Old Irish customs and traditions still practised today

Sep 30, 2017

If you haven’t been to Ireland, you may picture it like standing on top of a lush, green cliff looking over the crashing wild ocean, the wind in your hair and the salty air filling your lungs. Surely, the ancient Celts who lived in these parts some 2,000 years ago must have felt exactly the same way. A majority of the modern Irish calendar and little nuances of daily life today are influenced by those ancient Celts who blazed the trail, as well as the people and religious influences that followed. Here are some of the most popular traditions today and some of the history behind them. 

1. Christmas Eve traditions

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Irish families will often place a candle on the windowsill of their home on Christmas Eve – a tradition that symbolises the welcome of Mary and Joseph looking for shelter. It was also a symbol of a safe place for priests to perform mass in Penal Times as this was banned.

2. Saint Patrick’s Day

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Saint Patrick’s Day is celebrated all over the world, but what’s it’s true meaning beyond drinking Guinness and wearing green? Saint Patrick’s Day is the traditional death of Saint Patrick, the foremost patron saint of Ireland. The reason for the heavy boozing is that traditionally the Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol were lifted. As for the abundance of green, it’s the colour associated with Catholics in Ireland.

3. Wedding traditions

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If you’ve ever heard the phrase ‘Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue,’ the Irish go one step further by adding ‘And an old Irish penny in her shoe’. The penny was said to bring wealth and good fortune to the couple. 

4. Shrove Tuesday

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Shrove Tuesday is an annual pancake feast that takes place on February 24. It’s the night before the start of the Lenten fast. Mountains of pancakes are cooked and eaten, and over-indulgence is expected. The thick pancakes are sprinkled with lemon juice and sugar and then rolled and eaten. The tradition is as popular as ever – who could let a pancake feast tradition fade into the history books?

5. Irish dancing

The style of Irish dancing is iconic. Dancers are known for keeping their arms straight and kicking their feet to traditional music. It’s thought to have developed alongside Irish folk music in the 16th century. Today, visitors to Ireland can see traditional dances all around the country. One of the nation’s biggest shows is Celtic Nights performed seven nights a week in Dublin. It’s perfect for a bit of all-round Irish cultural entertainment. 

6. Halloween

Did you know that Halloween actually dates back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain? The Celts lit bonfires and wore elaborate costumes to ward off ghosts each year before November 1, which was seen as the new year. This day marked the end of summer and the end of the harvest, as well as the beginning of the dark, cold winter. On the night before – October 31 – the Celts believed the worlds of the living and the dead merged and the dead returned to the earth to wreak havoc. They burned crops and animals as sacrifices to the deities, praying to last through the winter. The tradition has, of course, become commercialised today and it’s practiced in many parts of the world. 

Are you aware of any other Irish traditions?

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