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Tony Grist

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The Wearing Of The Green [Dec. 1st, 2006|10:10 pm]
Tony Grist

We were helping Ruth choose carpet for her living room. I'd have gone for something green, but she hates green- so we found ourselves weighing the merits of different tones of beige.

Ruth hates green simply because she hates it, but a lot of people hate it because they think it's unlucky. My mother-in-law for instance. She has a saying, "black follows green." 

I've never understood it. 

So I thought it was time I googled.  This was what I came up with: green is a fairy colour and the fairies resent us wearing it.- best not to upset the little people. It's an Irish thing.

Not terribly convincing . And  how does one explain the St Patrick's Day parade?

Ah, but that's it! Green is the colour of Irish nationalism and in the good old days you could be stomped  for wearing it. I google again and yes, in the aftermath of the 1798 rebellion anyone wearing the shamrock or other green favours was in danger of being hung for treason. As it says in the ballad

O Paddy dear, an' did ye hear the news that's goin' round? 
The shamrock is forbid by law to grow on Irish ground; 
St. Patrick's Day no more we'll keep, his colour can't be seen, 
For there's a cruel law agin the wearin' o' the Green. 

I met wid Napper Tandy and he took me by the hand, 
And he said, "How's poor ould Ireland, and how does she stand?" 
She's the most distressful country that ever yet was seen, 
For they're hangin' men an' women there for the wearin' o' the Green. 

So black did follow green for Irish patriots circa 1800. And the taboo has its roots not in superstition but in political pragmatism. 

Yes, that's the explanation I'm going with.


[User Picture]From: jenny_evergreen
2006-12-01 09:22 pm (UTC)
*notes Irish (Catholic) roots* Green has always been my favorite color, and I sometimes wonder if there's some subconscious ethnic thing goin' in addition to just plain liking it. :P
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2006-12-02 09:30 am (UTC)
Could be...

Mind you, I like green and I don't have any Irish ancestry that I'm aware of...
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[User Picture]From: tamnonlinear
2006-12-01 09:23 pm (UTC)
It's useful to remember that one of the (many) ways of reading the stories about Faeries was that it was a way of the common folk to talk about the aristocracy behind their back. In fact, you weren't supposed to call them Fairies, but "The good folk" or "the gentry". And they rode about on horses and did whatever they pleased and their ways are not our ways.

So there's probably a good reason that folks would say that the Fairies don't want you wearing the green and you might get yourself in trouble for it.

(It's also associated with bad luck in love in particular, the color a woman dons when her lover has left her, or the color worn by women of negotiable virtue. It hides the grass stains, you know.)

Janet has kilted her green kirtle
a little above the knee
and she's away to Carterhaugh
as fast as go can she.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2006-12-02 09:39 am (UTC)

My Irish mother-in-law has entirely forgotten about the fairies and the 1798 rebellion. For her green is unlucky simply because it is. It's one of those things woven into the fabric of existence- mysterious and unquestionable- like the laws of gravity.

So that's why Janet wears her green kirtle- I like it!
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[User Picture]From: heleninwales
2006-12-02 01:43 pm (UTC)
My personal feeling is that the ban on the Irish wearing green accounts for the the superstition. Wearing green certainly doesn't apply to Welsh fairies. The only colour specifically mentioned with regard to fairy clothing in the folklore books I have is red, which is the colour of the coats worn by fairy men.

And, just to offer a counter-example to tamnonlinear's suggestion that green is linked with a jilted woman, mevennen has just posted here about use of coloured ribbons amongst spinners.

I think the problem is that customs are often regional, so it's not possible to say that any given meaning is widely understood.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2006-12-02 02:09 pm (UTC)
I don't think I ever came across this "green is unlucky" thing until after I started mixing with people of Irish descent. It has always struck me as daft. After all, green is the colour of new life, isn't it?
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[User Picture]From: heleninwales
2006-12-02 06:28 pm (UTC)
It has always struck me as daft.

But not, of course, daft if you'll be hanged if you're caught doing it.

Interestingly, green is also a significant colour in Islam, hence John Buchan's Greenmantle. Though it hasn't been mentioned at all recently during the furore over other symbols.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2006-12-02 09:05 pm (UTC)
And it's simply because it was the prophet's favourite colour; that's rather sweet.
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[User Picture]From: shewhomust
2006-12-02 06:30 pm (UTC)
How old is the thestrical superstition against wearing green onstage (so you take it off, and leave it in the green room)?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2006-12-02 09:07 pm (UTC)
Is that why they call it "the green room" then? I didn't know.

I get the impression that theatrical superstitions are mostly 19th century.
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