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, 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. The following extracts relate to superstitions, which were often passed through the generations, and come from two of our notebooks (V-16-5 & V-16-2). How many are you familiar with?
Luck - “In our part of the world, it was considered unlucky to bring peacock feathers into the house, ‘Once in three years came the navy of Thrace, bringing gold and silver, ivory and apes and peacocks’, Book of Kings 10:22.
“I have seen men spit on money for ‘luck’, they did slap hands. The money given back was called a luck penny.”
“It was considered unlucky to meet a certain woman first thing in the morning in this town. She was known ironically as ‘Lucky’. I met her Jan 1st, 1906 and broke my arm Dec 18th, 1906.”
Fairies - Fairy thorns were very common when I was young. We had one grow in our yard, it was well looked after for many years. It may have been there still if it hadn’t been uprooted by an engine drawing a threshing mill, coming in to thresh. My mother was very vexed about it, for she thought something would come wrong with the cattle.”
“This generation know nothing about fairies. They did exist in this country at early times. They could have either done you good or evil.”
Witchcraft - “Witchcraft was practiced in early times. I have known of people coming into your house where you were churning and you might as well quit, for if you churned all night you could never get any butter. Others wrought at putting a spell on you.”
Banshee - “The Banshee did follow certain families. There were people [by] the name of Courtney [who] lived not far from here, and people told me of seeing the Banshee near their house before a death. It followed that race of people for generations [until] the last one died some years back. It was like a wee old woman and always cried in a very [scary] dismal tone. ‘Och Och Anee’, repeating it three times.”
Healing water - “Montalto House, now in the possession of Lord Clanwillam, [at] the Spa was famous for its wells. Many visitors came a long way for to drink the spa water. It was supposed to have medical value and a cure for certain complaints.”
Giant’s grave - “Drumaghlis has just a few things that is worth mentioning. A giant’s grave – it is about 8 feet long and about four feet broad. It's in my brother’s farm Beech Hill but he is not interested in folklore so it is neglected, practically grown over with whins. It will soon be unknown as only a few of the old people know anything about it.”
Hauntings - “One time I was stopping with my brother. We had an old scutcher lodging with us at the time, he lay in a bedroom behind ours…One night about one or two o'clock, we weren't long in bed, when a heavy foot came along the corridor and walked on into our room and stopped just beside the bed. The old fellow heard it too, he said, ‘In the name of God what is that?’ I said, ‘I will try and see.’ I got out of bed carefully as I was afraid of stepping on somebody…[I looked] everyplace, even the fireplace, but never saw a trace of anything and never saw or heard anything going out.”
“The haunted house I refer to is in the townland of Clontaghnaglar, about three miles from Saintfield and two from Crossgar. I was reared about a quarter of a mile from it. Many a thing I heard and seen at it over 50 years ago. The banshee frequented it, as well as other spirits making noises at night. It got so bad the people had to sell out. I [haven’t lived in] Clontaghnaglar since the First World War, I never lived there since. There were other houses that were also haunted as well.”