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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.
The Hill of Slane
It had long been known as sacred ground when St. Patrick visited the hill on the eve of Easter in 433 A.D. He lit a Paschal or Easter fire which could be seen from the nearby hill of Tara, the royal seat of power. There, a fire also burned to celebrate the pagan feast of Beltane. Since it was against the law to light any fire in the area while this was taking place, Laoghaire, the king at that time, was furious and rode off with his retinue to arrest the mystery rebel. Miraculously - some say through an earthquake, others by holding up a shamrock- St. Patrick convinced the king of his belief in Christianity and the power of the Holy Trinity. It was a power that St. Patrick thought would be useful to the king who only wished that his soldiers could be as brave as St. patrick and his followers. He took the group prisoner and marched them back to the Hill of Tara. The next day, they were spared and were allowed to preach Christianity to the pagan army. Today, at the top of the hill are the ruins of a Franciscan Monastery built in 1512.
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March 4, 2011
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