Once there was a royal feast of geese

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Viewpoints - Joe Kennedy

THE Feast of St Michael came and went qui­etly last week­end as the tail end of the sum­mer swal­lows de­parted south­wards — as did I, join­ing them over the Bay of Bis­cay — but that’s for an­other day.

Sun­day, folk­lore has it, the devil went about uri­nat­ing on black­ber­ries — the Ar­changel Michael had thrown him out of Par­adise, to land in bram­bles — and it was con­sid­ered un­wise to eat the fruit, now hard and bit­ter any­way (this is caused by a saliva-drib­bling in­sect).

Michael­mas more no­tably marks the start of a new law term and was also a quar­ter-day for set­ting rents and ac­counts, now a prac­tice ac­cel­er­ated to an alarm­ing de­gree with al­most weekly fi­nan­cial prop­erty shocks.

There are some claims of Michael­mas roots be­ing from the Celtic mists — but it came here with the An­glo-Nor­mans in the 12th cen­tury when they set up their le­gal prac­tices. The folk­lorist Kevin Dana­her says it had no spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance in an­cient Ire­land.

There is a Michael­mas flower, of course, a daisy, an au­tumn-flow­er­ing aster, a blue-pur­ple rag­wort, which came from Amer­ica and be­came nat­u­ralised.

Michael­mas marks the end of har­vest time with the au­tumn equinox and is an im­por­tant time for farm­ers to de­cide on what stock to carry over the win­ter months.

Hunts­men and hounds meet to gal­lop the coun­try­side, with landown­ers’ per­mis­sion, of course, but geese “har­vests” which were once thriv­ing events when spring goslings were ripe for roast­ing are no longer heard of.

This was sup­posed to be a re­minder that the year was fall­ing and that Christmas was just down the road. This may have been an­other Nor­man in­tro­duc­tion but the Na­tive Ir­ish soon gave it a stamp of their own.

Plump birds of­ten helped pay rents at Fomhar-na-nGean and farm wives who had charge of flocks gave goose gifts to poorer fam­i­lies.

Also shared with the less well-off were por­tions of mut­ton called Cuid Mhichii or St Michael’s Sheep, “be­stowed upon re­liev­ing the poor” ac­cord­ing to the 18th-cen­tury his­to­rian Ge­of­frey Keat­ing. This gen­er­ous prac­tice was car­ried for many gen­er­a­tions and may very well con­tinue to this day un­her­alded by char­i­ta­ble farm fam­i­lies.

There is a fa­mous his­tor­i­cal goose story from the end of last month in­volv­ing the first Queen El­iz­a­beth. In Au­gust, 1588 she had ad­dressed her naval and land forces at Til­bury at the height of a Span­ish in­va­sion threat (“Let tyrants fear!”). Then the fol­low­ing month the storm of the cen­tury scat­tered the Ar­mada which tried to strug­gle home around Scot­land and down the Ir­ish west coast.

The queen, on Michael­mas night dined with a Sir Neville Um­phreyville on roast goose. She raised her glass to “Death to that cursed Ar­mada”.

No sooner had she spo­ken, the story goes, than a mes­sen­ger rushed in with the news that Span­ish ves­sels had foundered in the Blas­ket Sound.

El­iz­a­beth im­me­di­ately pro­claimed: “Hence­forth shall a goose com­mem­o­rate this fa­mous vic­tory!”

And so it came to pass, though the real vic­tors over the Ar­mada were the forces of na­ture rather than a bat­tle of tall ships on the high seas.

ROAST GOOSE: El­iz­a­beth I

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