Lent (Carghas in Irish) is the forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Up to the middle of the last century, Lenten austerities were laid down by the church and were observed by most people. The faithful were bound to fast every day: one main meal and two smaller ones (which were called collations) for everybody over seven and under seventy, unless the person was sick or weak.
People were also bound to abstain, not only from meat of every kind, but also from eggs and all milk products. The ban on meat was later changed so that only Ash Wednesday and Good Friday were days of abstinence. There was also a prohibition on dancing and singing. Card games were frowned upon. Many people who drank alcohol gave it up for Lent.
The period between Christmas and Ash Wednesday, Shrovetide, was a busy time for marriages, as up to the early twentieth century marrying was banned during Lent. It was taken for granted that those who wished to marry did so at that time. Shrovetide, then, was the time to marry.
From Little Christmas on the matchmakers were busy and many unions were planned. Weddings were eagerly awaited, not only by the couple getting married, but also by their family, relations and neighbours. The whole community would share in the merrymaking, feasting and drinking.
It was natural to have a last ‘fling’ just before Lent on Shrove Tuesday (Máirt na nInide). In parts of Europe and in South America this is a big festival, which is called Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday.