Magpies on an Easterly Wind

We can gain a new perspective from stories containing humour, history and anecdote in the folklore gathered by the Irish Schools’ Collection of the 1930s, now held in the National Folklore Collection.

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In the school book for Wexford town, gathered by teacher Victoria M. Sherwood, we find this transcribed clipping from the Wexford Free Press paper, describing the origins of the magpie in Ireland:

"It is said that the first magpies that came to Ireland came with a strong Easterly wind and lighted near Wexford town. There were only about a dozen of them but they soon increased and spread to other parts.

Colonel Solomon Richards in his 'Particulars Relating to Wexford and the Barony of Forth", written in 1682, gives the following 'account of how the magpies came to this country:- One remarque more is, there came with a strong Easterly wind, a flight of Magpies, under a dozen, as I remember out of England, or Wales, as 'tis verilie believed, none having ever been seen in Ireland before.

They lighted in the Barony of Forthe, where they have bredd, and are so increased, that they are now in every village and wood in this country - especially in this Barony -abundant- my own garden, though in the town of Wexford, is continually frequented by them, and they are spread more thinly into other Counties and parts of of the Kingdom. The natural Irish must detest them, saying 'They shall never be rid of the English, while these magpies remain"'. The observation is, that the English Magpies entered Ireland in the same County where the Englishmen first entered it and in the English Barony also."

(Taken from " At the Cross-Roads" in the "Free Press" paper.)

The story that the English magpie arrived in Ireland in the seventeenth century across the sea and via the coast, whether apocryphal or not, has cultural power in the folkloric imagination of coastal County Wexford. The equation of an unwanted and ubiquitous species arriving via Wexford, be it the English or the Magpie, has a resonance in national imagination that is written upon, rewritten and related from person to person, publication to publication.

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