Not a great combination of omens!
9. Making a Brigid’s cross
The ancient Celtic year was marked by four major celebrations that have all survived in some shape or form in modern Ireland, long after the pagan traditions were replaced with their Christian equivalents: Beltane (May 1), Lughnasadh (August 1), Samhain (November 1), and Imbolc (February 1).
Originally celebrating Brigid, a pagan goddess of spring, Imbolc was so loved by Irish people that the Christian Church chose that day as the feast day of Saint Brigid.
To this day, Irish people of all ages mark the celebration by crafting an intricate cross, traditionally made out of rushes. This cross is then hung above doors to guard homes from evil.
8. Thanking the bus driver
The people of Ireland are known to be some of the friendliest in the world. Although this custom isn’t completely unique to the Emerald Isle, many a visitor has expressed confusion when they see thirty Irish folks departing a bus, each thanking the driver as they do.
According to Dublin Bus research in 2015, 90% of passengers always say thank you to their driver.
7. Attending funerals of people you literally do not know
The tradition of the “wake” is still very much alive in Ireland, where family and friends, and people who have never even met you, can turn up to pay their respects at your wake and funeral.
While this is one of those Irish traditions that many in the rest of the world will find weird, it’s not unusual to find your mother’s uncle’s hairdresser’s son popping into a pew to bid the departed goodbye or visiting your house for a cup of tea and a sandwich.
6. Irish dancing
Maybe it is the hypnotising footwork, or the elaborate, colourful costumes and coil-tight ringlets, but visitors to Ireland who haven’t yet been exposed to the nation’s traditional dance may find it a little unusual.
Despite the fact that Riverdance has become an international success, many are still new to this unique branch of Irish culture.
5. Saluting magpies
Ireland has a lot of bird-related superstitions, some relating to the crow (a common antagonist for farmers) and the beloved robin (if you harm one, it is life-long bad luck for you). But it is the fear of seeing a lone magpie that is the most widespread across the country.
Don’t worry, though; as long as you salute the creature, or maybe even tell it the time, this should be enough to avoid the misfortune this solo bird is said to represent.
4. Being obsessed with Halloween
Ireland is well known as the birth place of Halloween. As previously mentioned, it has been celebrated for thousands of years, previously known as Samhain (pronounced Sow-een).
On the night of this ancient festival, flames of old fires were extinguished, and new ones re-lit as a symbol of rebirth. It was also a time when the veils between the dead and the living were said to be thinnest, and souls of loved ones could return once again.
The celebration exists in full force today, with places like Derry and Dublin bursting with spooky festivities.
3. The Irish Fry
While a variation of the traditional fry-up breakfast exists in many countries, nothing quite beats the Irish fry.
Complete with fresh soda bread, black pudding, and real butter, this salty start to your day is all you will need to feel more human again after a heavy night out.
2. Making a sign of the cross when seeing an ambulance
Although there are a multitude of faiths practiced in Ireland, Catholicism remains the predominant religion here. You will see this clearly if a flashing ambulance speeds passed you in rural Ireland.
The odds are that someone around you will make with a sign of the cross—a form of prayer for whomever the vehicle is heading to. The same can be seen when a person passes by a Catholic church.
1. Never disturbing a “fairy tree”
The belief in the “small people” was once widespread across Ireland, and superstitions involving these mischievous creatures remain. Older generations will tell of the perils of disturbing a singular hawthorn tree, growing in a field.
This lone tree is said to be the home of fairies, and to cut one down would bring life-long bad luck. Stories circulate of houses built upon the site where the tree once stood burning to the ground, and premature deaths abound.
Disturbing such a tree on the night of Beltane is said to be even more dangerous, as supposedly this is when the small folk are at their most active.