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The Irish For: Cabbage in bed and fruit in a sock - a few lost rituals to help find a suitor

Here are some traditions described in an Irish poem that claim to help find a suitor.

Darach Ó Séaghdha Writer

THIS IS THE latest dispatch from our columnist Darach Ó Séaghdha, author of the award-winning and bestselling Motherfoclóir. Every Sunday morning, Darach will be regaling (re-Gaeling?) us with insights on what the Irish language says about Ireland, our society, our past and our present. Enjoy. 

In a week when absolutely nothing else happened anywhere, the nominations for the 2020 Golden Globes were announced on Monday.

Among the lucky names were two stars of the hugely popular show Fleabag. The central storyline of season 2 involves Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s fourth-wall-breaking protagonist falling for an Irish priest, and the complications that ensue.

The unfairness of withholding nice priests from the dating pool is a topic all too familiar to fans of Irish poetry, most notably Brian Merriman’s Cúirt An Mheán Oíche (the Midnight Court).

In this poem, the narrator falls asleep when out for a walk and has a vision in a dream (aisling) in which he is summoned by terrifying giant bailiff to be brought before a court of women.

In this court, men are on trial for the injustices in the sphere of love and marriage, with the fairy queen Aoibheall sitting as judge on proceedings.

At the end of the poem, she rules that priestly celibacy be abolished and that bachelors be conscripted into marriage at the age of twenty one.

In some respects, not much has changed since the 18th century, with some people
complaining about not being able to meet anyone suitable and others wanting the entire idea of marriage abolished altogether.

Having said that, the poem does list some lost superstitions relating to improving one’s chances at meeting a potential suitor.

Were they lost because they were proven not to work by some scientific method, or erased as part of the colonial process?

Either way, they give an insight into a different and fascinating time.

Top tips

Here are some of the rituals for improving your chances of finding a suitor as described in the poem. 

An ramhan go ciúin fán adhart chugam

A spade, placed peacefully under the pillow. The Freudian symbolism here is a bit on the nose.

Rámhainn (the modern spelling)

This is just one of the words in Irish for calling a spade a spade. Fans of the Playboy of the Western World will remember how Christy Mahon claimed to have “riz the Loy” when he killed his father – this is a borrowing from the Irish word láí.

In aghaidh na srotha do thomainn mo léine ag súil trím chodladh le cogar óm chéile

Speaking of the Playboy of the Western World, the first production of that play was marked by riots when the word shift, referring to a woman’s nightdress, was used. Shifts also turn up in the love charm superstitions listed in Merriman’s poem: if a girl washed her nightdress against the current of the stream, she would hear the whisper of the man she would marry in her dreams when she wore it.

M’igne is gruaig fán luaithghríos d’fhágainn 

This means fingernails and hair left in the ash of the fireplace. While in modern Irish iníon means daughter and ionga means a girl, in Old Irish these words shared a spelling – ingen.

Stoca de thorthaibh fém chluasa

Fruit in a sock, placed beneath the ear when falling asleep. Perhaps this one was a skincare hack rather than a magic spell.

Chuirinn sa tsop fúm tor gabáiste 

A head of cabbage placed under the bed. Unlike the others in this list, this wasn’t a real tradition, but is included in the poem as a play on the more widely-held myth about the aphrodisiac powers of placing a mandrake root under the bed.

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About the author:

Darach Ó Séaghdha  / Writer

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