Hello, my name is Heather Anne Margaret Foley, and as you can probably tell, I’m Irish. Growing up in South Boston in the 80s, my family was Irish (duh), my friends, classmates, teammates neighbors, etc. were all mostly Irish; with an Italian, Lithuanian, or Albanian sprinkled in here and there. Because of my life, and South Boston in general being so heavily Irish, I thought the crazy superstitions I grew up with were well and widely known. Imagine my surprise when I went over a friend’s house for dinner in college and said “oh no, bad luck” when she dropped scissors on the floor; she looked at me like I was insane. Or this week when a bird fell into my work and asked if anyone knew what type of bird it was so I could prepare for the exact kind of bad luck we were in store for. Irish people and their birds, I tell ya.
Because so many of you may not be intimately familiar with bonkers Irish superstitions, I decided to share some of my favorites, enjoy!
Remember learning that robins have red breasts because when Christ was crucified, a little robin tried to pry the thorns from his head and a drop of Christ’s blood got him? Oh, you didn’t learn that? Well, that’s why God loves working with robins and he uses them so often. If a robin flies into your house, someone will die (don’t get mad at me, I don’t make the rules). If you put a robin in a cage, all of heaven will be in a rage. Last but not least, if you kill a robin you will lead of life of misery. Be nice to, and also afraid of, robins.
Ringing in your ear
Hear, or is it feel, a ringing in your right ear? It’s not a big deal, it’s just the tortured souls of purgatory pleading for your prayers. And you better start praying, those headless babies need you! Wait, the headless babies are in limbo, purgatory is just full of suffering souls. Fun fact, in the Middle Ages theologians tried to calculate how long Christians spend in purgatory and it’s only 1000 or 2000 years, easy peasy!
Walk over a person
I once yelled “you’re going to kill him” at someone stepping over a photographer at work and it was a literal record scratch. Guess not everyone was raised repeating the rhyme “if you walk over a person on the floor that person will grow no more.”
New shoes on the table
This was a biggie in the Foley house, I think every August I got in trouble for putting my new back to school Bass penny loafers on the table. New shoes on the table is an all-around whopper of bad luck. It can bring about death, job loss, and/or a full twenty-four hours of bad luck. If anything bad happens it’s probably because someone, somewhere put a new pair of shoes on the table. I don’t know the superstition is new shoes, and not disgusting old shoes, but I’m sure they had their reasons.
If you meet a redhead first thing in the morning, you’ll have bad luck all day. Seeing that Ireland has the most gingies per capita in the world, that’s some real self-hating shit right there.
Cross on soda bread
When you bake bread (like a soda bread) you’re supposed to score a cross on top of the loaf because that lets the devil out. I don’t know if the devil lives in your raw bread or in your oven, but any way you slice it (get it?), you want him out.
Irish people and their birds! If you ask me, which you did not, we give magpies way too much power, and they didn’t even try to help Jesus. As the saying goes; one for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy, five for silver, six for gold, seven for a secret never to be told. But don’t worry, if you see a lone magpie you can possibly avoid sorrow by saluting the magpie. Yes, we believe if you salute a half pound songbird you may possibly not have bad luck.
We all know the phrase “my ears are burning”, but did you know they each burn for different reasons? When your left ear is burning someone is saying nice things about you, and it’s probably me. When your right ear is burning someone is talking shit about you, also probably me.
Comb on the ground
Never pick up a comb you find on the ground because it might belong to a banshee. Yes, a female spirit who signals the death of a loved one by shrieking may have dropped her comb on West Broadway so don’t touch it.
Rain at a funeral
I feel like a lot of these superstitions are of the bad luck variety, so here’s a good one! If it rains at a funeral it’s good luck, it means the deceased went straight to heaven. Although they are dead, so I guess that’s still bad luck.
Here we go with the birds again! I know we all know this superstition (good luck), but I want you to know it’s Irish.
Salt on the table
This is another one most people at least have some idea of; the Irish think spilling salt on the table is bad luck. BUT, you can take that spilt salt, throw it over your left shoulder and only your left shoulder, and you can blind the devil…because the salt goes in his eyes, obviously.
The last piece of bread
Thinking of taking the last piece of bread from the Cheesecake Factory breadbasket? Is it worth being an old maid? According to Irish legend if you do take the last piece you’ll be left on the shelf. And yes, I’ve eaten a lot of last slices in my day; worth it.
I only wrote about thirteen Irish superstitions (for obvious reasons), but there are seriously hundreds of them! I would love to know about your favorite Irish superstitions, especially if it wasn’t on my list!