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Bird and Mark Burnett, [ He achieved acclaim as the patron saint of soldiers, but also managed to become the patron saint of conscientious objectors! The Basilica at Tours, France above. St Martin served as Bishop here from — but reluctantly.
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It is said that he tried to hide from those who wanted to install him as Bishop, but his hiding place was given away by the cackling of geese — which have been associated with the saint ever since. Other stories tell how the saint destroyed pagan temples and cut down sacred trees: in one instance, the pagans agreed to fell their sacred fir tree, if Martin would stand directly in its path.
He did so, and it miraculously missed him. Archaeological analysis has shown it was probably made in the 13th or 14th century from a late Bronze Age stone axe dating from c 1, — BC. Here it is:. It seems a little incongruous, perhaps, to come from a world of basilicas and silver hammers to ancient folk-customs in rural Ireland, but not so long ago Martinmas was greatly celebrated here.
On the eve of St Martin who is one of the greatest saints in their calendar in November every family of a village kills an animal of some kind or other; those who are rich kill a cow or a sheep, others a goose or a turkey; while those who are poor, and cannot procure an animal of greater value, kill a hen or a cock and sprinkle the threshold with the blood, and do the same in the four corners of the house; and this ceremonious performance is done to exclude every kind of evil spirit from the dwelling where this sacrifice is made, till the return of the same day in the following year.
No miller sets a wheel in motion today, no more than a spinning woman would set a spinning wheel going, nor does the farmer put his plough team to plough. One year Martin forgot it and when he awoke in the morning the floor from his bedroom to the kitchen was covered with blood.
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Martin washed out the floor, but when he awoke again the following morning the floor was covered with blood again. This went on for three nights. Martin was very troubled about it so he told his story to an old woman that lived near him.
The old woman told him it was because he had not killed something in honour of St Martin. Every year after that till he died Martin killed a hen or something in honour of St Martin. It is held as a feast day in honour of St Martin. In olden times the mills used not work on that day The women in olden times used not work. No one would turn a wheel not even of a car.
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There was a man who emigrated to America. He was telling his friends that he would like to be home in Ireland, because if he were home he would kill a cock in honour of St. He went outside and he went down the street. He met a man on a beautiful white horse. The man asked him would he like to go home. He said he was just wishing to be at home.
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He told him to get up on the horse. He did so and the next place he found himself was at his own door in Ireland.
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The man told him to come out at a certain hour. He killed the cock and came out at the hour that he was told to do so. The man was waiting for him at the door. He got up on the horse and rode away. It was said that it was St Martin who brought him home. What about Fenny Poppers? I hear you ask. Well, we have to go across to Northamptonshire, in England, for this surviving — and most curious — custom. The subject is by no means exhausted!
No wonder, surely, that the imagination turns to arcane, otherworldly — even ghoulish — matters. And no wonder, also, that this time is associated with the spirits of the dead — and the Other Crowd. Our little community of Ballydehob in West Cork takes Samhain very seriously — of course! So I thought I would give you a short overview, mainly in pictures, as to what you can expect to find in the village on this day.
Earlier in the week I gave a talk about folklore, customs and traditions in the Bank House Talks in the Vaults series and — to acknowledge that we were nearly at Samhain — Finola provided barm-brack for everyone. While preparing the talk, I reflected on this time of the year — and what it had meant to me when I was growing up in England.
For sure, we had a celebration at around this time the beginning of November , when we lit bonfires and got excited by throwing firecrackers and bangers around. When I moved to the western counties of England I discovered that the Bonfire Night celebrations there were far more elaborate, probably far more ancient, and included blazing tar barrels being pulled through the narrow streets by crowds of young people. These seemed much closer to the outlandish atmosphere of Halloween which we find in Ireland now.
Thank you to the many residents, shop owners and publicans who have joined in and worked so hard to bring this ancient Irish festival to life today. It was a unique experience! The topsy-turvy world is an aspect of folk culture that goes back a long way — and deliberately sets out to upset the norm, making us all feel a little less comfortable. Ballydehob Garda Station has a haunted look about it this week! And the display there included a very appetising stew… Pics above. Remember that celebrations take place every year at this time around the world.
It is a time to remember the ancestors, and welcome them back to their homes. The fiesta which can last for three days is filled with marigolds, the flowers of the dead; muertos the bread of the dead ; sugar skulls; cardboard skeletons; tissue paper decorations; fruit and nuts; incense, and other traditional foods and decorations. All this bears a remarkable similarity to the goings on in Ballydehob — and all over Ireland — today: skeletons and skulls are very much in evidence!
But remember, also, the ancient origins of this festival, and the fact that very much the same thing — honouring the ancestors and the coming of the dark time of the year — is being enacted all across the world at this time. I first met Rosemary Kavanagh at our Irish immersion course last summer in Ballyferriter. We enjoyed a long chat on one of our outings and she told me she was a basket weaver. Her knowledge of the natural world around us was impressive and I responded to her ready laugh and her gentle, slightly ethereal presence.
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