Saturday, August 24, 2013

Irish Birthdays

Love this photo-Bea Sullivan turns 109!  Party on girl!*

Phrase: Happy Birthday to you
Irish: Lá breithe shona duit
Pronunciation: law bre-heh hunn-ah dwitch

     Since today is my birthday, I was curious how my ancestors might have marked the day.  The answer is, they didn't.   For one thing, due to widespread illiteracy, thanks to the restrictions on education of Catholics contained in the Penal Laws, a large number of Irish didn't even know the day of their births.  How different Irish history might have been without those vicious laws.  Not to mention how much easier a time we might have had tracing our families there.

     Not knowing their birthdays, when they needed to provide a date of birth  they often picked March 17th for obvious reasons.  Other popular days they picked were the 4th of July and December 25.  If your ancestor told the census taker or other official one of those dates, you may want to look further.  Two of mine simply told the census taker they didn't know what year they were born.  When England instituted old age pensions in 1909, this lack of precise birth dates was a problem, how to verify a person actually qualified for the pension?  They solved this by asking the applicant if they could remember the night of the big wind. If they could, they were granted their pension.

     If you've never heard of that storm, this account is from
     Snow fell across Ireland on Saturday, January 5, 1839, Sunday morning dawned with cloud cover and the day was warmer than usual. By midday it began to rain heavily, and the precipitation coming in off the north Atlantic slowly spread eastward. By early evening heavy winds began to howl. And then on Sunday night an unforgettable fury was unleashed.
     Hurricane force winds began to batter the west and north of Ireland, as a freak storm roared out of the Atlantic. For most of the night, until just before dawn, the winds mauled the countryside, uprooting large trees, tearing the thatched roofs off houses, and toppling barns and church spires.
     As the worst part of the storm occurred after midnight, and the relentless winds extinguished any candles or lanterns, people were particularly terrified as they couldn’t see what was happening. And in many cases homes were burned because the bizarre winds blasting down chimneys threw hot embers from hearths across the floors of houses, igniting entire structures.

     Not knowing your birth date had one obvious advantage, not knowing how old you're getting, (grin).  They seemed to go in the other direction though.  Most of mine claimed much older ages than they really were.  Could it be, older people got more respect back then?

*Photo from Dallas Morning News


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