‘Superstition’ reached Number 1 in the U.S. and Number 1 on the soul singles chart. It topped the ‘Billboard Hot 100’ in 1973. It peaked at Number 11 in the ‘UK Singles’ Chart’ in February 1973. In November 2004, Rolling Stone ranked the song Number 74 on their list of the ‘500 Greatest Songs of All Time’.
This song deals with traditional superstitions and reminds me greatly of my Irish birth and heritage. For anyone to truly understand the Irish and their ways, one must give considerable sway to the part that superstition and tales of folklore play in their lives.
When I was born 76 years ago in the year of 1942 in Southern Ireland, times and practices within the Catholic Church were significantly different from those of today. Then, the Parish Priest exercised as much power as the Pope might today, and his word was law and his influence far and wide. It would have been as impossible then as finding hen’s teeth in a fox den, to find one Irish person outside the confines of a mental institution who didn’t attend Mass in a Roman Catholic Church every Sunday morning and partake of Confession and Holy Communion at least once monthly. It mattered not whether one was the biggest liar in the land, the biggest hussy and Jezebel going, an adulterer or a deflowerer of maidens, a confirmed drunk, a thief, bank robber, killer or a member of the I.R.A. Whatever and whoever you were, one still observed these functions of Roman Catholic tradition or risk the Parish Priest read your name from the pulpit on Sunday morning! This punishment was akin to being flogged in public and was much worse than any other penalty (short of Papal Excommunication), as it brought shame to the family name in the community.
Today, this once-great Roman Catholic country pays little more than lip service to the religion that St. Patrick converted them to in the fifth century. As a child, I was brought up in West Yorkshire after my parents and their three eldest children of seven migrated to England for a better life. At that time, the greatest export from Ireland across the world wasn’t Irish butter, Guinness or Irish beef, but priests; and strict ones at that!
My mother would tell me stories as a growing child about all manner of priests; good ones, bad ones, strict ones, romantic ones, deviant ones etc. She often referred to the practice of the parish priest visiting a home in the Parish of Portlaw, County Waterford, and how the priest would leave his walking stick outside the front door after he had entered the house he was visiting. These were the days when Priests would brook no interference, disagreements or interruptions from any in their parish. Just to make sure that no neighbour would interrupt his business with the householder concerned, his stick outside the front door on public display, would signify his presence in the home and it effectively told any potential caller, ‘DO NOT DISTURB: PRIEST PRESENT’.
I was never quite sure how true these stories were but the one I liked most of all, I made into a story when I became an author in later life. (This story, ‘The Priest’s Calling Card’) can be freely read on my website in my ‘Tales from Portlaw’ section by simply clicking: http://www.fordefables.co.uk/the-priests-calling-card.html ).
My mother, like all Irish people, could tell a story. Many of them would be based on ‘Irish superstition’ and most of them were as tall as the Empire State Building in the centre of Midtown Manhattan, I would hazard a guess. It wasn’t only the content of the stories she told but the way she told them. Each tale would be wrapped in the richness of folklore in which the Romany traveller and fortune teller would often play a leading role as they exchanged superstitious prophecy for a silver coin. I really believe that my mother had spun the yarn so often over the years that the thread of truth in any of her Irish tales became lost more and more with each telling.
I made a number of these tales into short stories that I published under the umbrella title of ‘Tales from Portlaw’; all of which can be purchased in either e-book or hard book format (with all profit going to charitable causes in perpetuity) or even read for free from my website by accessing http://www.fordefables.co.uk/tales-from-portlaw.html
The true nature of an Irish man can be discerned by attending any Irish funeral being conducted by the Catholic parish priest. Between the ages of 5 and 20 years, I attended many Irish funerals; sometimes of people I knew and more often, of people I never knew. I once recall going to one funeral with my parents as a 7-year-old boy and as the man being buried was lowered into the ground, the presiding priest described the dead man as ‘a saint, a scholar and a gentleman’. I half regretted never having known such a great man. It was, however, after having attended many Irish funerals during subsequent years that I came to appreciate the common description of every Irish man I witnessed being buried as ‘a saint, scholar and gentleman’. I wondered how so small a country such as Ireland could breed so many great men? I was in my late teens before I realised that such words were the standard script of every Irish priest performing burial rites who was hoping to receive a gracious fee from the bereaved for officiating and ‘bigging up’ their beloved deceased.
The story my mother told me that I liked most of all, however, was the one I so wanted to believe was true. I wanted this particular story to be without the slightest embellishment; without any kind of varnish to my character. All Irish people born before 1930 believe in the power of the true Romany traveller to foresee the future. All my development, any gipsy who came knocking on our door (whether they were peg-selling or begging) never went away empty-handed. My mother had been brought up to believe in their power to either bless or curse the household whose door they knocked on. Whether or not their visit to one’s home brought curse or good luck for the occupier seemed to be greatly influenced by how much silver exchanged hands.
All my life, ever since I can remember, my mother told me every day that I was ‘special’. She told me so often that I eventually came to believe I was truly ‘special’. She wasn’t just expressing the usual motherly belief of their child being special. No! This belief of hers about my ‘specialness’ had been conferred on me by a peg-selling gipsy who knocked on her door in Portlaw before my mother was even pregnant with her firstborn of seven (me). The Romany asked for a silver coin to cross her palm before she would tell my mother about her ‘special firstborn’. Thus my ‘specialness’ was prophesied by a peg-selling gipsy for the price of sixpence one year before my conception, and this ‘specialness’ was reinforced every day of my life following my birth until the day my mother died.
Everything unusual that happened to me as a child happened in my mother’s eyes because I was ‘special’, and when I got run over by a lorry at the age of 11 years and my parents were first told I’d die and I survived against the medical odds, it was nothing to do with the superb skill of the surgeon in my mother’s eyes, ‘it was because I was special’. Then, my parents were informed that my damaged spine that left me without feeling below my waistline meant that I’d never walk again. I didn’t walk for three years until something in my damaged spinal cord miraculously came ‘undamaged’ and started transmitting electrochemical signals to my brain and legs again. My central nervous system had somehow reconnected to the relevant parts of my brain and body. For three years, I acted as a hospital Guinee pig to have my medical case looked over by Conferences of doctors, consultants and surgeons, and one national newspaper even described me as ‘a miracle child’ because of my ability to walk again. Whoever or whatever was responsible for this sudden improvement in my medical condition, my mother’s belief in my ‘specialness’ was reinforced to the degree that she both lived and died believing her oldest child as being ‘special’ every day of his life.
Like the Irish funerals I’d attended as a child and my discovery that every Irish man was a saint, scholar and gentleman, I also came to learn in my late teens, that while I was undoubtedly ‘special’, that so was every other person and creature born into this world. I spent the first third of my life believing in my own unique ‘specialness’ and achieving ‘special things’ and doing ordinary things in ‘special ways’. The second third of my life was spent discovering the ‘specialness’ of everybody and everything, and I have spent the last thirty years of my life informing people and reminding them in so many ways ‘how special they are’.
This latter tale by my mother affected my life in thought, words, deeds and beliefs so much that I used it to tell the story in my last published book, ‘The Postman Always Knocks Twice’. Like all my ‘Tales from Portlaw’ series of published stories (along with all 67 of my published books), they can be purchased in either e-book format or paperback from www.smashwords.com.uk or www.lulu.com or www.amazon.com or from any reputable online bookseller. Or alternately, as all thirteen Irish romantic stories are in my ‘Tales from Portlaw’ series of stories on my website, they can be read for free by accessing it. To freely obtain this latest story of mine about a mother’s special child, please access http://www.fordefables.co.uk/lsquothe-postman-always-knocks-twicersquo.html
I have no current intention of writing another book since I started singing again, but can say with all honesty that ‘The Postman Always Knocks Twice’ is my best story in the whole of my ‘Tales from Portlaw’ series of tales and it is the one story of my mothers that pleased me to believe as being ‘true’ in origin.
I’d like to think that I am one of the few Irish men whose life isn’t bedevilled by superstition, good luck or bad luck, whether I walk under a ladder, go out on the 13th day of the calendar month, have a black cat cross my path on my travels, or invoke 7 years bad luck for breaking a mirror, but alas I must admit I cannot and am as guilty as the rest. And, I have never failed to cross a traveller’s palm with a silver coin, especially if I think them to be a true Romany.
There is a woman who sells the ‘Big Issue’ in Howarth every weekend and I find it almost impossible to pass her on Main Street without giving her a couple of pounds. We always exchange pleasantries and were I to ask myself why I give to her weekly instead of the local busker or any other person who I pass in the Haworth area, I’d have to admit that it is probably because she displays distinct Romany features, along with the hope that my kindness to her will result in a blessing and not a curse!
Love and peace Bill xxx