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This week, IrelandXO volunteer and Irish folklore enthusiast, Majella Corcoran shares her most memorable Piseógs from growing up in Milltown Malby, County Clare. Majella is a fantastic resource and has been helping the Irish diaspora find and connect with their roots here in Ireland for many years. 

Irish Piseógs

People lived in fear of the unknown, the unexplained and the future, would the harvest be good, will the weather hold out, will it rain when it’s needed, will the sunshine to ripen the crops, will the cows yield a good supply of milk, will the cream be churned to butter. All these worries were relevant to their survival. Piseoga or Piserogs may have arisen as a way of controlling what could not be controlled or to appease the fairy folk who were deemed could make or break a person’s luck. Even people who were staunchly religious preferred to placate the fairies rather than dismiss them, sitting on both sides of the fence so to speak.

Although the fairies were often blamed for bad luck an unkindly neighbour could ‘rob’ another neighbour of their luck by carrying out various deeds on their property. The victim would have a low yield or bad crop while the offending neighbour would get a bountiful. Piserogs like these from the real world could be countered acted upon by a counted deed of the victim thus reversing the spell. In some cases a priest was asked for a blessing to counter the maleveant activity be it from a neighbour or the fairies. 

1. Milk

  • It was a traditional custom never to drink milk on Good Friday; even the baby in the cradle, it is said had to cry three times on that day before milk was fed to it.
  • Milk could not be given away don’t give away on New Year’s Day, May Day, or any Monday or Friday.

2. Eggs

  • Burring eggs in someone’s potato garden led to a bumper crop for the perpetrator and a poor crop for the owner of the garden.
  • If a ring of 13 white eggs is laid down along the headlands of a person's field, the hens of that person will stop laying.

3. Animals

  • Once a cow had calved, she was blessed with holy water, while a prayer was recited. This was to ensure that the cow was protected from her milk.  When this cow was first milked the first stream of milk (beastings)was allowed to hit the ground. This was to appease the fairies who might want some milk for themselves.
  • If a cock crows at night before 12 o'clock, it is a sign of death.
  • A hen crowing is unlucky.
  • A cat washing his face, the first person he would look at it is said he will die first.
  • An old hag or old woman was thought to have the power to turn herself into a hare.
  • A cross was then made on the cow with some of her milk. 

4. Work

  • When sweeping the floor, you must never sweep out as you are sweeping out the luck. Always sweep in.
  • When you enter the dairy during the churning, you should always take a hand at the churning and say "God bless the work."

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5. Fire/Water

  • A sod to fall from the fire shows that someone will come into the house. A tall sod a tall person coming in .A small sod a small person.
  • Never be the first to light a fire on Mayday morning as if your neighbor sees the smoke they will be able to take your good luck.
  • The first bucket of water taken from the well on May Day was considered lucky.

6. People

  • It is very lucky for a baby to be born with a caul and the child will never drown.
  • It is unlucky for thirteen to sit down at a table together, a sign of death. The person who gets up first from the table is the person who will die.
  • A woman whistling is unlucky.
  • If you meet a red-haired woman or girl in the morning, you’ll have bad luck for the rest of the day.

7. Time of the year

  • The two most important times of the year were Bealtaine and Samhain. These were the times when the divide between the real world and the ‘Other World’ was at its narrowest and the spirits were able to cross over and back easily between the two worlds. 
  • It was thought bad luck to loan out anything on May Day nor was it acceptable to ask for a loan of anything on this day. It was seen as a way of stealing someone else’s luck. 
  • On the night of Samhain, people would leave out food to please the fairies and keep them from harming the people in the house. They ‘dressed up’ to disguise themselves from the fairies. Turnips are carved with gruesome faces to scare them away.

8. Plants/Shrubs

  • Blackthorn, elder, honeysuckle, furze, alder, and whitethorn are considered unlucky or lucky depending on the area.
  • The Buachalán Buíde (ragworth )was known as the fairy horse, and little children were warned not to touch it for fear they would be spirited away by the fairies on their yellow horses.
  • Cows were never to be lashed with a buachalán whip, for the fairies would steal their milk.
  • Never bring a hawthorn blossom into a house as it would bring bad luck.

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9. Fairy Fort

  • There are over 30,000 Ring Forts or Fairy Forts dotted over the Irish landscape. Thought to have been built during the Bronze Age, and used as a shelter for people and animals they came to be associated with the fairies. Of all the beliefs that have come and gone, the urge to never interfere with a fairy fort is still strongly held to this day.
  • A Fairy Fort must not be built on, plowed, or planted. It is very bad luck to take anything from it and never cut blackthorn or whitethorn bushes growing in a fort.

10. Clothing/Utensils

  • Don’t put new shoes on the table or it will bring bad luck.
  • If you prick your finger when sewing a dress and blood gets on the material, it is a sign you will be admired in it.
  • If you put your clothes on inside out, you should leave them like that for the rest of the day for good luck.
  • Wearing Green is a sign of grief.
  • Two spoons in a cup is a sign of a wedding.
  • If you let a knife fall, it’s the sign of a gentleman visitor. If you let a fork fall, you will receive a lady visitor. 

Can you share any Piseógs? Share them here.

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