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Easter Saturday and a Funeral for a Fish
Each of them carried a stick and beat on the herring until by the time they reached a place called the Big Bridge, there was almost nothing left of it. What little remained was then hurled with insults into Castletown River. In its place on the stick, was positioned a quarter of lamb, festooned with flowers and ribbons.
The procession then triumphantly returned through the streets to the market place, accompanied by musicians and cheers from the spectators along the route.
In Drogheda, Co. Louth, the custom was called Whipping the Herring. Here, it was the butcher boys who assembled and tied dozens of herrings to a long rope. One of the boys would throw the rope over his shoulder and run, dragging the line of fish behind him. In hot pursuit, the other boys would follow with whips and sticks, constantly flailing at the fish until not even a fin was left.
In Cork, it was a single herring that was carried aloft by the butchers and, as they paraded through the streets, the crowd would jeer and throw insults. Similar parades were held in Dublin on Easter Monday - often with the participants dressing in fantastic garments. There, a donkey formed part of the procession, its back covered by a cloth decorated with a cross.
Many of these Herring Processions were organized to raise contributions for the participants to help compensate for Lenten losses. And certainly, the spectators, who had grown weary of their tedious Lenten diet, were more than happy to show their appreciation for the return of meat to their tables. But, it wasnt only the butchers who put together a funeral for a fish.
In Carickmacross, County Monaghan, for example, these Last Rites of Lent took place right after the late Mass on Easter Sunday. Dressed in their Easter finery, the young people formed a procession. At the head was a young man or woman who carried a long pole from which dangled a herring. Accompanied by fiddlers, the gathering then marched to a lake just outside of town and, with laughter and cheers, they removed the herring from the pole and threw it into the water.
Besides drowning the herring, the Irish also observed another important Holy Saturday custom. In the Roman Catholic Church, water is blessed on Holy Saturday for use in special rituals. It was popular belief in the old days that this Easter Water had the power to prevent illness and guard against danger, so one member of every household would be sure to bring some home.
Every person in a family drank three sips of the water in the name of the Blessed Trinity. It was also sprinkled on the house, its occupants, the outbuildings, livestock and growing crops. The rest of the Easter Water was safely stored away for future use, and, according to tradition, it would remain fresh for ever.
A turf cinder from the Paschal or Easter Fire was also believed to bring prosperity and to protect against the danger of fire if it was brought to the church and blessed.
Have you ever seen the sun dance? I explain this Easter Sunday morning miracle in The dance of the Sun at dawn and a cake dance in the afternoon.
Founded in 545 AD by St Ciaran, Clonmacnoise monastery became between the 7th and 12th centuries a religious, literature and arts center for monks all over Europe. They came to study and pray in the Island of saints and scholars when the rest of Europe was still in the Dark Ages. Clonmacnoise was totally devastated by fire as well as successive raids but the site retains its stunning features. The view captured in this image has remained relatively unchanged for 1500 years. Clonmacnoise lay in decay until the Office of Public Works began the arduous task of turning this sacred place into one of Ireland's most famous visitors' centres. Interestingly - and we have yet to find out why - for centuries, courting couples have stood on each side of the arch whispering their words of love to each other.
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March 4, 2011
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