Bad luck arrives at Whitsuntide
Whit Monday is a cursed day too no wonder that bee bit him
In Ulysses there are four references to
Whit Monday: two by Bloom and two by Molly - usually in the context of Bloom’s
bee sting on Whitmonday, 23 May 1904. In medieval times the period was a week-long
holiday, and until 1973 Whit Monday was a Bank Holiday in Ireland. Pentecost is
a movable feast celebrated fifty days after Easter.
Don Gifford annotates Molly’s use above
Monday is a cursed day - Whitmonday, a bank holiday (23 May in 1904), follows
Whitsunday (also called Pentecost), the seventh Sunday after Easter, when the
descent of the Holy Spirit is commemorated (see Acts 2:1-6). The source of the
superstition that Whitmonday is a cursed day is unknown.
should have extended the quote from Ulysses
to include Molly’s “too”, as she seems to imply that Monday is cursed along
The superstitions surrounding Whitsuntide
are well-documented in Irish folklore. In 1887 Oscar Wilde’s mother, Jane
Francesca, Lady Wilde (who also used the pen name “Speranza”) published Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, and
Superstitions of Ireland, and
introduced her section on Whitsuntide as follows:
is a very fatal and unlucky time. Especially beware of water then, for there is
an evil spirit in it, and no one should venture to bathe, nor to sail in a boat
for fear of being drowned; nor to go a journey where water has to be crossed.
And everything in the house must be sprinkled with holy water at Whitsuntide to
keep away the fairies, who at that season are very active and malicious, and
bewitch the cattle, and carry off the young children, and come up from the sea
to hold strange midnight revels, when they kill with their fairy darts the
unhappy mortal who crosses their path and pries at their mysteries.
(vol. 1 "Festivals", p. 223-4)
Bryan J. Jones, in a correspondence entitled
“Whitsuntide Fate” addressed to Folklore in
1904, also discusses Whitsuntide in reference to Lady Wilde’s work and
personally confirms that “the beliefs she records still exist among the country
people”, and continues to single out Whit Monday as a fateful day:2
does not appear to be an unlucky day, but Whit-Monday is, and so to a lesser
degree are the Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday following. It is most
dangerous to travel or boat on Whit-Monday, and children or animals born on
that day are evil-tempered and likely to take some man's life. It was customary
in Louth to bury a Whit-Monday foal or calf, but this method of breaking the
charm is now almost forgotten, though such animals are still distrusted.
University of West Florida
1 Lady Wilde makes
similar remarks on pp. 108-13 of her Ancient Cures, Charms, and Usages of Ireland (1890).
2 Folklore (1904), vol. 15
p. 347. Jones’s communication completes an earlier discussion of “Whitsuntide
Fate” in which Mary Leader’s Annals of Ballitore (Leadbeater Papers, vol. 1 p. 403) are
cited with reference to another account of ill-luck at Whitsun:
Whit-Sunday a child was born to Pat Mitchell, a labourer. It is said that the
child born on that day is fated to kill or be killed.