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Monday, August 20, 2012
THE belief that animals can give signs to humans of impending death is still strong in folk traditions internationally, including our own.
The appearance of certain creatures is regarded as a common omen of somebody’s imminent passing.
A reminder comes from Tony Brunnock, who lives in Cuil Aodha, Co Cork, who says some people there view with foreboding the appearance of a large, quite black hare. Whenever the hare is seen, somebody in the area dies a short time afterwards, according to Tony.
A lot of superstition surrounds the hare: in some cultures there’s a belief that dreaming of a hare can be a bad omen, or even death. There’s also the notion that the banshee can take many forms, from a lovely young woman to an old hag, or as a hooded crow, a hare, or a weasel.
In the days when country people generally kept their front doors open, I knew an elderly woman who was convinced that if a robin stepped inside the door, someone in the locality was sure to die.
Dark-coloured birds, including ravens and rooks, and those that come out at night, such as owls, are also seen as harbingers of death. There have been hundreds of reports of such omens coming to pass, including birds appearing at a window of a dying person moments before their passing.
The world may have changed, but people still want to believe in omens and they are quick to dismiss any suggestion of coincidence from sceptical folk.
I recently heard a story from a close relative of Titanic victim Patrick O’Connell about a dog to which he was attached. Back in Patrick’s home village of Ballydesmond, Co Cork, reportedly, the dog was heard to howl piercingly at the time the great ship went down in the North Atlantic, in the small hours of Apr 14, 1912.
A widespread global belief concerns the phantom death coach, driven by a headless driver and pulled by four black horses. If this coach stops outside your house, it’s a sure sign you’re heading for the departure lounge, according to legend.
Dogs and cats feature prominently as common death omens. In the Irish and Scottish traditions, the appearance of a huge dog, with glowing red eyes, is greeted with serious foreboding.
But there are far more numerous incidents on record of long-deceased pets turning up a short time prior to the deaths of their owners. It’s as if the pet returns to safely escort their masters, or mistresses, to the world beyond.
Many people are convinced that animals have extra senses capable of picking up things which are beyond the reach of human faculties.
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