Irish Folk Lore
The Irish Times
As reprinted in The Sullivan Review
May 12, 1902
Curious Superstitions About Birds in the Old Country.
The robin is called "Gods' bird", because it plucked a thorn from the cruel crown upon the head of our Saviour, and in doing so wounded its own
breast. It forsakes a "cursed" graveyard.
The wren is chased every St. Stephen's day on account of it betraying the Saviour by chattering in a clump of furze where he was hiding. It is called the "king of all birds", because it concealed itself beneath the wing of the eagle when that lordly bird claimed supremacy by soaring highest. "Here I am", said the wren, mounting above the eagle's head, when the latter could go no higher.
The blackbird and thrush are "wandering souls" whose sins must be expiated on earth, hence they are forced to endure the rigors of winter. Rooks, jackdaws, bats, hawks and owls are animated by lost souls. The wagtail is called the "devil's bird", for no other reason, I suppose, than that it cleverly evades the missiles thrown at it. A dead wagtail is a rara avis.
The stone chat is continually chatting with the evil one, so it is held in bad repute, and as the raven commonly impersonates his sable majesty it is ranked in the same category of evil birds. Sometimes, however, its appearance forebodes a death. With the ancient Greeks the magpie was supposed to possess the soul of a gossiping woman, and we all know how unlucky it is to meet an odd number of the species in Ireland.
One comes for sorrow, two for mirth,
Three for a berrin', and four for a birth.
Crows, like crickets, come for good or evil luck, but the "curse of the crows" is a malediction to be avoided. If good luck abides in the homestead where they build their rookery they should not be molested. Sparrows, stares and plovers are on friendly terms with the fairies. The lark and the swallow are birds of good omen, but the latter should not rest on the housetop.
The sedge warblers possess the souls of unbaptized babes, and sing their sorrow at the midnight hour; while the linnet, yellowhammer and finch sing their plaintive and tender songs to remind us they are souls of departed friends not yet relieved from purgatorial pains. The bittern is their herald at night.
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