Easter and Lent Traditions in Ireland: Part Two


We continue with more Easter and Lent Traditions in Ireland.


Palm Sunday is the final Sunday of Lent, the beginning of Holy Week, and commemorates the triumphant arrival of Christ in Jerusalem, days before he was crucified.

In the Gospels, Jesus entered Jerusalem riding a young donkey, and the townspeople threw clothes, or possibly palms or small branches, in front of him as a sign of homage.

This was a customary practice for people of great respect.

Palm branches are a widely recognised symbol of peace and victory.

That Jesus rode a donkey instead of a horse is highly symbolic.

It represents the humble arrival of someone in peace, as opposed to arriving on a horse in war.

During Palm Sunday Mass, palms are distributed to parishioners who carry them in a ritual procession into church.

The palms are blessed by the priest and many people will fashion them into small crosses or other items of personal devotion.

These may be returned to the church, or kept for the year.

Because the palms are blessed, those returned to church may not be discarded as trash.

Instead, they are gathered and incinerated to create the ashes that will be used in the follow year’s Ash Wednesday observance.

The colours of the Mass on Palm Sunday are red and white, symbolising the redemption in blood that Christ paid for the world.

St. Bauden's High Cross, Donegal


This is the day to remember the death of Jesus and is the strictest day of fasting, prayer and penitence in the Easter calendar.

Previous generations would have fasted until midday and broken their fast with only 3 mouthfuls of bread and three sips of water to celebrate the Holy Trinity.

Eggs laid on Good Friday would be marked with a cross and eaten on Easter Sunday.

Sometimes, the eggs would have been hardboiled and painted with different colours and designs.

Nowadays, of course, and in my childhood thank goodness, the only important eggs were the chocolate variety!

Older Traditions included:-

  • Doing no work with tools to avoid the possibility of any bloodshed.
  • Planting a small amount of crop seeds to create a blessing on the family and the household.
  • The belief that if a person died on Good Friday they would go directly to heaven.
  • Going to confession and remaining in reflective silence for part of the day.
  • Visiting graveyards.
  • Going to Holy Wells as the holy waters were said to have curative powers on Good Friday.
  • The belief that a child born on Good Friday and baptised on Easter Sunday would have the gift of healing. If the child were a boy, he would enter the priesthood.
  • Doing no fishing from boats. Only seafood and seaweed gathered from the shores were to be part of the Easter meal.


St Bauden's High Cross, Donegal


Holy Saturday would be a day to take a vow of silence but and attend a special ceremony of Easter Vigil to have their Holy Water blessed.

Easter Vigil which usually started at 10pm with the chapel decorated in purple coloured banners to celebrate the arrival of the King.

All lights in the Church were extinguished at 11pm with a new flame being presented to the altar of the church.

The new flame is the Paschal candle, a symbol of the Risen Christ and the celebrations of the Holy Flame.

Bridget Haggerty wrote in irishculturesandcustoms.com:-

” ‘Easter Water had the power to prevent illness and guard against danger, so one member of every household would be sure to bring some home.

Every person in the family drank three sips of water in the name of the Blessed Trinity.

It was also sprinkled on the house, its occupants, the outbuildings, livestock and growing crops.

The rest of the Easter Water was safely stored away for future use, and according to tradition, it would remain fresh for ever.

A turf cinder from the Paschal or Easter Fire was also believed to bring prosperity and to protect against the danger of fire if it was brought to the church and blessed.”

Kinnagoe Bay, Donegal


But come Easter Sunday, everyone was out celebrating.

There was great relief that the abstinence of Lent was finally over and the pubs were open!

Many towns and villages hold processions of some sort.

Easter Sunday is a high point in the social calendar with events such as horse races and horse fares.

Pubs are usually packed, and as the following Monday is also a Bank Holiday, many people don’t have to worry about work in the morning.

Easter Sunday in many homes was very similar to any other Sunday or religious day in Ireland.

Families got together dressed in their new clothes and attended mass together in their local church.

After attending mass on Easter Sunday everyone would make their way back home to start the Easter feast which was usually made up of servings of potatoes, vegetables, meat, stuffing and bread.

Older Traditions included :-

  • Rising with the sun and dancing in celebration.
  • Butchers rejoiced and conducted a mock funeral in honour of a dead herring. This symbolised the end of Lenten abstinence when most people were sick and tired of eating herring and other fish. A “herring procession” marched to the local church just as if it were a real funeral.
  • Boiling and painting eggs to have rolling contests and egg hunts for the children. (The idea of a rabbit laying coloured eggs, which lead to the popular “Easter Bunny” image, originated in Germany).
  • Celebrating with a “cake dance,” a contest where the best dancer won a cake.
  • Closing out the Easter celebration with a community bonfire.

My memories of 1960s Easter Sundays are based in Glasgow where I was born and lived until I was 12.

But, my parents are Irish and we followed the Irish customs.

I remember the excitement of getting dressed in my nicest clothes with fervently polished shoes to go to Easter Mass.

I loved mass at that time and sang the hymns as loudly as my childhood voice would allow. 

The mixed smells of incense, burning candles and flowers were comfortably embracing and familiar.

Me, my mammy and daddy and two sisters (at that time) would soon be going home for a lovely Easter dinner.

And while I enjoyed the mass, a little not so holy part of me was distracted by the siren call of the chocolate Easter eggs waiting for me at home.

Easter and Lent Traditions in Ireland: Part One

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