Thursday, October 23, 2008


Although my Mom was second generation Irish American and had heard
many Irish superstitions and sayings growing up with her family. While
she wasn't overly superstitious, I can recall her saying some things which
she'd learned from her mother:

If your palm itched, you were going to receive money or find it.

If your ear itched, someone was talking about you.

A bird flying into the house was a sign of death.

Rain on a wedding day was a bad omen for the marriage.

Shoes on a table was bad luck.

Warts could be removed by rubbing them with a raw potato.

Opening an umbrella inside the house was bad luck.

Cats suck the breath out of a baby.

It was good luck to pick up a penny.

Four leaved clovers were good luck.

Stepping on cracks in the sidewalk was bad luck.

Death comes in threes.

If you put your broom outside the door on New Year's Eve, you'd have
good luck in the New Year.

Now my Mom didn't go around constantly saying all these things. Most
of the time they were casual remarks, such as "Oh, my palm's itchy, I must
be going to get some money." We heard that and the itching ear one more than
any of the others. And if there had been two deaths recently of people she knew
Mom would say the one about deaths coming in threes. There was only one time
I can recall where something happened which was connected to one of those sayings
that unsettled her. One day a bird flew down the chimney of the house we were
living in and landed in the unlit fireplace. Mom said it was bad luck and stayed in
her bedroom until I managed to get the bird to fly out the front door.

There was another family tradition but I'm not sure it was Irish American in origin.
When one of the family became pregnant, they spit on a penny and stuck it on the
inside frame of a doorway. If it stayed there for the whole 9 months, the child was
going to be a girl. If it fell off, it would be a boy(or vice verse. It's been over fifty
years now since the last time I saw this used).

Mom was red haired and green eyed, and when we were living in Dorchester she
had a reputation among my friends about knowing when we were up to something.
Of course it was because she'd done a lot of the same stuff as a kid herself but one
of the kids said she must be a witch. Ironically it was Jerry Lynch, whose parents
were Irish. A few years back, Gregory Maguire, the author of Wicked, was at our
store signing copies of the sequel, "Son of a Witch" and I told him the story.

He signed my copy "To Bill...another son of a witch."

Written for the 9th Edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage and Culture.


Colleen Degnan Johnson said...

Oh, totally cool Bill. I haven't read SON OF A WITCH yet but read the first book. It was awesome.

I have never heard the pregnant superstition before. Very interesting. I wonder if any ever stuck for the whole 9 months?

Bill West said...

Hi Colleen
The pennies had a better chance of sticking the whole nine months if
some of the boys in the family didn't up
against them and knock them off!