EUGENE DALY continues his series on various aspects of Irish folklore and customs
Holy Week is the last week of Lent – from Palm Sunday to Easter Monday. When I was growing up in the 1950s it was a solemn week, with religious ceremonies and a sense of expectation with Easter near.
At least one member of every household brought a piece of palm to the church to be blessed in commemoration of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem.
In Ireland the ‘palm’ is usually a conifer, such as silver fir, spruce, cypress, etc., or very often, yew. Palm Sunday was called Domhnach an Iúir (Yew Sunday). Afterwards, the blessed palm was placed on the mantel piece or over a holy picture in the kitchen.
Good Friday was a day of severe austerity when most people voluntarily exceeded even the rigorous fasting by the church. Usually no work was done on the land on Good Friday; instead the day was spent in cleaning and tidying by the women in the dwelling house and the men in the farmyard and outbuildings. Many farmers would, however, plant a small quantity of grain or potatoes on this blessed day, thus invoking a blessing on the crops.
On Good Friday, no blood should be shed, thus no animal or bird could be slaughtered, no wood should be worked or burned and no nail should be driven on the day on which the Saviour was crucified. From noon until three o’clock, the period according to tradition when Christ hung on the cross, silence was observed as far as possible.