Clare County Library
Clare Folklore
Home | Search Library Catalogue | Foto: Clare Photo Collection | OS Maps | Search this Website | Copyright Notice

A Folklore Survey of County Clare by Thomas Johnson Westropp


Omens, Dreams & Divination

It is an unlucky sign to meet ‘a stranger woman with red hair,’ or a hare, or a fox, when setting out in the morning. A poem by Andrew MacCurtin, as already noted, condoles with Father MacDonnell, a Franciscan living in Corcomroe, for the loss of his horse, and suggests that the garran fell a victim to the evil eye or to the look of a red-haired woman. A sign much feared in north-east Clare is the flying of a bat into one’s face, which forebodes sickness. A robin, a stray cat, or a cricket coming into a house is lucky, but some regard the last as a sign of death,—though this belief is rare and perhaps imported, for in Dublin ‘the ever-faithful cricket’ is also a death omen. If the right ear tingles some one is praising you, and if the left someone is abusing you. If the right hand itches you will lose money, and if the left you will receive it, providing you rub or scratch it on wood. Any one of these omens from itching is good after sunset, and rubbing the right hand on wood saves the situation or the money in either case. To get dirt on one is most lucky,— ‘the dirtier the better.’ To stumble upstairs, and to be looked at by a cat after it has washed its face, are signs of approaching marriage.

It is most unlucky to dream of church or clergy, and, above all, of the sacraments. To dream of a cat foretells an enemy; of a dog, a friend; of crows or filth, riches and plenty; of silver, disappointment; and of dirty or stormy water, trouble. Cheap dream books have corrupted local belief so much that it is now almost impossible to separate the older dream lore.

I have not found many methods of foretelling the future, but the following were of such common knowledge that I need cite no single authorities. On All Hallows Eve, I remember, before 1870, a blindfolded person would touch one of several saucers in which were respectively earth, water, salt, a bean, etc., symbolising death, emigration, luck, marriage, etc., in the ensuing year. In the same way a forecast was given by a ring, coin, bean, or red rag in the cake on the same day, and by a ring in the pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. On the former day also lead was melted and poured through a key handle into water for fortune-telling. The key of a bachelor’s house or room and a piece of wedding-cake put under a girl’s pillow produced a prophetic dream in which she might see her future husband or lover. A slug or snail put under a saucer on a slate or cabbage leaf, sprinkled with turf ashes or flour, traced the future lover’s initials, as did a long apple or orange peel waved thrice round the head and then thrown down. ‘Cup-tossing’ (i.e. cup-turning with tea leaves) was used, unsuccessfully, by a lady in 1879 to find out the future purchaser of her family’s demesne. Wandering beggar-women used cup-tossing for the fortunes of both maids and mistresses, and some gained much repute. One of these crones showed a sister of mine a rearing horse in the tea leaves, and foretold that her client was about to have a very narrow escape from death on the hunting field that day, which came true. Biddy Erly, a famous white witch living between Bodyke and Feakle in the middle of last century, used to foretell the death or recovery of her patients by a shamrock leaf in some fluid in a bottle; if it rose they recovered, but if it sank they died, and her prophecies were received with such undoubting faith that it is likely that they worked sometimes their own fulfilments. I heard that by a Protestant servant a key was shut and tied up in a Bible, its wards on Ruth’s reply when Naomi asked her to return from her, the book being then swung and the representative of Boaz surmised from the direction in which it pointed; but this may not have been true Clare folklore. Among the country folk crystal-gazing is unknown, and palmistry little, if at all, in use, but the more primitive methods have not been put down by increase of education, and the warning is still necessary of the quatrain cited in 1280, according to the ‘Cathreim Thoirdhealbaigh,’ by King Torlough mór O’Brien, as he set out to fight in this county,— ‘Attempt ye not the prediction of the lips; neither in curved (new) moon nor in presage of soothsayer put your trust.’


Chapter 11


Chapter 13