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The Child of Prague
by Joe McGowan
In the early days of broadcasting many a person who listened to, and acted on, the advice of the Met service had reason to rue their trust. Country people didn't need them. They knew there was rain on the way when big lumps of soot fell down the open fireplace and rolled out onto the floor. There was no surer indication. My mother's mortification was complete when the chimney spat its accusing message at a time when friends or neighbours visited. She took it as a reflection on her housekeeping abilities but deftly shifted the blame onto my father: 'I told that fella to clean the chimney,' shed fume, 'but you might as well be talkin' to the wall.'
Every area had its own weather indicators. Bad luck to that oul' whinaforlia wind, Petie Rooney of Glenade in North Co. Leitrim would say when the wind blew from Crumpaun mountain, its rain any hour from it. Bright mornings are a fools guarantee of a good day. Shakespeare, well aware of such traitorous dawnings, wrote:
'Full many a glorious morning I have seen,
Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye
And then permit the basest clouds to ride
With ugly rack on his celestial face.'
Where the elements were concerned a lot of people were not prepared to take chances. When it was vital to have good weather, like on the day of a wedding* or a rick, the little statue of the Child of Prague, normally kept in the house, was moved outdoors and placed under the hedge. I don't think any threat was intended, but if rain came hed be the first to know!
Every home had a statue of the Child of Prague. But in our house its duties were different. That little figurine was our investment bank. My mother always kept a hapenny wrapped in brown paper tucked tidily underneath. Even through a childs eyes this seemed strange behaviour. When I asked her why she did it she told me that the Holy Child would see that the house was never without money. Her mother did it before her and the old people believed it.
Not having any money, we thought a lot about it. The Child of Prague's commitment seemed much like the promises of the Sacred Heart to the house where his heart is 'exposed and honoured. This contract was on the wall of every Irish home. There was an important difference though. With the Child of Prague the assurance wasnt in writing. Maybe it should have been. But it wasnt. It was handed down information. There was nothing you could point to and say: See! This is what you promised. With the Sacred Heart it was reassuring to have it in print. When things weren't going well you could go to the inscription on the wall and read it again to make sure it wasn't a misunderstanding. When we had nothing else we had hope and promises. Have the name of it if ye never had it my mother declared defiantly in bleak times.
In the evening's gathering dark, when the days work was done, my mother and I often walked along the path that ran through the meadow, cans in hand, to get water from the well. Sometimes we saw a new sliver moon suspended in the sky. When this happened and we stopped to admire, the Druid spirit of pagan ancestors stirred in her soul. Druid or saint, this practical woman was prepared to take help from wherever it came. Following a custom as old as the rocks themselves she turned a small flat stone on the ditch three times saying, I see the new moon, the new moon sees me. God bless the new moon and God bless me. This, she said, was to bring good luck and money until the new moon came again.
As the years went by even I could see that our house never had any extra money, so I took to looking under the little metal statue to see if someone had removed the hapenny. But it was always there, and my mother always believed, and still we never had any money or not for long anyway. We owed the price of the calves before they were sold. The creamery cheques disappeared as soon as they arrived. So I stopped believing. Oh sure, gwan with ye, I said to her when I got older, Sure, we always have money in the house, we always have a hapenny. She looked at me, and smiled, her faith unshakeable, and prayed for my unbelief.
In Mullaghmore, we didn't know little Jesus could be used to influence the weather. Had we known this we might have changed its duties and spent the ha'penny!
Devotion to the Child of Prague and belief in its power to influence the weather is still strong in many parts of Ireland. A wedding gift of a statue of the Child of Prague is particularly auspicious. The practise of putting it out in the hedge, or burying it in the garden, as a solicitation for good weather is, even in this age of unbelief, widespread in areas as far apart as Cork, Dublin, Sligo and Leitrim. Some believe that, 'it'll not bring you right luck till the head falls off it,' but the decapitation must happen by accident.
Devotion to the child began in 1556 when Maria Manriquez de Lara brought the image of the infant Jesus, a family heirloom, to Czechoslovakia from Spain on her marriage to Vrasitlav of Pernstyn. It is housed now in the church of Our Lady of Victory in Prague and is an object of veneration in many other countries besides Ireland.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart can be traced back to St. John Eudes and St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. It received a new impetus following the French revolution and became popular during the Restoration period in that country. The devotion was introduced to Ireland by Dr. Moylan, Bishop of Cork from 1787 to 1815. These were Penal times so the rapid spread of this new zeal caused great alarm to the British authorities and Commissioners of Education. Fearing a Jesuit plot they, 'inquired long and searchingly' into its origins and popularity and supressed it wherever found.
Reprinted with the kind permission of the author.
Today, thousands of pilgrims go to Prague each year to pay homage to the Infant of Prague.The Annual Feast of the Coronation of the miraculous statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague is held on the first Sunday of May every year. For more details, we invite you to visit the web site for Our Lady of Victory Church.
Joe Mc Gowan is a local historian and native of Mullaghmore, Co. Sligo. Born on the family farm, he worked there in his early years until emigrating to the U.S.A. in the early 60s. Six months after he arrived, he was drafted into the U. S. army. Following discharge from the Army, he lived and worked in the U.S. in commercial and residential construction for many years. Marrying, he returned to Ireland with his wife and young family in the late 70s. The Celtic Tiger was not yet born, scarcity of work dictated a career change, so Joe took up salmon and lobster fishing off the Sligo coast aboard his half-decker fishing boat the Connaught Ranger and conducting tour-boat trips to Inishmurray aboard the Excalibur with his partner Keith Clarke.
Shortly after his return to Ireland, Joe Mc Gowan, becoming keenly aware of the accelerating pace of change in the Irish countryside, decided to record the old lore before it vanished completely. Since that time he has been dedicated to preserving, visually and orally, Ireland s disappearing traditions and customs. Now a full-time writer his books, backed by meticulous archival research, are inspired by countless nights spent visiting the older generation and listening to their tales. His short stories, usually cameos of Irish life both past and present, feature frequently in national magazines and on radio. He is also a Heritage Specialist with the Irish National Teachers Organisation Heritage in Schools Scheme.
His publications include the classic: In the Shadow of Benbulben; Echoes of a Savage Land; Constance Markievicz; the Peoples Countess; Co. Sligo Famine Book; Inishmurray Gale, Stone and Fire; Island Voices and most recently, co-authored with artist Anne Osborne: Sligo, Land of Destiny.
The days of the fireside story-tellers are gone, but their stories and lore happily live on in Joes books and now on his website:
ED. Note: The following is reprinted from Bridget Haggertys book, The Traditional Irish Wedding:
To ensure a fine day for the wedding, there are three slightly different customs involving the Infant of Prague, a religious statue which is often displayed in more traditional Irish Roman Catholic homes. The first is to place the statue outside under a bush the night before and if the statue is found headless next day, the sun will shine. (What may help, of course, is that the heads on these statues are notoriously prone to falling off!). Another version is to put the statue in the hallway of the bride's home with a unit of paper currency underneath it. The third custom is to place the statue to one side of the church door(s) on the wedding morning.
Tue, Dec 2, 2014
Holly and Ivy hanging up and
something wet in every cup*
Not so long ago, Irish Christmas decorations were much simpler than they are now. The children gathered holly and ivy for adorning, windows, doorways, mantles and pictures, and the father would carve out a turnip in which would be placed a large red candle. This would go in the window to light the way for the Holy Family on Christmas Eve. Only in relatively recent times did an Irish family have a Nativity scene and a decorated tree in the house. As for Mistletoe, it's quite rare in ireland and is generally associated with ancient Celtic and Druidic fertility celebrations; this is most likely where the custom of kissing under the mistletoe comes from.
*Old Irish Christmas toast
Image: Pashley Manor Gardens.
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This fascinating book was just released. Joe McGowan's easy familiarity with the folkways of his childhood helps transport us to these lost scenes of 1950s Ireland. We heard from Joe and he has a new Web Site. You can visit by clicking: Sligo Heritage.
Click here for Echoes