Religious Customs And Traditions

There have been dramatic changes over the last twenty, or even fifteen, years. Lent lasted for seven weeks or forty week days. Ash Wednesday was a black fast with no meat of any type. During Lent people would only eat one full meal and two “collations”. There was no meat on Fridays; eating fish and white sauce was a treat in those days. No eggs were eaten during Lent; they were used up on Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Tuesday. Then the rest were saved for a feast on Easter Sunday. Nowadays we have chocolate eggs. For many people fish was always eaten on Friday instead of meat, there used to be a picture of a fish on the calendar for Fridays. There was no dancing during Lent. For many courting couples this was a test of love. One man said he didn’t see his girlfriend for seven weeks and he said she’ll either love me or she won’t.

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The stations usually took place during October and March. Everyone looked forward to this very special event. The house would be cleaned for the event. Mass was said in the house, the entire village was invited. Tea and cakes afterwards also white bread and red jam, real treats. As there were so many houses in the villages the stations only took place twice a year. It might not be your house for another twenty years. In autumn, at October stations the Oats Money would be collected. It was money collected by the priest from all the people. Each household gave two shillings or a half crown. It was called “oats money” as the priest’s mode of transport was a horse. The people of the parish gave the money to the priest to keep the horse. Then it changed from money for the priest. From corn to coins.

The mass was in Latin, the priest had his back turned to the congregation. There were altar rails in front of the steps. No women were allowed inside the rails. No girls were allowed to serve mass. Then after Vatican II the mass changed to English, the rails were taken down, the altar was brought forward and the priest faced the people. Most people went to the first Mass in the morning as they were fasting since before midnight, everyone was dressed in their best. People went to confessions every month on a Saturday evening. Kids now ask what kind of people were ye that had to confess every month; were ye real criminals?

Up until thirty years ago a mother was not allowed to go into the church after having a baby until she was “churched”. She couldn’t even attend the christening! If a child was born during the week they were taken to the church the very next Sunday to be baptised. “Churched” was the term used to explain that the mother had brought a child into the world with original sin and baptising the baby would get rid of it in the child, also the mother had to be welcomed back into the church. While the mother was waiting to be churched she had to stay at home, not go to mass, couldn’t be in public, couldn’t go to a neighbour’s house as she was still unclean. Once the child was baptised the mother had a blessing to forgive her for bringing original sin into the world. Women just accepted it at the time, it wasn’t something they questioned.

This all changed with Vatican II in 1972, nowadays the two parents are churched or receive this blessing during the baptism of their child. Anyone who took their own life was not buried in the graveyard as they had committed a mortal sin. If a child died before it was baptised, then it was not allowed to be buried in the normal family graveyard. The father sometimes buried it in the night, in an unmarked grave. The majority of mothers never got to see their child if it was stillborn, even if it was born in a hospital, and they weren’t to know where the child was buried. There are many children’s graveyards around Killeen: Doughmakeon, Askillaun, Feenone, Glenkeen. These graves are now marked and preserved and mass has been said for their little souls. There has always been a strong faith in the Killeen area handed down from generation to generation. Killeen had the highest number of priests and nuns in Ireland. There was a great belief in superstitions or “Piseogs” at that time. But yet no-one broke the rules just in case. No-one questioned why a pregnant woman would not go into the graveyard.

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Wakes were a huge part of the custom. They went on for three nights in the olden days. People looked forward to a wake as they wouldn’t have work for a few days. It was sometimes like a party; chalk pipes, tobacco and cigarettes, drinks of all kinds, sandwiches and cakes. Tobacco was in short supply but there was always plenty at a wake. There was always a bit of messing or innocent devilment going on. There were no undertakers at the time so the woman of the house and sometimes a local nurse would wash the body and prepare it for burial. The rosary was said at midnight and if a woman died a man would say it and if a man died a woman would say it. Men women and children attended the wake. The curtains would be closed, mirrors turned away or a black cloth put over them to stop the spirits escaping. Coffins were brought to the church on a horse drawn cart. Four close neighbours would dig the grave as is still the tradition. Anthony McHale used to make the coffins. Paddy O’Malley had a hearse. Then Michael Sweeney’s father had coffins and Michael Sweeney was the first undertaker in the area, his son Peter is still the only one in Louisburgh. Long ago if somebody died in England and was to be buried here, the coffin was tied to the roof rack of a car or van and booked in as freight. After a burial a family would mourn for a year, they would wear all black clothes; a black diamond was worn on the sleeve to show you were mourning. There was no dancing or socialising for the whole family.

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People walked over hills or across fields to go to mass. In Gowlan there is a Holy water fountain that never dries up. It is reputed to hold cures for warts and sore eyes to the believers. There is a sundial on the front of the church and really beautiful stone work. Killeen church was built in 1897 and up until then mass had been said in Gowlan. There was a strong gathering at Sodality meetings. There would be a group blessing in Louisburgh church. The highlight was going to Doughmakeon; a bus went from Killeen to Louisburgh with all the young lads. But you had to walk home afterwards even if you had a few “penny legs” or a glass of some “ding dangs “in Joe Macs. The first Saturday of the month was children’s sodality, the second Saturday in the month was women’s sodality and the third Saturday of the month was men’s.

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People went on pilgrimages all the time. If you were able you climbed Croagh Patrick on the last Sunday of July. On the fifteenth of August it was over to Kilgeever holy well also known as St. Brigid’s well where you did the stations around the blessed well and the rosary was said around the structures and ruins.

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Some made the trip to Cahir Island on the 15th of August to finish off the summer pilgrimages.

This page was added by Richard Woodward on 01/08/2011.

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