Its adherents revisited and reinterpreted Irelands mystical traditions, particularly its country remedies, ancient myths, magical legends and pagan monuments.158 Needless to say, the historic art of cursing did not chime with this agenda. This article explores its neglected modern history, since the late 1700s, by carefully scrutinizing the Irish style of cursing, relating it to wider social and economic conditions, and making comparisons with maledictions elsewhere. Geneticists at Trinity College have sequenced the genomes of ancient Irish farmers, discovering that haemochromatosis (known as the 'Celtic curse') was inherited by people from the Pontic . 1. Curse tablets found at Bath appeal to Sulis to punish the perpetrators of the crime. Cursing rapidly faded from the mid-twentieth century and, unlike other forms of occultism, was not revived by the post 1970s New Age movement. May you die without a priest. Eviction Scene, Daniel MacDonald (c.1850). Statutes Passed in the Parliaments Held in Ireland. In November 1996, Ellen tried to stab the woman she held responsible for uttering it.160 In January 2010 a Donegal Garda had a gypsys curse put on her, by the occupants of an uninsured car. Magic is a potent force in the world, not supernaturally but psychologically. To make a curse stick, it was best to say something dreadful, complex and difficult to rebut. George Borrow, Wild Wales: Its People, Language, and Scenery, 3 vols. 1901. First Report from His Majestys Commissioners, 52530, 560, 585. Diodorus Siculus ( 5.28) expands upon this idea, stating that the Celts . Captain Prout [John Levy] (ed. My aim is to evoke and analyse a mostly intangible but nonetheless vital culture, which flourished between the late eighteenth and early twentieth centuries, and which still resonates somewhat today. Samus Duilearga, Introductory Note, in Sen Silleabhin, A Handbook of Irish Folklore (Detroit, 1970). Had he ever heard about them? It provides the first full overview and analyses of the ancient Celtic use of binding curses (as attested in Old Celtic and Latin inscriptions) and examines their mooted influence in later medieval expressions. The curse was known in Scotland too, and may have been brought to Ireland centuries ago by Presbyterian settlers (though the transmission could have been the other way).147 One of the most baleful curses known in Ulster, the folklorist Jeanne Cooper Foster was stunned to learn that, as late as the 1940s and 1950s, the fire of stones curse was still used.148 It was always levied in connection with evictions, she discovered, with cases occurring in Downpatrick, Bushmills, County Down, and even on Belfasts famously Protestant Shankill Road. The women of_Irish_ and Celtic mythology are equally loved and feared. Curses were written on tablets made of thin pieces of metal that were then folded or rolled. Nobody on the estate backed a winner yesterday, an informant later told the Belfast Telegraph. Lindsey Earner-Byrne and Diane Urquhart, Gender Roles in Ireland since 1740, in Biagini and Daly (eds. Patrick S. Dinneen (ed. Curses are declared to be the most dreaded form of magic, often called black magic, and are believed to be universally used. In 1972 the Reverend Paisley attacked what he called the curse that has blighted twentieth-century Protestantism, this curse of ecumenism.155 Infamously, in the late 1970s and 1980s he and other senior members of the DUP used similar rhetoric to attack another target: if homosexuality were legalized in Ulster, they said, it would bring Gods curse down upon our people.156 The scandalous claim has haunted the DUP ever since; whether it damaged or enhanced their electoral prospects is debatable. Thomas Waters, Cursed Britain: A History of Witchcraft and Black Magic in Modern Times (Yale, 2019), ch. This was how Catholic priests imprecated grievous sinners, from the altar, with an open Bible or chalice in hand, and candles flickering.63 Beggars shooed away from cottages empty-handed could curse just as ostentatiously. Their greatest impact was at places like Doughmakeon and Oughaval in County Mayo, where during the early nineteenth century galvanized clergymen cleared their parishes of ancient cursing stones, destroying or burying unusual rocks that had long been used to lay powerful maledictions.24 A good number of these sinister monuments remained, however, including the bed of St Columbkille, a hillside rock near Carrickmore village, which was still being used to lay curses during the 1880s, as well as cursing stones on the island of Inishmurray in Sligo Bay and St Brigids stones near Blacklion in County Cavan (see Plate 1).25 The anti-cursing laws were sporadically employed and supplemented by the Town Police Clauses Act of 1847 and the Towns Improvement Act of 1854, both of which forbade profane language.26 But cursing was too deeply embedded in everyday life for crackdowns based on vague legislation to be effective. Jeanne Cooper Foster, Ulster Folklore (Belfast, 1951), 1202; Ulster Folklore, in Proceedings and Report of the Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society: Session 19431944, 2nd ser., ii (1945), 153; Lynch, Widows Curse, 2836. Following decades of debate, the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Act of 1883 at last outlawed the using of undue spiritual influence during elections, meaning clerical curses.118 Priests still threw imprecations, and many people still credited them. This had various causes: emigration, population decline, the near disappearance of the precarious peasant class, the increased availability of official poverty relief, and new laws criminalizing wandering begging. Beyond the stock villains of Irish popular culture, their targets included bankers, merchants and police informers.46 James Carey, whose testimony helped convict the men who murdered the government ministers Thomas Henry Burke (182982) and Lord Frederick Cavendish (183682) in Dublins Phoenix Park, was the object of venomous songs wishing that he be afflicted with everything from bedbugs to death.47 For wrongs past and present, the old adversary across the water was also a frequent target: Gods curse on you England, you cruel-hearted monsters.48, Jokey, angry and tuneful curses were mere horseplay, some said. Especially in the North, evictees still used the fire of stones curse.146 Before they were thrown out, tenants would build up piles of stones in every hearth in the house. Letter from Alexander McNeile, Ballycastle, to the Rt Rev. The first comprehensive study of early Celtic cursing, this work analyses both medieval and ancient expressions of Celtic imprecation: from the binding tablets of ancient Britain and Gaul to the saintly maledictions of the early medieval period, and other traces of . The emigration and land consolidation following the Great Famine meant that female farmers (most of whom were widows) made up a growing proportion of tenants, from 4 per cent in 1841, to 15 per cent by 1911.133 Landlords were evicting unprofitable tenants but farmers fought back, particularly during the Land War of 187982, using non-compliance and intimidation. Whether or not the residents really credited the curse, it was politically counterproductive. NFC, Schools Collection: vol. It is time we acknowledged the polish and power of the art of magic. Curses sprung from bitter passions at trying times. Priests, by definition, were close to God and the saints. Quoted in: Ignatius Murphy, The Diocese of Killaloe in the Eighteenth Century (Dublin, 1991), 129. Most provided evasive or cynical replies, saying that only illiterates, fools, servants, children and women took beggars curses seriously.94 Occasionally though, witnesses gave a glimpse of an uncertain superstitious psychology beneath the hard-nosed faade of early nineteenth-century opinion. Cursing was demanding, sophisticated, formidable and imposing. Full analysis of ancient and medieval expressions of Celtic cursing, using evidence ranging from magical charms to curse tablets. !.51 But workaday curses were not particularly suitable for proper cursing because they invited easy retorts. Here's our pick of some top ancient Irish curses: 1. 460, 294; vol. OFallon, Irish Curses, 32; Robin Flower, The Western Island or Great Blasket ([1944] Oxford, 1979), 49. Dublin Daily Express, 20 Mar. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, metaphorical curses peppered Irish peoples conversations, jokes, songs and angry outbursts. In this respect, it was an art. Western People, 4 Mar. Yet in Ireland, a proclivity for this dark kind of cursing goes back millennia. While researchers were analyzing the genes of prehistoric Irish ancestors they discovered that the beginning of a "Celtic Curse" (haemochromatosis) probably arose 4,000 years ago with a wave of migration from the Pontic Steppe to the East. The Irish farmer, Donal Bohane, owns a 30-acre (12.1 ha.) The devil go with you and sixpence, an thin youll want neither money nor company, was a mock malediction men used to tease women.38 Bad scran to you, meaning poor food, was a jokey curse suitable for needling either sex; and surely a poignant one, given that for much of the nineteenth century most peoples diet was restricted to potatoes, buttermilk, an occasional smattering of fish and maybe some wild greens.39 Bad luck to your own soul for the head-ache you gave me yesterday, with laughing at your old stories, and drinking your new wine, was the kind of cheeky curse friends uttered, with a wink, to their drinking buddies in Dublins alehouses.40, Beyond the jokes were half-serious maledictions, simple utterances for releasing quick bursts of anger. It all came out. Cara Delay, Uncharitable Tongues: Women and Abusive Language in Early Twentieth-Century Ireland, Feminist Studies, xxxix (2013). 625, 258. Probably cursing was too vicious, humorous and Catholic for it to be translated into the dreamy and non-denominational realm of the Celtic Twilight.157 Cursing experienced none of the post 1970s esoteric revival, either. "OLD, LIKE PUTRID GORE". Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. This article looks at the ancient records of the northern nations of Scotland and England and features a selection of the most famous incantations from these magical Celtic Kingdoms where the spoken word and oral traditions were akin to community glue. Botorrita Plaques, the third plaque is the most extended text discovered in any ancient Celtic language. Nothing was more feared than a really venomous malediction, commentators on Irish manners claimed, without much exaggeration.10 Yet this intriguing form of modern magic remains almost entirely unstudied.11 Antiquarians and folklorists were only marginally interested in it, with the exception of a lively essay by William Carleton (17941869). As Keith Thomas noted several decades ago, on the neighbouring island of Britain, cursing persisted into the early modern period; but since it sometimes led to witchcraft accusations, presumably the distinction between the righteous magic of cursing and the evil magic of witchcraft was less pronounced than it was in Ireland.77 Throughout the nineteenth century, many British people credited witchcraft and other strange powers. Some men interviewed by Irish Poor Law Commissioners in the early 1830s admitted this. Something obvious like bad luck to you invited the reply good luck to you, thin; but may neither of them ever happen. Search for other works by this author on: The Past and Present Society, Oxford, 2020, This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs licence (, Astrology, plague, and prognostication in early modern England: A forgotten chapter in the history of public health, Machines in the Hands of Capitalists: Power and Profit in Late Eighteenth-Century Cornish Copper Mines, Doubt and the dislocation of magic: France, 17901940, Writing the Paris Commune in the Warsaw Ghetto, The Cave Mission of 1876 and Britains Imperial Information Strategies,,,, Receive exclusive offers and updates from Oxford Academic, Copyright 2023 Past and Present Society. Wood-Martin, Traces of the Elder Faiths of Ireland, ii, 58; Robert MacAdam, Six Hundred Gaelic Proverbs Collected in Ulster (Continued), Ulster Journal of Archaeology, 1st ser., vii (1859), 282. It was terrifyingly brutal, mustering dark feelings that marked people who had seen or maybe just heard about the events in question. R. F. Foster, Modern Ireland: 16001972 (1989), 338; K. Theodore Hoppen, The Mid-Victorian Generation: 18461886 (Oxford, 1998), 582. Famous Ancient Curses 1. Everybody knew what a beggars curse was: it was a regular and familiar part of life, in pre-famine Ireland. Folklorists in the newly independent Irish Free State began a nationalistic project dedicated to preserving the spirit of Ireland, the traditions of the historic Irish nation.12 Under the direction of figures like Sen Silleabhin, the government-funded Irish Folklore Commission (est. For example: Maureen Flynn, Blasphemy and the Play of Anger in Sixteenth-Century Spain, Past and Present, no. Plain imprecations were uttered in English: the curse of the poor and helpless cripple upon you every day you put a coat over your back, a beggar on the shores of Lough Patrick was overheard saying, in 1816.91 But beggars usually laid their worst maledictions in Irish Gaelic.92 Biadh an taifrionn gan sholas duit a bhean shalach!, for example, meaning may the Mass never comfort you, you dirty queen!.93. Cursing was probably too common and Catholic, and certainly too distasteful and subversive for these amateur scholars, who focused instead on recording what they regarded as rapidly disappearing pagan survivals. if 2+sqrt 3 is a polynomial root, what does 1199 insurance cover,