August 17 2006: Please scroll to bottom of page for Elizabeth's letter
The Child of Prague
In the early days of broadcasting many a person who listened to, and acted on, the advice of the Met service had reason to rue their trust. Country people didn’t need professionals. They knew there was rain on the way when big lumps of soot fell down the open fireplace and rolled out onto the floor. There was no surer indication. My mother's mortification was complete when the chimney dropped its accusing message at a time when friends or neighbours visited. She took it as a reflection on her housekeeping abilities, but deftly shifted the blame onto my father: 'I told that fella to clean the chimney,' she’d fume, 'but you might as well be talkin' to the wall.'
Every area had its own weather indicators. ‘Bad luck to that oul' “whinaforlia” wind,’ Petie Rooney of Glenade in Co. Leitrim would say when the wind blew from Crumpaun mountain, ‘it’s rain any hour from it.’
Bright mornings are a fool’s guarantee of a good day. Shakespeare, well aware of such traitorous dawnings, wrote:
'Full many a glorious morning I have seen,
Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye…
And then permit the basest clouds to ride
With ugly rack on his celestial face.'
Where the elements were concerned a lot of people were not prepared to take chances. When it was vital to have good weather, like on the day of a wedding or a rick, the little statue of the Child of Prague, normally kept in the house, was moved outdoors and placed under the hedge. I don't think any threat was intended, but if rain came he’d be the first to know!
Every home had a statue of the Child of Prague. But in our house its duties were different. That little figurine was our investment bank. My mother always kept a ha’penny wrapped in brown paper tucked tidily underneath. Even through a child’s eyes this seemed strange behaviour. When I asked her why she did it she told me that the Holy Child would see that ‘the house was never without money’. Her mother did it before her and the old people believed it.
Not having any money, we thought a lot about it. The Child of Prague's commitment seemed much like the promises of the Sacred Heart to the house where his heart is 'exposed and honoured’. This contract was on the wall of every Irish home. There was an important difference though. With the Child of Prague the assurance wasn’t in writing. Maybe it should have been. But it wasn’t. It was handed down information. There was nothing you could point to and say: “See! This is what you promised.” With the Sacred Heart it was reassuring to have it in print. When things weren't going well you could go to the inscription on the wall and read it again to make sure it wasn't a misunderstanding. When we had nothing else we had hope — and promises. “Have the name of it if ye never had it” my mother declared defiantly in bleak times.
In the evening's gathering dark, when the day’s work was done, my mother and I often walked along the path that ran through the meadow, cans in hand, to get water from the well. Sometimes we saw a new sliver moon suspended in the sky. When this happened and we stopped to admire, the Druid spirit of pagan ancestors stirred in her soul. Druid or saint, this practical woman was prepared to take help from wherever it came. Following a custom as old as the rocks themselves she turned a small flat stone on the ditch three times saying, ‘I see the new moon, the new moon sees me. God bless the new moon and God bless me.’ This, she said, was to bring good luck and money until the new moon came again.
As the years went by even I could see that our house never had any extra money, so I took to looking under the little metal statue to see if someone had removed the ha’penny. But it was always there, and my mother always believed, and still we never had any money — or not for long anyway. We owed the price of the calves before they were sold. The creamery cheques disappeared as soon as they arrived. So I stopped believing. ‘Oh sure, g’wan with ye’, I said to her when I got older, ‘Sure, we always have money in the house, we always have a ha’penny.’ She looked at me, and smiled, her faith unshakeable, and prayed for my unbelief.
In Mullaghmore, we didn't know little Jesus could be used to influence the weather. Had we known this we might have changed its duties and spent the ha'penny!
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Origins of Devotion
Child of Prague
Devotion to the Child of Prague and belief in its power to influence the weather is still strong in many parts of Ireland. A wedding gift of a statue of the Child of Prague is particularly auspicious. The practise of putting it out in the hedge, or burying it in the garden, as a solicitation for good weather is, even in this age of unbelief, widespread in areas as far apart as Cork, Dublin, Sligo and Leitrim. Some believe that, 'it'll not bring you right luck till the head falls off it,' but the decapitation must happen by accident.
Devotion to the child began in 1556 when Maria Manriquez de Lara brought the image of the infant Jesus, a family heirloom, to Czechoslovakia from Spain on her marriage to Vrasitlav of Pernstyn. It is housed now in the church of Our Lady of Victory in Prague and is an object of veneration in many other countries besides Ireland .
Sacred Heart of Jesus
Devotion to the Sacred Heart can be traced back to St. John Eudes and St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. It received a new impetus following the French revolution and became popular during the Restoration period in that country. The devotion was introduced to Ireland by Dr. Moylan, Bishop of Cork from 1787 to 1815. These were Penal times so the rapid spread of this new zeal caused great alarm to the British authorities and Commissioners of Education. Fearing a Jesuit plot they, 'inquired long and searchingly' into its origins and popularity and supressed it wherever found.
An American Letter
I just received this very interesting letter from an American correspondent. It illustrates how widespread was the pracice of placing a coin underneath the statue:
I am an American, born in the
Elizabeth (name witheld)
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