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Irish Tradition and Identity

Tradition can be used as a sanction for innovation or new customs. Tradition can be used as a storage receptacle for preserving important components of the behavioural and ecological system. Tradition may be used as a way of identifying with people who share the same heritage Tradition also is used as a way of comparing the past with realities of the present (Shanklin 1985: 18). In Donegal, for example, the meanings and uses of tradition are varied although the usual response to how the tradition began will involve the “centuries of British oppression” (Shanklin 1985: 17).

First-time visitors to a house were supposed to bring a gift alternatively if a visitor arrives at a house while churning was in progress, the person was expected to take a ‘brash’ (lend a hand) otherwise the butter would be slow coming and small in quantity (Raphoe: 102). “Horseshoes are considered to be lucky. Ends should always point upwards” (Raphoe: 103). One of the reasons that finding a horseshoe was considered lucky is that many horseshoes were made of iron. Iron was a valuable metal back in the old days when money was hard to come by and supplies even more so. If you stumbled upon an iron horseshoe, a person could either re-use the shoe itself, or melt the metal down for creating a brand new metal object. Finding an iron horseshoe was indeed a lucky event as it increased your prosperity.
Some traditions included never leave shoes on a table, wash your hair, or cut your nails on a Sunday” (Rahoe: 102). If any hygienic acts were carried out on Sunday, evil stories would be told about the person for a week. Cutting fingernails was considered not only work, but also being preoccupied with your outer beauty. This was something that was not tolerated on the day of rest and worship in Ireland. Fervent efforts were also taken to control the behavior of the wider Catholic community, particularly in regard to the rituals of faith.

The restrictions of the previous century had led to a wide variation in religious practice and the merging of popular folk customs with Christian events. Boisterous behaviour at patterns (the feast day of a parish’s patron saint) also aroused the criticism of the hierarchy, who were particularly concerned about their Protestant counterparts and how they viewed the superstitious and immoral traditions which surrounded them. These pre-modern aspects of popular Catholicism presented the Church with significant challenges to its authority over social as well as religious life.

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