In the past, the Irish Easter was a season of prayer, fasting, feasting, and music.
The period known as “Holy Week,” which contains Good Friday, used to last for an entire seven days. Up until Friday, when some families restricted themselves to only dry bread and water, the everyday fare of this difficult week consisted of black tea, dry bread, potatoes with salt (but no butter or buttermilk), and possibly a small amount of porridge.
Holy Week was challenging because it came after a five-week time of semi-fasting during which salted herring and a small amount of milk might have also been permitted (but no meat). So difficult that in the middle of the 19th century, the Church authorities formally reduced the Holy Week fast to two days.
Good Friday In Ireland
All bread baked on Good Friday has been marked with a cross since the Middle Ages in memory of Christ’s crucifixion on this day. The Hot Cross Buns that we consume today carry on the tradition. But it goes further than that.
Every day of the year, people in Ireland still stamp homemade bread with a cross, continuing one of the simplest Easter customs in the world.
In contrast, eggs laid on this day were marked with a cross, just like bread, and saved for consumption until Easter Sunday. Good Friday eggs were believed to hatch especially healthy birds.
In accordance with Easter’s schedule, it was also customary to plant maize on Good Friday,but this would only be done if the potato seed had already been planted.
Irish customs on Easter Saturday
For the six-week fast from meat, our rural and coastal forebears’ meagre diet was varied by dried fish, especially herring. By Easter Saturday, people’s stomachs were eagerly expecting a satisfying meal of roasted or boiled meat. I feel bad for the fish! In a ritual known as “Whipping the Herring,” the populace blamed it for their hunger after it had given such sustenance.
The procession, which involved hanging a dead fish from a pike and carrying it through the streets, was typically organised by butchers, who were glad that they would soon be able to market meat again. The procession would carry a dead spring lamb decorated with ribbons and flowers on its journey back from the river. This Irish Easter custom endured into the 20th century and was well-known throughout the country.
Irish traditions on Easter Sunday
Easter Saturday marked the end of the Lent fast, so the following day was a day of eating. The well-to-do ate chicken, lamb, and veal during the holiday season. They might also be on the table for the neighbours of a kind farmer who was willing to give away his livestock. However, for the majority, the salted corned beef, baked Easter ham, or boiled bacon served with cabbage and potatoes served as the main course of the meal.
The day started with eggs. And numerous of them. Six eggs were the typical Easter breakfast for an Irishman. Six, yes! They could be boiled or fried. If the latter was the case, natural colourings derived from lichens or herbs were added to the boiling water to colour the shells. These shells were then kept to decorate the May bush, an additional Irish tradition.
Children had their very own Irish Easter traditions known as the clúdóg. This involved calling on neighbours and family to collect gifts of eggs, potatoes, cakes, bread and butter, and milk or flavoured water. The children would then gather in a field, a makeshift ‘den’ beneath a tree, or a fireside (if the weather was poor) to cook their eggs and enjoy their feast.
Other Irish Easter traditions were the rolling of hard-boiled eggs down the nearest hill, giving roasted potatoes to any beggar who called at the door, and the Cake Dance.
More from Happy Ireland
We hope you have enjoyed our blog! Want to read more from us? Check out our Blogs Page.
With Happy Ireland Productions, you can preserve your memories to last forever. We can work with all sorts of media. From video tape transfers and film processing to cine film conversion. Browse our full list services.
Visit one of our partners to drop off your assortment of media. You’ll receive your DVD or digital copy with the original. Simple and Safe!
Your memories are priceless so why risk losing them.