Claddagh Folklore (1908)



First Published in 1908

The general attitude of the men of Erris towards the fox is confirmed as an attribute of totemism when we come to examine a special local form of it. This we can do by turning to Galway. The Claddagh fishermen in Galway would not go out to fish if they saw a fox: their rivals of a neighbouring village, not believing in the fox, do all they can to introduce a fox into the Claddagh village.[398] These people are peculiar in many respects, and are distinctively clannish. They retain their old clan-dress–blue cloaks and red petticoats–which distinguishes them from the rest of the county of Galway, and it may be conjectured that the present-day custom of naming from the names of fish–thus, Jack the hake, Bill the cod, Joe the eel, Pat the trout, Mat the turbot, etc.[399]–may be a remnant of the mental attitude of the folk towards that belief in kinship between men and animals which is at the basis of totemism. But, returning to the fox, we have in the belief that meeting this animal would prevent them from going out to fish, a parallel to the prohibition against looking at the totem which is to be found among savage people, and we have in the neighbours’ disbelief in the fox and a corresponding belief in the hare,[400] that local distribution of different totems which is also found in savagery. But all these particulars about the relationship of the fox to the Claddagh fishermen receive unexpected light when we inquire into the biography of their local saint, named MacDara. This saint is the patron saint of the fishermen who, when passing MacDara’s island, always dip their sails thrice to avoid being shipwrecked. But then, in the folk-belief, we have this remarkable fact, that MacDara’s real name was Sinach, a fox[401]–an instance, it would seem, of a totem cult being transferred to a Christian saint. Thus, then, in the superstitions of these Claddagh fisherfolk we can trace the elements of totemism, the root of which is contained, first, in the nominal worship of a Christian saint, and second, in the actual worship of an animal, the fox.

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