Ireland and Irish people are renowned the world over for our culture, traditions and customs. However, while many people will be well aware of customs such as Halloween, traditional music, Irish dancing and our *so-called* love of potatoes, for every familiar custom documented in our rich cultural heritage there are more that are reserved just for the Irish themselves. Here are some traditions that are uniquely our own.
Thanking the Bus Driver
Perhaps the most quintessentially Irish tradition imaginable, it goes without saying that you thank the bus driver as you get off the bus at your destination. Commuters have certainly not lost their old-fashioned manners in the age of the internet, as Dublin Bus research in 2015 showed that 90% of all passengers always say thank you to the driver – just like their mammies taught them.
An ode to the pagan traditions of Celtic Ireland, it is regarded as good luck to nod to magpies as you pass. This superstition is likely linked to the rhyme ‘One for Sorrow’, which says that the number of magpies you see can indicate whether your day will be one of sorrow or joy, as well as indicating the sex of an unborn baby.
A time-honoured tradition, Irish people tend to drink in ‘rounds’, which means each person buys a drink for every member of the group, taking turns in sequence. If you refuse a drink or skip out on buying a round, this can be very insulting and you could be stuck with the reputation of being a ‘round dodger’. Bad news.
The Irish Wake
Death is taken very seriously in Ireland, and traditional wakes are commonly held in rural areas. Wakes are a two-day mark of respect for the deceased, whereby people are given the chance to come to the house of the person who died and visit them to pay their respects. It is common for many hundreds of people to attend an Irish wake, including those who didn’t know the person well, and it is often a chance to share stories about the person’s life over drinks and a traditional singalong.
Lighting Candles in Churches
No Irish student would dare to sit their end of school Leaving Certificate exams without the guarantee that their mam or granny lit a candle for them in their local church. While religious customs are waning in Ireland, people still take their chances in times of stress or hardship, or when an important event is occurring. Lighting a candle acts as an offering of prayer for good fortune to come to the person it is dedicated to.
The Barn Brack
While Halloween has been co-opted as an international holiday of vampires and witches, it has its roots in the Celtic festival of Samhain, which marked a day where the links between the underworld and overworld were forged and spirits roamed freely. While few Irish people practise pagan traditions today, we still hide coins, rings and treats in cakes, known as barn bracks to hide them from the fairies.
It can be easy to reduce the culture of Ireland to leprechauns and shamrocks, but our depth and heritage lie in those more easily overlooked. So, the next time you pass a magpie, give him a nod, knowing you are following in the footsteps of your great Irish ancestors.