New Book Explores Mistletoe’s Past and Other ‘Fun Things You Probably Don’t Know About Ireland’

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"The Great Little Book of Fun Things You Probably Don’t Know about Ireland" is a treasure trove of Irish Christmas facts, as well as cultural curiosities, proverbs and traditions

Readers will learn about odd Irish traditions like turning the birthday boy upside down and bumping his head on the floor or cooking nuts in oil to learn whether or not you will soon get married.

Most people equate mistletoe with the Christmas kissing ritual—a person caught standing under a sprig of mistletoe must submit to a kiss from anyone who notices him or her. Historically, though, the plant was thought to have mysterious powers beyond the ability to inspire a bit of romance. “The Ancient Celts believed mistletoe had tremendous healing powers,” reports Robert Sullivan in his new book, The Great Little Book of Fun Things You Probably Don’t Know About Ireland! (Amazon.com, $14.99).

Mistletoe, which has green leaves and tiny, white berries, is a parasitic plant that takes water and nutrients from the plant it grows on. Ancient Irishmen—Celts or Druids—believed that mistletoe drew the spirit from its plant host and that was the reason it stayed green all winter. They were convinced that a potion concocted from mistletoe could make sterile animals fertile. Moreover, the plant was considered an antidote for any and all poisons. “Christians considered it such as strong symbol of paganism, in fact, that it was banned until the so-called ‘revival of Christmas’ during the Victorian era,” Mr. Sullivan reports in a chapter entitled “Irish Christmas Facts.”

"The Great Little Book of Fun Things You Probably Don’t Know about Ireland" is a treasure trove of Irish Christmas facts, as well as cultural curiosities, proverbs and traditions. It is geared towards anyone who is interested in Irish culture, from ancient times right up to the present. Readers will learn about odd traditions like turning the birthday boy upside down and bumping his head on the floor or cooking nuts in oil to learn whether or not you will soon get married. There's also a collection of offbeat news items from the Irish press, and a unique list of Irish quotes, including this favorite from a bar in Cork City: "Those who drink to forget, please pay in advance." This book makes a great stocking stuffer and if shared at Christmas dinner, may inspire guests to give their own humorous insights into Irish culture and tradition.

Robert Sullivan is an Irish-American who traveled to Ireland for the first time in 1975 to visit his grandfather’s birthplace in a remote part of County Kerry. Captivated by the people and the culture, he kept going back and began collecting information about the Emerald Isle. “Under the surface of Ireland, there’s a world of ideas and customs that is sometimes brilliant and often a bit nutty,” writes Mr. Sullivan in the book’s introduction. “I’ve found that no matter how many layers of Irish culture you peel back, there’s always another one beneath.”

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