Easter Reminiscences

My name is Claire Brown and I work for National Museums NI as a first-person interpreter at the Ulster Folk Museum in Cultra. Having recently embarked on a Masters degree within the Irish Studies Institute at Queen’s University Belfast, I am currently undertaking a student placement in the Folk Museum’s archives.

The archives contain a collection of handwritten notebooks which were compiled by individuals and organisations in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The purpose of them was to record, by county and locality, all manner of things including domestic life, schooling, local characters, customs, folklore, trade and agricultural practices.

As part of my placement, I have been transcribing points of interest in the notebooks. Spring is starting to show her beautiful face with Easter fast approaching. Through the notebooks, I have compiled a few first-hand accounts of the Easter of old.

Image: Botanic Gardens, Easter Monday 1900 (BELUM.Y11841).
Botanic Gardens, Easter Monday 1900 (BELUM.Y11841).

Egg rolling

“On this day children would trinnel or roll eggs…As a rule, the same field with a good hill was chosen.” (V-16-3)

“Trinnel eggs was a favourite among young ones they went to a steep grassy bank to see who could trinnel furthest, but sometimes the eggs got broken. But they weren’t lost for some of the competitors liked the eating just as well as the game.” (V-16-2)

Eating eggs

“Children make ‘feasts’ with eggs boiled with whin blossoms a sheltered spot was found a little fire lit with twigs and the eggs boiled.” (V-16-13)

Dying eggs

“Eggs were dyed by being boiled with tea leaves or whin blossom. If dyes were used the eggs inside would absorb some, and most children would not eat for fear of poison.” (V-16-4)

Image: Eggs dyed with whin (Gorse) blossom to give them a bright colour.
Eggs dyed with whin (Gorse) blossom to give them a bright colour.


“I do not remember the black fast which some strict observers used to keep in lent, when they lived on little but black tea, dry bread, potato, and salt fish, but in my schooldays salt ling was sold by many grocers during lent.” (V-16-4)

Image: "Waling spuds" (washing potatoes), Glenariff, Co. Antrim (BELUM.Y.W.01.51.6).
"Waling spuds" (washing potatoes), Glenariff, Co. Antrim (BELUM.Y.W.01.51.6).

Easter houses

“Somewhere near our home we always erected a rough shelter of sods, wattles and rushes which we called an ‘Easter house’. We lit a fire and sat around in a very Smokey atmosphere inside the shelter. This was a very common Easter custom in my early years.” (V-17-1)

Clothes and Shoes

New clothes and shoes were not easy to come by for most families. This meant the sprucing up of what you already owned including if you were lucky, boots or clogs which meant getting the blacking out.

“Very few owned two pair of shoes and quite a lot had none. Boot polish as we know it today (April 1960) did not exist. The blackening was in slabs hard and solid. Something like our stove polish before the enamel cooker came into use. This was wet probably by spit and the brush rubbed in it and then transferred to the boot or clog to be polished, it gave quite a good shine. But it was slow and laborious to use though I was told it was better for the leather than our modern shoeshine.” (V-19-7)

Image: McAfee Ltd., shoe shop, Chichester Street, Belfast (BELUM.Y1780).
McAfee Ltd., shoe shop, Chichester Street, Belfast (BELUM.Y1780).

I hope you have enjoyed reading these Easter customs from the archives. How many do you remember? Do you still practice any of them?