May Eve in Clarecastle & Ballyea

May Eve Hare
Breda O'Hanlon
May Bush in Burke's Crag
Eric Shaw

Hares and Hounds on May eve


A story told by Ballyea pupils to the Schools Folklore scheme in 1938 describes how on every May eve a local man changed himself into a hare and went robbing milk from his neighbours cows.  One year, a greyhound was set on the hare and bit one of its hind legs as it escaped through a hole in the wall of the man’s house. The local man was not seen for some days until neighbours found him inside his house suffering from a wounded leg.  Shape shifting hares often appear in Irish folklore. They were hunted with hounds and an injured hare brought back to a house often found an old woman, or in this case, a man, injured inside.

There are many superstitions around May Day in Irish folklore. Yellow flowers such as gorse or primroses were collected on May eve or early on the morning of May day, to be scattered on doorsteps to bring good luck to the household. Similarly, a May bush was traditionally decorated with flowers, greenery and old egg shells to keep away bad luck.  Washing one’s face in the dew at dawn on 1 May was considered to bring good fortune but it was tempting bad luck to sail, dig, whitewash or even to sweep the floor in some places on May Day.  It was traditional not to give away milk, butter or salt on that day. Old hags or ‘cailleach’ were suspected of going from house to house to steal butter and milk on May morning.

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