November Eve, or Samhain, celebrates the Moon, the end of the harvest season, and the beginning of winter. And like other holidays that celebrate the change of the seasons with great bonfires, fairs, and festivals, so does November Eve.
Like many Celtic holidays have a Christian counterpart celebrated on or around the same day, so does November Eve. It is known as All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. All Saints’ Day is a day to celebrate all saints known and unknown while All Souls’ Day is to remember all others that have passed on. Typically, families will visit cemeteries and graves, bringing flowers, candles and prayers or blessings. Just like Halloween and the Day of the Dead, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day remember the dead.
And like Halloween and the Day of the Dead, November Eve is the “one night of the year when the dead can leave their graves and dance in the moonlight on the hill” (Wilde, 80). However, it is said “mortals should stay at home and never dare to look on them” (Wilde, 80).
One such gives caution, states:
“It is esteemed a very wrong thing amongst the islanders to be about on November Eve, minding any business, for the fairies have their flitting then, and do not like to be seen or watched; and all the spirits come to meet them and help them. But mortal people should keep at home, or they will suffer for it; for the souls of the dead have power over all things on that one night of the year; and they hold a festival with the fairies, and drink red wine from the fairy cups, and dance to fairy music till the moon goes down” (Wilde, 78).
Being the 21st century staying home no longer applies! Kids, after carving their Jack-O’-the-Lantern into a frightful face, dress up to trick-or-treat and adults, also in costume, go off to parties to celebrate and bob for apples. Ever wonder how the Jack-O’-the-Lantern came to be? Or how apples and Halloween became a famous couple?
An Irish tale from Irish Fireside Stories contains an explanation for the Legend of the Jack o the Lantern. After having been excluded from heaven and having tricked the devil making Hell refuse to take him, it was decreed that Jack would walk the Earth with a lantern to light him on his nightly way until Judgement Day.
As for apples and Halloween, an old Celtic ritual has an explanation:
“The first day of November was dedicated to the spirit of fruits and seeds, from which, no doubt, originated the custom of eating nuts and apples on Hallow Eve. It was called La-mas-abhal, the day of apple fruit. This word, pronounced Lamabhool, was corrupted by English settlers into lamb’swool, which name was given to a drink made of apples, sugar and ale. So the apples are still eaten on All-Hallow’s Eve by the merry company in the farmhouse kitchen in Ireland, and the young Irish girls will peel one carefully, taking care to keep the skin whole, which, when cast over the shoulder upon the floor, will fall into the form of the initial letter of her future husband’s name. Or she will take nuts piled so plentifully upon the table and burn them on the grate-bar or the hearth and try to read her future in their ashes, while her companions are setting nuts in pairs together in the same place, naming them carefully, and watching to see whether they will burn pleasantly together or jump apart” (Blennerhassett, 233-234).
The article continues to mention further steps to be taken over the course of finding out information about one’s future husband and the role of apples in this process but as with all love fortune telling, spells, and the like, it is a lengthy process that requires far too much effort and too much typing for one blog post on a day of festivities. So, I’ll leave it here and wish you all a Happy Halloween!
Good luck bobbing for apples! And remember all spells cast on November Eve come true.
Blennerhassett, Sarah (1899 November). All-Hallow’s Eve. The Gael.
Wilde, & Wilde, W. R. (1919). Ancient legends, mystic charms & superstitions of ireland : with sketches of the irish past. Chatto & Windus.
For the online version, click here. Please note they may not be exactly the same.
In Ireland, the holiday of Midsummer marks the middle of summer and comes just a few days after the Summer Solstice. Much of the celebration takes place the evening before on Midsummer’s Eve, also known as St. John’s Eve. As with many Celtic celebrations, great bonfires are lit, and fairs and festivals are held to celebrate. Just like May Day, St. John’s Eve has its own stories, customs, and superstitions.
“In ancient times the sacred fire was lighted with great ceremony on Midsummer Eve; and on that night all the people of the adjacent country kept fixed watch on the western promontory of Howth, and the moment the first flash was seen from that spot the fact of ignition was announced with wild cries and cheers repeated from village to village, when all the local fires began to blaze, and Ireland was circled by a cordon of flame rising up from every hill” (Wilde, 113).
It was also a time to worship the Goddess Áine.
“…Áine, who gave her name to Knockainy hill and village in the county Limerick. She ruled, and still rules, that district as fairy queen and banshee. In the second century of our era, she cut off the ear of Ailill Oluim, King of Munster. It was on this account he was called Oluim, from “o”, and ear, and “lom”, bare; bare of one ear” (Mahon, 137).
“Aynia, deemed the most powerful fairy in Ulster, and Áine, queen of South Munster, are perhaps the same person, the mysterious and awful goddess once adored as Anu, or Danu. Of the two, it is Áine who especially seems to carry on the traditions of the older Anu, worshipped, according to the “Choice of Names”, in Munster as a goddess of prosperity and abundance. Within living memory, she was propitiated by a magical ritual upon every Saint John’s Eve, to ensure fertility during the coming year. The villagers round her sidh of Cnoc Aine (Knockainy) carried burning bunches of hay or straw upon poles to the top of the hill, and thence dispersed among the fields, waving these torches over the crops and cattle. The fairy, or goddess was held to be friendly, and, indeed, more than friendly, to men” (Squire, 245).
Another tale tells the story of a St. John’s Night were a number of girls stayed late on the Hill to watch the clairs (torches) and join in the games when suddenly “Áine appeared among them, thanked them for the honour they had done her, but said she now wished them to go home, as they wanted the hill to themselves” (Rolleston, 128).
Since “fire is the holiest of all things” many customs and superstitions surround the bonfire and included carrying off a coal, jumping and leaping through the flames forward and backwards a certain number of times, and walking “three times round a fire on St. John’s Eve, and you will be safe from disease for all that year” (Wilde, 211). These customs and superstitions were not just limited to people but could include animals. Cattle were “driven through the half-extinguished bonfire, as a preventive against witchcraft” (W. R. Wilde, 40).
As Christianity spread and Midsummer became “christianized”, dedicated by the Church to honor St. John the Baptist, certain customs and superstitions survived (O’Súilleabháin, 322). “…Baal fires were kindled as part of the ritual of sun-worship, though now they are lit in honour of St. John. The great bonfire of the year is still made on St. John’s Eve, when all the people dance round it, and every young man takes a lighted brand from the pile to bring home with him for good luck to the house” (Wilde, 113). Whether Celtic or Christian, fire was still seen as a central part of the celebration, bringing good luck just like the fires of May Day did.
O’Súilleabháin Seán. (1942). A handbook of irish folklore.
No online version available.
Wilde, & Wilde, W. R. (1919). Ancient legends, mystic charms & superstitions of ireland : with sketches of the irish past. Chatto & Windus.
For the online version, click here. Please note they may not be exactly the same.
Putzi, S. (Ed.). (2008). To z world superstitions & folklore : 175 countries – spirit worship, curses, mystical characters, folk tales, burial and the dead, animals, food, marriage, good luck, and more. ProQuest Ebook Central https://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Wilde, W. R. (1852). Irish popular superstitions. J. McGlashan.
No online version available.
Mahon, M. P. (1919). Ireland’s fairy lore. T.J. Flynn.
For an online version, click here. Please note they may not be exactly the same.
Within the month of March and various commemorations honoring both Women’s History and Irish American Heritage, the Monsignor William Noé Archives & Special Collections Center houses a number of resources that represent these corresponding subject areas. In regard to specific examples, our repository also plays host to the legacy of Miss Rita M. Murphy (1912-2003), one of the most prolific figures in the annals of school history and Irish educational circles alike.
Miss Rita Murphy is one of three women born to Irish émigrés – Edward Murphy formerly of Drominarigle, Newmarket, County Cork and Mary (née Collins), a native County Longford, Éire. Rita lived most of her early life with immediate family on Wegman Parkway within the Greenville neighborhood of Jersey City, New Jersey. The Murphys were proud of their ties to Hudson County as Edward worked for several years as the Chief Clerk for the Jersey City Fire Department.
The formative academic years for Rita consisted of embracing learning opportunities offered throughout the 1910s and 20s. This included enrollment at the Sacred Heart Grammar School located in her hometown prior to her graduation from nearby St. Aloysius Academy in 1930.
Miss Murphy was a lifelong advocate of schooling for all which became one of her more serious passions upon receiving a B.S. in Education from the State Teacher’s College in Jersey City (presently known as New Jersey City University) during the early 1930s. Miss Murphy was later part of the vanguard as a member of the first class of women to enroll at the Seton Hall Urban Division in Jersey City during the Fall of 1937, and later counted among the earliest female graduates of the institution one year later. Just after receiving her diploma, Miss Murphy complimented the Urban Division personnel roster when she became the first female head of an information center on campus when named Director of the Urban Division Library during the 1938-39 academic year. Her studies at Setonia did not end here, as Miss Murphy later earned a master’s degree from the school prior by the start of the 1940 semester.
Education ultimately became a full-time vocation for Miss Murphy when she was hired as an instructor at the Sacred Heart School of Newark and then as a History Teacher at Snyder High School also located in Newark. Miss Murphy rose to the position of Department Chair during her later career after many years in a classroom setting. She was also an Assistant Professor of American History at the Seton Hall Urban Division for several semesters which complimented her work at the preparatory school level.
Miss Murphy and her legacy not only centered around the students she touched in the course of her academic life, but also as a passionate advocate and devotee of celebrating the story of Ireland, the heritage, and the people associated with her ancestral homeland.
In many ways, the most memorable contribution to campus life and academics made by Miss Murphy came with her leadership efforts as long-time director of the Institute of Irish Culture with most classes held at the Jersey City and Newark campuses from the 1950s through the transition to South Orange by the 1970s. This initiative offered individuals the opportunity to study for course credit, or on a non-matriculation basis depending upon the preference of the applicant. Miss Murphy herself taught the two credit – “INTRODUCTION TO HISTORY OF IRELAND” course on Tuesday evenings during the school year. She also gave a number of independent talks and lectures around New Jersey especially during the month of March for all age groups on a number of specific topics related to Irish History and Culture. This included a specialization in folktales including her own creation entitled “The Lonely Leprechaun” among other popular themes that made Miss Murphy a widely sought speaker around the state.
Miss Murphy also hosted a long-time weekly Irish Music Program on W-S-O-U FM entitled – “Pageant of Ireland” that was christened on St. Patrick’s Day 1957 at the request of Msgr. John L. McNulty, University President. Drawing upon the popularity of this single show, Miss Murphy created a weekly 25-minute program that regularly aired on Monday evenings from 7:05-7:25 p.m. between 1957 until its final sign-off in 1994 having accounted for over 1,100 individual shows in the process. When discussing the longevity of the show with local writer, Mr. Jim Lowney during the early 1980s, Miss Murphy noted that: “When I first dedicated to do the weekly shows. I feared I would run out of themes and songs. I didn’t. Overall all those years (almost 22) every program was new and different. I found that one program idea often led to another . . .”
When it came to other areas of mass media, Miss Murphy wrote occasional newspaper articles, reports, and was enlisted for book reviews in regard to a number of Irish texts. She was also a pioneer in broadcast television when she served as a regular panelist on the “Ireland’s Heritage” television program airing over Newark-based station W-A-A-T (later W-N-E-T) TV, Channel 13 between 1955-57.
Her work continued to impact on a number of individuals moving into the following decade as Miss Murphy earned the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice award from Pope Paul VI in 1968 for recognition of her work on behalf of the Archdiocese of Newark for her work on behalf of religious education connected with the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine within the Archdiocese of Newark.
During her lifetime, Miss Murphy divided time between homes in Jersey City and Allenhurst. It was in Allenhurst where she kept most of her personal library of books and record albums which encompassed significant square footage across three floors of the house. These resources were a constant companion both in her active years and during her retirement as the new millennium approached. Miss Murphy passed away in West Long Branch, New Jersey in 2003 and is buried at Mount Calvary in Neptune. However, her personal motto lives on: “The day you cease to burn with love, people will die with the cold.”
Seton Hall is the beneficiary of the largesse provided by Miss Murphy and various family members prior to her death with the donation of the papers, book and record albums that represents her various research and teaching aids for over half a century. Her collection of nearly 1,000 book titles is complimented by a collection of record albums and subject files including biographical data and early-mid 20th century Irish press pieces including pamphlets, clippings, letters, and other print matter with a particular emphasis on the Irish Institute, Eamon De Valera, Consulate General of Ireland, Friends of Irish Freedom, Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, Book Reviews, and other relevant materials.
This collection has since been organized into one of our signature assemblages on Ireland and the Irish Diaspora. The following abstract provides an introduction to the “Rita Murphy Papers and Phonographs Collections” (MSS 0015) which dates from 1898-2001. “Scope and Contents – The Rita Murphy papers documents her interest in Irish culture and history. There are two series within this collection; series I consists primarily of letters, newspaper clippings, and book reviews and information, series II consist of phonographic records. In series I, the letters document communication between Ms. Murphy and various Irish people of importance and the newspaper clippings document Irish cultural history. In series II, the phonographic record holdings (1908-73) include folk and classical Irish music selections along with popular Western music and spoken word recordings.”
For more information about Rita Murphy, Seton Hall University History, and any aspect of the Irish experience and/or related topics please feel free to contact us via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at: (973) 275-2378.
In honor of Lá Fhéile Pádraig (St. Patrick’s Day) and Women’s History Month, the name Alice Stopford Green is one that has a prominent place in the Scoláireacht Stairiúil ar Éire (Historical scholarship on Ireland) as one of the earliest twentieth century intellectual chroniclers who was able to write in depth with the benefit of diverse and multi-subject based primary sources about varied aspects of Irish history. In addition, she made her mark not only as one of the first female, but overall trailblazing members of Seanad Éireann (Irish Parliament) with the birth of the Irish Free State during the 1920s. The Archives & Special Collections has collected a number of her works which are featured a part of our Irish Book holdings library within the Archives & Special Collections Center.
A native of Kells, Alice Sophia Amelia Stopford entered the world on May 30, 1847, the seventh of ninth children born to Edward Adderley Stopford, who three years earlier was appointed the Archdeacon of Meath under the authority of her grandfather Edward (d. 1850), who was a former Bishop of Meath (1842-50), as part of the Church of Ireland (Anglican) hierarchy. (Johnston; Wikipedia). The Stopford family proper were long standing residents of Éire as contemporaries and acknowledged scholars who traveled with Oliver Cromwell and his adherents during their conquest of Ireland.
The migratory history of the Stopford clan also included ties to various family members residing in London. Periodic visits made by Alice to the largest city in Great Britain led to her meeting John Richard Green (1837-83), a combination cleric and scholar who would eventually become a noted historian in his own right with the publication of Short History of the English People (London: Macmillan, 1874).
Alice and John married in 1877 and she assisted her husband in his research and writing as a documenter of Irish heritage and she adopted his methodology in the process. Although John passed away in 1883, Alice rallied from this loss to become an active presence in the publishing world and began sharing her own work with the public (R.B. McDowell).
After repeated sojourns across the Irish Sea during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in 1918 Stopford Green permanently moved back to Ireland. Stepford Green would become a very passionate supporter of the Gaelic Revival and its goals for the preservation and proliferation of Irish language, scholarship, and political independence. As a result of her passion and persuasive nature Stepford Green helped to create and maintain a Celtic Studies program located in Dublin (Johnston).
Stepford Green also became involved with international movements in Africa, studied the colonial policies toward that continent, and advocated justice for the indigenous populations in relation to the quest for Irish independence.
After the initial publication of her seminal work – The Making of Ireland and its Undoing, 1200-1600 (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1908) where she explores the history of economics and education in the Irish experience, Stopford Green wrote two subsequent patriotic-themed books entitled: Irish Nationality (1911) and The Old Irish World (1912). These works written pre-Easter Rising continued in the nationalistic, yet scholarly vein (Wikipedia). Ironically, Stopford Green served as the first female president of the British Historical Association (1915-18), turning her pen towards producing essays and articles attempting to heal the escalating divisions in Irish society (Wikipedia).
Stopford Green was celebrated for her hopes for a distinctive Irish constitution, a parliament controlled by the Sinn Féin party (“We Ourselves”) and for re-examing the “Dominion Status” model found in Canada prior to their own independence (Wikipedia). She was also a confidant of Michael Collins and others in the Home Rule movement, along with being an occasional gun runner for the underground (Wikipedia). After the partition and Civil War (she was pro-Treaty) during the early 1920s, Stopford Green lived adjacent to St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin and kept up a busy social schedule, including frequent visits to the North of Ireland to keep in contact with friends across these counties and the Free State alike (Johnston).
In addition to her attention to intellectual and social affairs, Stopford Green was a co-founder of the Cumman na Saoirse (The League for Freedom) a female Irish Republican organization, along with becoming one of the first individuals nominated to serve in the newly formed Senate of Ireland (Seanad Éireann), and in the process she became one of the first four women elected or appointed to this chamber in 1922 and served as a member of this body until 1929 (Wikipedia; Mitchell 15). Stopford Green passed away on May 28, 1929 and was buried at Deansgrange Cemetery in Dublin. Her grave marker reads: “Historian of the Irish People” (Mitchell 15)
Within the holdings catalog of the Irish Book Collections found Archives & Special Collections included the following first edition volumes written by Alice Stopford Green . . .
The Making of Ireland and its Undoing 1200-1600 (London: Macmillan 1908), Do., 2nd ed., with add. Appendix (Oct. 1909; rep. 1913),. xxiv, 573 pp.; Do. [another ed.] (London: Macmillan 1924), 573pp.; and Do. [rep. of 1st Ed.] (NY: Books for Libraries Press 1972), xvi, 511 pp.
Irish National Tradition (London: Macmillan 1923), 31 pp. [rep. from History (July 1917)
Irish Nationality [Home University Library of Modern Knowledge, No. 6] (London: Williams & Nordgate , 1922, 1925), 256 pp.; [another ed.] (London: T. Butterworth 1929), 252pp. [also Irish trans., as infra].
History of the Irish State to 1014 (London: Macmillan & Co 1925), xi, 437 pp., ill. [front. map; maps, plan].
The Old Irish World (Dublin: M. H. Gill & Son 1912), vii, 3 lvs., 197 pp., ill. [pls., maps (1 fold.); 23cm.].
The Irish and the Armada (Dublin: Cumann Léigheacht an Phobail 1921), 27 pp.
An Irish School (London: Macmillan and Co. St. Martin’s Street, London, 1926), 15 pp.
For more information about Alice Stopford Green and her works (The Making of Ireland and its Undoing 1200-1600 in particular) please consult the following link to the journal Critical Inquiries Into Irish Studies – https://scholarship.shu.edu/ciiis/ under the Téacsúil Fionnachtain (“Textual Discovery”) entry, and/or you can contact via the following e-mail address: Archives@shu.edu or by phone at: (973) 275-2378.
In religious terms, December 26th is the second day of Christmastide is part of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” observance between the Nativity and Epiphany. In secular contemporary circles, the day itself is often seen as a time to rest, shop, or return gifts for exchange, but is also notable for the observance of what has come to be known as “Boxing Day” and has endured over the centuries. Various theories regarding the naming of this holiday have endured including among others servants receiving boxed gifts from their respective managers that emanated from Great Britain and is celebrated throughout the commonwealth wherein along with gifts in past days “lords of manor” and servants would trade places for that 24-hour period and in modern times the switch is based more on creative role playing in the present day. In Éire proper, December 26th among the Christian population in particular, a different style commemoration that honors the Feast of St. Stephen has its own customs and traditions which has lived on through the ages.
St. Stephen (5-34 AD) was a church deacon who is often recognized (and memorialized in the Acts of the Apostles found throughout texts within the New Testament) as the first martyr of Christendom who lost his life in defense of his faith. The specific reason for his death came through reprisal for negative remarks about Jewish authorities that spread to the ears of various Synagogue overseers throughout the City of Jerusalem during the fourth century. According to existent accounts, Stephen was stoned to death for this sacrilege which led to his martyrdom and subsequent place of adoration over time. His deed is recognized throughout various Christian denominations on a worldwide scale. When it comes to the place of this martyr in Irish life, the famed Georgian square in Dublin, christened “St. Stephen’s Green” has immortalized him along with a Catholic parish that bears his name situated in Tyrrellspass, County Westmeath as well.
In broad terms, the traditional celebration of St. Stephen’s Day is actually a National Public Holiday (following in the wake of the Irish Banks Holiday Act of 1871) throughout the Republic of Ireland. This observance is also celebrated in other locales (especially prevalent across Europe), but within the townlands and villages of Ireland, pubs and stores are often open to accommodate the crowds and visiting family members, attending musical-comedy performances that rely mainly on pantomime as a means of expression, and/or attending special Masses honoring Stephen for the more devout are popular traditions and more modern in approach than in past years when a Wren was the true centerpiece.
This celebration is known in the Irish language as: Lá an Dreoilín or Lá Fhéile Stiofáin which in translation is known variously as “Wren Day,” “Wren’s Day,” or “Day of the Wren,” or the “Hunt of the Wren” (pronounced “wran” in Ireland) in which this bird is short in physical stature with a small wingspan is conversely loud and bold in its actions. Known in some circles as “The King of Birds,” the wren according to historical accounts was the betrayer of Stephen who was found after hiding from those who sought to kill him making this fowl who squealed an integral part of the story in this martyrdom. In the present day, it is considered good fortune for the individual to capture a live wren or a least secure a feather to find abundant good fortune while this bird of death is also associated with the old year.
Tradition has it that on every December 26th, a procession of individuals (known variously as “mummers” or “strawboys” or “wrenboys”) don suits and hats of dried hay, colorfully mixed and matched old clothing with some festooned in tinsel or colored paper and wearing masks to hide their faces while playing musical instruments in Céilí style, or process and dance on their own downtown streets. During days of yore, in-between the march, the revelers stopped at homes along the way to ask for money, food, and drink as ingredients for the parties that were celebrated on that day.
For those who did not contribute according to legend would risk having a wren buried outside of their door which would constitute twelve years of back luck for the non-donor. In present times, those who collect money often donates these alms to charity or local schools instead of using it on themselves. Leading the way for the band of revelers within the parade itself is a pole bearer (or a few) who has a faux wren (in past ages it was a real bird, but this practice was phased out around the turn of the twentieth century) mounted atop this staff and in some cases also adorned with a holly bush to further denote the hiding place of Stephen upon his discovery. Thu tradition is more common and celebrated fervently in different parts of Ireland including Dingle and Westmeath among others and has since fallen out of vogue in other regions of Ireland, but has undergone a more modern revival while keeping core traditions alive especially the honoring of the wren, song, dance, and expression which is now co-educational while in past days was a male only revelry.
Many who have no recognition of St. Stephen, may have heard his name within the refrain of the song “Good King Wenceslas” by John Mason Neale in 1853 actually in honor of his feast day. This ballad begins in the following manner: “Good King Wenceslas look’d out, On the Feast of Stephen; When the snow lay round about, Deep, and crisp, and even . . . Brightly shone the moon that night . . .”
This mention is also a compliment to a number of poems and songs that honor St. Stephen and the Day of the Wren including: “The Wren, The Wren” (The Wrenboys Song) published in popular music anthologies during the nineteenth centur
However, he most prevalent and standard of rhymes that is repeated over and over on December 26th is the following verse . . .
The Wren, the Wren the king of all birds, St. Stephens’s day, he was caught in the furze. Although he is little, his honour is great, Rise up, kind sir, and give us a trate.
We followed this Wren ten miles or more Through hedges and ditches and heaps of snow, We up with our wattles and gave him a fall And brought him here to show you all.
For we are the boys that came your way To bury the Wren on Saint Stephens’s Day, So up with the kettle and down with the pan! Give us some help for to bury the Wren!
For more information about the story of St. Stephen can be found within New Testament text found in our Rare Book Collection including one of the oldest of our Irish-language volumes entitled: Tiomna Nuadh ar dTighearna agus ar Slanuigheora Iósa Criosd : ar na ťarrv, ng go firněać as Greigis go Gioďeilg (1681) along with other versions in later editions in multiple languages.
For more information on St. Stephen, Wren Day, and other aspects of Irish and Religious History please feel free to contact us by phone at: (973) 275-2378, or via e-mail: Archives@shu.edu