Animal ‘Sacrifice’ and Blood Letting, Saint Martin’s Feast in Ireland

by Ezra Buckley on November 12, 2017

Today, the 11th of November, is the feast of St. Martin of Tours. He was a particularly popular saint in Ireland and up until quite recently his feast (Martinmas) was surrounded by a number of superstitions and customs.  These included a rather gruesome tradition, at least to modern eyes, which involved animal ‘sacrifice’ and blood letting. The creature killed was usually a bird, such as hen or goose, but sheep and pigs were also butchered (often on St. Martin’s Eve). The animal’s blood was then saved and used in the feast day rituals. The blood was typically sprinkled around the house and across the main threshold, in the belief that this protected the home from evil or ‘bad luck’. It was also collected and used to make a Sign of the Cross on the residents foreheads, again as a protective talisman.

The folklore accounts below describe these traditions in greater detail and are based on information supplied by schoolchildren to the Irish Folklore Commission in the late 1930s.

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