‘I would never dare disturb a fairy fort’: Irish Times readers on their superstitions

From counting magpies to driving out devils and a song for scaring Jackeens

‘Putting your shoes on the table meant you were going to have a fight with someone.’ Photograph: iStock

After Frank Filfeather wrote recently about superstitions, we asked readers about their own experiences.

"Below are a few superstitions regularly observed in my household. Some, passed down from one generation to the next and others, picked up at random over the years. My father and I are both very superstitious when it comes to counting magpies (one for sorrow, two for joy, etc), something my mother and sister think we are absolutely crackers for. One superstition we all share (with varying degrees of seriousness) is that breaking a mirror brings seven years bad luck. I myself would consider crossing paths with a black cat unlooked for extremely good luck. Green is a notoriously unlucky colour according to my father (with the notable exceptions of the Irish rugby jersey and British racing green on a classic car). And, lastly, I would never dare disturb a fairy fort of any description." – Sarah

"In 1940s, when parents were bringing their child to be baptised an old lady at church always told them to nip the baby if it was not crying during water poured over it ... as the cry was the Devil being driven out." – Rhona

"I remember car journeys with my dad many years ago, during which he invariably looked out for magpies. If he spotted a single one then he insisted that we must find a four-legged animal within seconds, if we successfully managed to do this then we would be exempt from the bad luck which otherwise would almost certainly plague us. On some occasions he even suggested discontinuing the journey altogether because of this superstition. On the other hand, if we were fortunate enough to spot two magpies together then good fortune was definitely coming our way. And if we were heading to the races then he was always quite sure that luck would definitely be on our side that particular day!" – Anne


"No big story, but my father told me and my siblings about the superstitions around magpies (one for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy, five for silver, six for gold, and seven for a story that is never to be told) and ever since I was a young boy, I have been very conscious of magpies appearing and how many appeared. I often take their appearance (as well as their number) as an indication of how my day will go!" – Brian

"Every time I see a lone magpie I salute it and then look for its companion. One for sorrow ... I'm not sure where I picked it up, but my niece does the same." – Helen

"Being Indian, my superstitions mostly originate from things I have heard from my mum and grand mom. They basically revolve around starting dates, for example starting a new project. A few of us fragile mortals believe starting something on a Saturday should be avoided (if possible), adhering to auspicious dates suggested by family elders; not treading on a path which a black cat just crossed (especially when going to start something new, ex new job). Disclaimer: Most of the people back home have given up on such superstitions as they are quite inconvenient! Also another funny one: if someone says something and a third person sneezes, then that thing is going to come true/is true. With that logic , I would always have self-talks that I am going to win the Lotto, while my hubby is dusting the furniture! Just kidding! But on a very serious note, superstitions are more than traditions, and sometimes they become (sadly) a symptom of a compulsive behaviour/or some form of ruminative thought. That is something to look out for and something to seek help for." – Upasana

"If you left the house and forgot something and had to return straightaway you had to sit down on a chair and wait a minute or so before you started your journey again." – Rhona

"Putting your shoes on the table meant you were going to have a fight with someone. If the fire sparks it means you are going to come into some money. Never ever cut down an elder tree as they bring bad luck." – Eoin

"As a young Dub holidaying in Mayo in the late 1950s-60s, locals loved to scare us Jackeens. Here's a song I wrote about it decades later. Here in rural Finland, few such stories." – Michael

Stories he told us (1991)

Music and words by Michael Coleman

See that old tree, all alone in the field,
He said, and he gave us a look –
There isn't a man who would touch it, he said,
For they'd get you by hook or by crook.

See that old fort, just a mound of green grass,
He said as we gathered to hear,
One night someone saw them ride from that fort,
They rode back as dawn drew too near.

Stories he told us of doings at night,
When they rode in our world once again.
Stories of how they rode back before light,
Stories of folk long gone,
Who live on and on,
Stories he told us, then.

See that old well, never used any more,
He said without trace of a smile.
They moved that old well from a place down the road,
Moved it one night by a mile.

See that old house, nothing more than a ruin,
He said, leaning on the stone wall.
Things happened there that you'd never believe.
We believed not a word – and it all.