Irish Feast of Michael – September 29th

Celebrating St. Michael’s Day, on September 29th, is an old Irish custom going back to the earliest times of the Celts. It was the day to mark the end of the harvest. On this day each year farmers would count their animals and decide how many they could afford to keep and feed over the long winter ahead, and how many would have to be sold and sent to slaughter. It was also a tribute to honour the three archangels, Angel Michael, Angel Gabriel, and Angel Raphael.

The Autumn Wind blows open the gate
St. Michael for you we wait
We follow you, show us the way
With joy we greet this Autumn day
Good Morning, Good Morning, Good Morning!

Michaelmas, (pronounced “mick-el-miss”) or St. Michael’s Day, was also a day for traditional county fairs, and of job fairs, where farmers could hire winter labour, after the end of the harvest. Families gathered and spent the day together and then shared a feast of freshly baked bread, roast goose, potatoes, and a glass or two of beer or whiskey.

St. Michael’s Day marked the end of the fishing season, and the beginning of the hunting season, and a traditional goose dinner was served in Irish homes to mark the occasion. In many parts of Ireland, farmers gave gifts of geese to the poor, and they also sold their down and feathers on that day at the local fairs, to be used for mattresses and pillows.

Michaelmas Pie

It was a custom to bake a Michaelmas pie, and to hide a ring in the pie. Whoever got the piece with the ring would be married within the year. The pies were made with apples and blackberries, which were ripe and delicious in late September. According to old Irish folklore, at Michaelmas, the devil spits on the blackberries after September 29th, so that is the last day to eat them safely. Irish legends say, when St. Michael cast Satan from Heaven, the devil landed on the Earth in a patch of blackberry brambles and he returns each year to spit on the plant that tortured him.

Goose for the Feast

During the Middle Ages, St. Michael’s Day was a religious feast in most of western Europe, celebrating the end of the harvest. It was the custom to eat a goose on Michaelmas, and legend tells that this ritual was supposed to protect against financial need for the next year.

“He who eats goose on Michaelmas Day

shan’t money lack or debts to pay”

Predicting the

Winter Weather

The roasted goose was supposed to be eaten up by midnight on September 30th, and the breastbone was used to foretell the weather for the coming winter by holding it up to the light. A translucent breastbone meant that the winter ahead would be mild, while a thick cloudy breastbone meant it would be a long cold winter.

Potatoes and carrots were roasted in the goose fat, and a slice or two of Irish soda bread was served with the meal. Toasts were made to St. Michael, with Irish whiskey.

Recipe for Michaelmas Pie


12 oz plain flour, sifted

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

3 oz lard

3 oz chilled butter, diced

3 fl oz chilled water

pinch salt

2 lbs cooking apples

2 oz sugar

1 tsp ground cloves

1 tsp ground nutmeg

12 oz blackberries

1 egg, beaten


Pre-heat the oven to 350 F.

Prepare the pastry. Place the flour in a mixing bowl and stir in the cinnamon and salt. Rub in the butter and lard until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Form a well in the centre and add the water. Mix together using a wire pastry blender, then knead briefly, and place in a plastic bag in the fridge. Leave to rest for 30 minutes.

Peel and core the apples. Cut them and place them in a saucepan with the sugar, cloves and nutmeg. Cover with a lid and gently simmer for 5 minutes, until the apples have softened. Next, fold in the blackberries and remove the saucepan from the heat. Cool the mixture.

Take pastry from the fridge and roll out two thirds on a lightly floured surface. Line an 8-inch metal pie plate. Pierce the base of the pastry with a fork. Strain the fruit, and spoon the fruit mixture over. Roll out the remaining pastry and lay the pastry over the fruit. Brush the base with a little egg and seal the edge. Trim and crimp the edges. Brush the surface with the remaining egg and with a knife make slits in the top. Bake for 35 minutes. Serve hot or cold with vanilla ice cream or fresh whipped cream.

Is there a ‘Michael’

in your family?

The devotion to St. Michael in Ireland was so great, that at one time almost every family had a child named Michael. In 1923, Michael was the most popular name for boys in Ireland. In Catholic households, families with no boys would often give the name ‘Michael’ as a middle name for their daughters. At one time, it was not unusual for nuns to have the name of Sister Michael.

St. Michael is the Patron Saint of grocers, soldiers, doctors, mariners, paratroopers, and police, and it’s his responsibility to escort the faithful to heaven at their hour of death. He is known as the protector of humanity, who inspires the qualities of courage, initiative and steadfastness.

Irish Ancestry

For those with Irish heritage, September 29th, or St. Michael’s Day, is a day that we may choose to observe some of the old ways of our ancestors. In North America we might cook a chicken instead of a goose, and may substitute with blueberries or raspberries in our Michaelmas pies.

Whether we celebrate with a traditional Michaelmas feast on September 29th, or just have a wee shot of whiskey and a toast to St. Michael, it’s a day to pause for a moment and remember our ancestors, and how they marked the end of the harvest, and the beginning of a new season.

Slainte! “To Your Health!”

Arlene Stafford-Wilson

My Mother, she was Orange…..and my Father, he was Green

“You picked a hell of a day to get married!”

Those were the first words spoken to our mother, the day she met her new father-in-law, Vince Stafford.  He was referring to the fact that they were married on the twelfth of July. He made it quite clear that he was not pleased that his son had chosen to welcome a Protestant into their Roman Catholic family, on July 12th of all days!

Some called it Orangeman’s Day, and some referred to it as the ‘Glorious Twelfth’.  On July 12th each year, Protestant organizations celebrated the victory of Protestant King William of Orange, riding a white horse, who defeated Catholic King James, at the Battle of the Boyne in July 1690.

William white horse

The Orange and the Green

When I was a kid, the Irish Rovers recorded a song called “The Orange and the Green”, about a child growing up with one Roman Catholic parent, and one Protestant parent.  We saw them perform the song many times over on a popular television show called ‘The Pig and Whistle’, and the irony of the song was not lost on us.

Irish Rovers “The Orange and Green”

Our father, a Roman Catholic, from Drummond Township, grew up attending St. Patrick’s church in Ferguson Falls, while our mother attended Calvin United in Bathurst (Tay Valley) Township.

St Patricks and Calvin

Although the feelings of bias and animosity between these two religions may seem foreign to us in these more inclusive times, they were still very much in the forefront, during the 1940s, when my parents married. Mother said she never felt accepted by Dad’s family, particularly his parents; and that never changed even up to the late 1950s and early 1960s when the in-laws passed away.

This religious prejudice ran on both sides of the fence. I recall our cousin, Ruth Rutherford, in Ogdensburg, New York, was forbidden to marry her sweetheart, a Catholic lad, and she never got over it.  She remained single for the rest of her life, unable to marry her true love.

It may be difficult for us to imagine, but there were times in our early history in Canada where it was not uncommon for the July 12th celebrations to result in violence or even death.

Montreal Orangemen riots

‘The St. Alban’s Advertiser’, July 20, 1877, p.3

In the early years of the last century, the Orangemen’s Day parades in Canada drew crowds in the thousands, and it was not unusual for fights to break out, and insults along with injuries were to be expected.

Orange Day parade Toronto 1911

Orange Parade, Toronto, July 12, 1911

Although Orangeism originated in Ireland and England, Ogle Robert Gowan, the Order’s first Canadian Grand Master is recognized as the founder of Canadian Orangeism.  It is interesting that Gowan is known to have been a frequent visitor to a local fortune teller, Mother Barnes, the Witch of Plum Hollow. Not wishing to be seen consulting a sooth-sayer, he often sent his wife and their maid to ask questions about his politics and his career.

Orange Lodges, as the membership halls were called, sprang up all over Canada, and in Eastern Ontario, they were a common sight in almost every community.  The closest Orange Hall to our house was at Wemyss, frequently used as a dance hall, and a place to play cards and socialize.

Wemyss orange hall

  “The Perth Courier” Sept. 27, 1940, p.4

Carleton Place was one of the first communities to establish a Loyal Orange Lodge, along with Perth, Smiths Falls, and Montague Township.

Carleton Place Orange Lodge

In the early days, thousands attended Orange events:

Orange celebrations Perth 1904

“The Perth Courier”, July 8, 1904, p4

Through the decades, many community organizations also held their meetings and socials at the local Orange halls.

Drummond Centre

“The Perth Courier”, Oct. 23, 1941,p.1

Carleton Place had one of its largest crowds of visitors on July 12, 1920:

Orangeman's Day 2910

In 1921, the Orange Order agreed on several resolutions, including one intended to abolish all separate schools in Canada.

Orange resolution passed

The popularity of the Orange Order celebrations continued through the 1930s…

orangemens day 1934

“The Perth Courier”, July 13, 1934, p.1

orange order flag

Flag of Canada’s Grand Orange Order

An Orange parade was often led by one of the members on a white horse, symbolizing the white horse ridden by King William of Orange, at the Battle of the Boyne.

orange order white horse

Some of the symbols worn by members of the Orange Order

orange parade symbols

Orange Order – ‘Keys to Heaven

orange order keys

To assist in the war efforts, every Orange Lodge in Canada was turned into a recruiting office in WWII

orange lodge war efforts 1940

“The Perth Courier”, July 19, 1940, p.1

Lanark County Oranges Lodges, Active in 1946

orange lodges lanark county 1946

Lanark County – Orange Order Officers 1946

orange lodge lanark county officers 1946

“The Perth Courier”, July 18, 1946, p.1

In 1957, the Orange Day celebrations were held in Almonte, and Rev. Canon J.W.R. Meaken, shared some comments as part of his address to begin the meeting:

orange order address 1957

“The Perth Courier” July 25, 1957, p.7

Interest in joining the Orange Order began to dwindle in the 1960s and 1970s, and instead of thousands attending the annual parade, it became ‘hundreds’.

orange parade 1971

“The Perth Courier” July 8, 1971, p.1

Memberships grew smaller and smaller in many parts of the country, and in Lanark County, one of the oldest Orange Lodges, in Carleton Place, closed after 185 years, in January of 2015. The existing membership would merge with the Montague lodge # 512.  (The Grand Lodge of Ireland issued the original warrant for the Carleton Place Lodge back in 1830.)

orange lodge Carleton Place closing

Left, John Arksey, County Master for Rideau/St. Lawrence County Orange Lodges,center, Kevin Bradley, Grand Master of the Carleton Place Lodge, and Mark Alexander, provincial grand master, Ontario East, of the Grand Orange Lodge of Eastern Ontario.
“Inside Ottawa Valley” Dec 02, 2015, by Desmond Devoy, ‘Carleton Place Almonte Canadian Gazette’

At one time, there were 30 Lodges throughout Lanark County. After the closing of the Carleton Place Lodge in 2015, only the Montague Lodge and the Smiths Falls Lodge (No. 88), remained. The Almonte Lodge (No. 378) amalgamated with Carleton Place in 1987, Franktown in Beckwith Township (No. 381) in 1992, and Drummond Centre in Drummond/North Elmsley Township (No. 7) in 2013.


Throughout the many decades of the celebration of Orangemen, their sometimes vocal, and occasionally violent encounters with the Catholics, our family will continue to celebrate July 12th for a different reason. July 12th, for us, was the joining of the two religions, historically separated on this date, a young Protestant girl from the west, and a handsome Roman Catholic lad from Drummond Township.


Maybe they were ahead of their time.  It was 1943 afterall, and marrying outside of one’s religion was often frowned upon.  Luckily for us, the five children that followed in this unconventional marriage, would grow up in a home where we learned to respect different opinions, different points of view, and different religions.

Christmas baking

And so, the Protestant girl, and the Catholic boy were married for almost 50 years, until Dad passed away.

I still smile when I hear that Irish Rover’s tune, “The Orange and the Green”,  and July 12th, for us, will always be a special day in our own family history.


Arlene Stafford-Wilson

Irish Names & Surnames Explained

Traditional Irish Naming Patterns

Naming patterns are important when researching your family history. It has been a long standing custom in families around the world to name children after fathers, mothers, grandparents, important ancestors, relatives and friends. Middle names were often used for the preservation of a mother’s maiden name or the name of a prominent ancestor in that family. Names are very useful in tracking down lineages when there is little or no paper trail.

Names can give you clues to a person’s lineage, but other sources are still required in order to have genealogical proof. The Irish used a very particular naming pattern for children for children born beginning in the mid to late 1700s and through to the early to mid 1900s. It is important to note that not all Irish families followed the pattern although enough of them did that you can often use first names to learn more about an Irish ancestor’s unknown lineage. As with anything in genealogy, this should be proven with supporting documention, but Irish naming patterns are often helpful while building your family tree.

Traditional Irish Naming Pattern:

Naming Pattern Exceptions:

Naming patterns were sometimes affected by deaths in infancy. When a specific name was considered important within the family, the name would usually be given once again, to the next-born infant. In records, there are sometimes two or more children of the same name, baptized within the same family. Each baptism of this name, usually tells of the death of the older child of the same name.

Another example when the naming pattern is altered is when a child was stillborn, or very ill when born, or dying. Sadly, the child was baptized using a less-important family name, but the name of the paternal grandfather (or important ancestor) might be ‘reserved’ for a live birth, or for a child who was expected to live.

Surname Prefixes

Irish surnames of Gaelic origin were more common until Ireland fell under English rule. This led to the use of English versions of traditional Irish surnames. Many of these traditional names had prefixes:

“O”, “Fitz”, “Mc” and “Mac”

Mac or Mc – meaning “son of”

O – meaning “grandson of”

Fitz – meaning “son of” was sometimes substituted for the prefix ‘Mac’ or ‘Mc’ by many of the descendants of Anglo-Norman invaders.

For a period of time, English law in Ireland forbade the use of “O”, “Mc” and “Mac”, although “Fitz” was allowed. When researching your family name be aware that a name like Connor could have once been O’Connor.

The prefix O’ is unique to Ireland. It originates from the Gaelic word “ua,” meaning “grandson of.” Any name beginning with O’ is without question an Irish patronymic (from a male ancestor). The O’ surnames began in the 11th century in Ireland, before the Mc/Mac surnames. Examples of these surnames are O’Sullivan, O’Connor, O’Brien, and O’Leary.

Mc or Mac?

There is a myth about Scottish and Irish surnames that begin with the prefix Mac- or Mc-, that Mac- (as in MacDonald – son of Donald) designates a Scottish and Protestant heritage, where as Mc- (as in McCormick – son of Cormac) denotes an Irish Catholic family name. In fact there is no difference between these two prefixes. They may be either Irish or Scottish in origin and spelled different ways, with either prefix, even within the same family.

Mac- and Mc- both come from the Gaelic word “meic,” meaning “son of.”


In the early days of Irish settlement in Canada, such a large number of Irish names carried these prefixes that it became an ethnic slur for the Irish people to be called: “micks.”

Surnames that Describe the Profession of the Father

Some names beginning with Mc or Mac described the profession of the father.

MacMaster -“son of a master or religious leader”

Macpherson – “son of the parson,”

MacWard – “son of a poet or scribe,”

MacKenzie – “son of the fair one,”

MacDuff – “son of the dark one,”

McDowell – “son of the dark stranger.”.

Some families chose to conform to English laws, and some didn’t, which led to surname variations within the same family. Often Irish who emigrated dropped the prefixes when they arrived at their new countries of residence.

Top 200 Surnames in Ireland

Given Names and Meanings –


Given Names and Meanings


Researching Your Irish Roots

Don’t forget Nicknames

Most given names in Ireland have at least one associated nickname. When names are recorded in birth, marriage, and death, or in church records, a nickname may have been used instead of the given name (Kate for Catherine or Billy for William, for example). Many nicknames are easy to spot, but others are less well known. For example, the nicknames used for Bridget include Bedelia, Bess, Bessie, Biddy, Breda, Briddy, Bride, or Bridie.

Nicknames may also lead the researcher astray if incorrect assumptions are used. While some might assume that Anty is a nickname for Anthony (a male), it is, in fact, more likely a nickname for Anastasia (a female). Lou is both a nickname for male children named Aloysius, Lewis/Louis, and Ulysses as well as female children names Louise or Lucinda or Mary-Louise, or Mary-Lou.

In conclusion, while naming patterns weren’t always followed exactly (for example if there were only one or two children, the father’s relatives always took precedence in the naming of the children), they were usually followed closely.

Remember, if you have an Irish ancestor, and don’t know anything of their parentage, you can use naming patterns to help in your search.

Best of luck researching your Irish ancestry!


  • De Breffny, Brian. Guide on Irish Christian Names and their English equivalents. Article Christian Names in Ireland found for years 1670-1850. The Irish Ancestor, Vol.1 No. 1, pages 34-40.
  • Coghlan, Ronan. Irish First Names. Belfast, Ireland: Appletree Press, 1985.
  • Ó Corráin, Donnchadh, and Fidelma Maguire. Irish Names. 2nd ed. 1990. Reprint. Dublin, Ireland: The Lilliput Press, 1992.
  • MacLysaght, Edward. The Surnames of Ireland. 6th ed. Dublin, Ireland: Irish Academic Press, 1985.
  • Matheson, Sir Robert E. Special Report on Surnames in Ireland [Together with] Varieties and Synonyms of Surnames and Christian Names in Ireland. 1901. Reprint. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1968.

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Irish Hallowe’en in Lanark County

Arlene Stafford-Wilson