A look at the traditional ancient good and back luck signs that pop up in ancient Irish folklore.
Between 1937 and 1938, some 100,000 schoolchildren in 5,000 primary schools collected local folklore from their family and members in the community as part of the Schools’ Folklore Scheme run by the Irish Folklore Commission, as reported on IrishArchaeology.ie.
Children were instructed to research local history, folktales, legends, customs, games, riddles, proverbs, and songs. Now known as the Schools’ Manuscript Collection, the project resulted in more than half a million manuscript pages of valuable material.
The following list is an extensive collection of "Lucky and Unlucky Signs" supplied by students at the Listowel National school in Co. Kerry in 1938:
If you break a looking-glass, you are supposed to have seven years bad luck.
If a person comes in one door, they should go out the same door again, otherwise, they say, they take away the luck with them if they go out the other door.
If you are going to the fair and the first person you see is a red-haired woman you should turn back else you'll have bad luck for that day.
If you find a four-leaved shamrock you will be lucky.
If you hear ringing in your right ear they say that the souls in Purgatory are calling for your prayers.
If you spill salt on the table you will have a fight.
If your right ear is hot, it is a sign that someone will scold you.
If you see a tea-leaf floating on top of your tea, it is a sign that you will get a letter.
If your nose is itchy, it is a sign that someone is speaking ill of you.
If you find a horseshoe, spit on it and throw it over your head and you will have good luck.
If you pick a flower on May Eve it is said that the fairies will come and take you away with them.
If a scissors falls on the floor you will get a disappointment.
If [you] walk over a person on the floor that person will grow no more.
If the palm of your hand is itchy money is coming to you.
If a person spits out when walking under a ladder, he will have good luck.
If there are two lights burning in the same room for two nights in succession someone will die in that house.
If your tooth falls out and if you put it on your window-sill at night and if it is gone in the morning you will have good luck.
If you see a white horse in the morning you will have good luck.
If you drop a fork you will have company.
A whistling woman or a crowing hen, there is neither luck nor grave in the house they are in.
If you count the cars at a funeral, bad luck will befall you.
If you burn a pack of playing cards, bad luck will befall you.
If the Christmas candles do not burn straight on Christmas, there will be bad luck in the house during the coming year.
It is unlucky to cut hay in the same year where cattle graze.
If a wedding party meets a funeral after a marriage ceremony they will have bad luck.
It is unlucky to say “God bless a dog or a cat.”
In a family where the grandfather is called John, where the father is called John and if a male child is born he should not be called John because he will be unlucky.
When a cricket whistles on the hob it is a sign of great misfortune.
If you interfere with a [fairy] fort bad luck will approach you.
When a robin is near your back door it is considered a good omen.
When the sparks fly out of the fire it is a sign that you will get money.
If you get the wishbone on a chicken, catch one end of it and tell somebody else to catch the other end and whoever gets the right side after pulling it apart may wish for whatever they like.
It is said that if you hurt a leprechaun the devil will tie [you] with chains and curse you.
When you see a white horse, spit and close your eyes and you will have good luck, but be sure to rub out the spit afterward.
If you pick the flower on a whitethorn bush and carry them home you will die.
If you meet a funeral you should walk three steps with it. If you do not you will have ill luck.
If you find a hairpin keep it and you will get money.
If you see a black cat you will be lucky.
If you put your stockings inside-out you will be lucky.
If you pick bluebells on May Eve you will have bad luck during May.
If you find a half-penny keep it and you will be lucky.
If a man is going to the fair and if his wife throws an old shoe after him it is a sign he will have good luck.
If a sod of turf falls out of the fire it is a sign that someone is coming to the house.
When you see a new moon you should bless yourself or bad luck will befall you.
If you kill a golden wren in a laurel bush you will have good luck.
* Originally published in August 2016. Updated in 2023.