you think of the Irish, your immediate thought
is probably not culture in Hawaii. Of the 35
million persons of Irish descent in the United States today, only about
70,000 live in Hawaii. Hawaii is a mixture of
cultures and traditions, and many of the Irish in Hawaii have
taken on cultural customs and traditions of the other ethnicities of
these islands. However, some of the Irish traditions still
persist -- especially those surrounding childbirth and motherhood.
So, in honor of those persons of Irish descent
living in Hawaii, we hope this website will give the non-Irish citizens
a glimpse of some of the customs and beliefs that the Irish have
regarding childbirth and motherhood.
Irish Traditions in Pregnancy
The content within this page is for informational
purposes only and is NOT to be considered medical advice.
Please see a health professional if you are pregnant
the Irish, protecting the mother and the unborn child from "evil" or
"malevolent" forces was most important and there are several beliefs
that help to keep the mother and baby safe. Some are tied to
religious beliefs, others are cultural.
Pregnant women should not enter graveyards. If they did,
their child would starve and be weak. Also, if the woman
twisted her foot on a grave, her baby would be born with a clubfoot.
A pregnant woman should wear a medal of their patron saint to protect
them from evil. For many, St. Brigid or St. Elizabeth medals
were worn during pregnancy and childbirth for protection.
Another "all purpose" Catholic method for strong protection
against evil was, of course, holy water blessed by a priest.
A pregnant woman had to avoid meeting a hare (rabbit), or her child
would be born with a hare-lip. But rabbits were not the only
animals to avoid. It was believed that cats could steal your baby's
soul, so being pregnant or having a newborn in the house with a cat was
Being a "godmother" was usually a very important role for the Irish --
but if you were pregnant, you could not be a godparent. It
was believed that either the child you were carrying or the child being
baptized would die.
Pregnant women were to avoid contact with newborn babies.
Newborn babies were considered to be new arrivals from the
"spirit world" and could cause a miscarriage of her unborn baby.
An expectant mother could determine a baby's sex by tying her wedding
ring to a string and holding it above her stomach. If the
ring moves in a circle it's a boy, if it moves back and forth, it's a
girl. Variations of this method for determining sex is common
in many different cultures.
If you have other children, it is believed that the direction of the
hair swirl at the top of your child's head will determine whether their
next sibling will be a boy or a girl. If the swirl went to the right
(clockwise), it would be a boy. If the swirl went to
the left (counterclockwise) it would be a girl.
If you ate honey while you were pregnant you would have a baby with a
sweet disposition. If you ate food that was spicy, you would
have trouble on your hands. Eating lots and lots of carrots would help
prevent your child from having to ever wear glasses, and eating a lot
of corned beef and cabbage couldn't hurt. But remember --
stay away from GREEN potatoes. Traditionally, there was the
belief that the ingestion of green potatoes would cause birth defects.
Washing windows or raising both hands/arms above your head was avoided
during pregnancy. If the pregnant woman did this, it was
believed that the umbilical cord would wrap around the baby's neck.
The father should spend time talking to or singing to the baby while
the mother was pregnant to form an attachment to the baby and ensure
that the baby knew it was welcome and happy
times when the time for delivery had arrived there was strong
encouragement for the father and other male family members to
congregate at the Pub to await news of the birth. In spite of
the stereotype, this was not so the men could drink as much as it was
because the Pub was a family social center and births, deaths,
weddings, and church events were recognized and celebrated in that
social center. Some of the men interviewed stated that they
had attended the births of their children -- sometimes against the dire
warnings of their families!
There are several different methods for dealing with the pain and
stress of labor and childbirth. Some of these include praying
the rosary, piercing the clothing of the laboring mother with a needle
that had the eye broken to "pierce" the pain and keep it from staying
with the mother, and keeping a Saint's Medal on hand. Keeping
religious or spiritual objects around helped ensure the safety of the
Babies born at night would have the power of seeing ghosts and fairies.
But if they were born between midnight and noon they would
not have this ability. Babies born on May Day were thought to be
assured of good luck. Lastly, it is considered bad luck for
three people in the same household to be born in the same month.
The Irish, who view fairies much differently than Americans had grave
concerns that the fairies would steal newborn babies, and specific
actions were required to keep this from happening. When a
recovering mother or a baby became sickly, it was believed that the
fairies had stolen them away and left a changeling in their place.
To avoid this, precautions were taken and, although simple,
they were thought to be highly effective. Some of these would
be tying a red ribbon across the cradle or crib, and one around the
baby's ankle or wrist until they were a year old. Some family
members went so far as to sew bits of red ribbon into all the baby's
clothes to ensure they were protected. A cloth exposed to the
sun on St. Brigid's Feast Day was thought to protect mother and baby.
Putting a piece of iron in the hem of baby's clothing or salt
under the cradle of the crib also provided protection .
did not typically allow visitors around the newborn for a set period of
time -- usually 30 days. It was thought that this protected
the baby from any spiritual attacks that might occur as they were fresh
from the spirit world. As mentioned earlier, this is part of
the reason that pregnant women were not to be around newborns or bodies
being placed in coffins to prevent any spiritual confusion around the
newborn's soul. Baptism was also very important as the Irish
believed that unbaptized babies could not be buried in consecrated
ground and so they were buried in either cillinigh
(little graveyard) or on the borders of regular cemeteries.
It is not unusual for a baby to be baptized twice; once
quickly immediately after birth and then later at a christening
attended by family and friends. It is common to find
christening gowns that have been used for several generations used to
dress the baby for their christening. Spiritual
upbringing was considered to be more important than
physical upbringing in many Irish families. Therefore, the
selection of godparents for a baby was a very important decision.
It was not unusual for godparents to be selected before a
couple even became pregnant.
To keep both breast feeding moms and babies healthy and happy there are
some general guidelines. Eating lots of meat and vegetables
ensured that baby and mom would have lots of energy and be
healthy. Warm milk with cinnamon relaxed mom, so when she
nursed baby he would relax too. Eating onions was thought to
give the baby colic and spicy foods would lead to hot tempers.
It was also important to the health of mom and baby to never rock
either an empty rocking chair -- which would curse the mother -- or an
empty cradle -- which would curse the infant.
not to be left out, fathers had a very important job, they typically
named the babies. While there are no hard and fast rules,
typically one would see the use of a lot of family names. For
example if the new baby was a boy and the paternal grandfather was
named Michael and the maternal grandfather was named Joseph, the new
baby's name would be Michael Joseph. The next boy might be
Joseph Michael, and the next named after brothers and so on.
This was also true of baby girls. If the
grandmother's names were Margaret and Elizabeth, then the baby's name
would be Margaret Elizabeth. If for some reason something
happened and both names were not used, it would not be unusual to find
the Mother's maiden name used as a middle name in some form.
For example, if Michael O'Riley married Maggie Shannahan and
Michael had a falling out with his father, or if his brother had beat
him to the punch having a baby, then the baby might be named Joseph
Shannahan O'Riley. This practice ensures that both family
names and surnames are not lost through time and marriage.
We hope you have enjoyed our web page and invite your comments.
We would like to leave you with an Irish Blessing.
May love and laughter light your
and warm your heart and home.
May good and faithful friends be yours,
wherever you may roam.
May peace and plenty bless your world
with joy that long endures.
May all life's passing seasons
bring the best to you and yours!
We appreciate your feedback!
Please email us
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