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Monday, 8 October 2012

An early form of chain-letter?

From The Annual Register 1832
Superstition, Dublin
The cholera having begun its ravages in Ireland, the peasantry procured a sovereign charm against its influence, which was described as follows in the Irish journals of the day: -- these three days past the country has been in an extraordinary state of excitement.  Messengers are running and riding through the counties Carlow, Kilkenny, Wicklow, Westmeath, Dublin, King and Queen's county, Meath, Wexford and Longford leaving a small piece of turf at every cabin, with the following exhortation; "The plague has broken out, take this, and while it burns, offer up seven Paternosters, three Ave Marias and a Credo, in the name of God and the holy St John that plague may be stopped!"  The messenger lays each household under an obligation to kindle his piece of turf, set fire to seven other pieces, quench them and run through the country to seven other houses wherein no turf has yet been left and to repeat the same exhortation and under a penalty of falling victim to the cholera himself!  Men, women, and children are seen traversing the country in every direction with this charmed turf, each endeavouring to be foremost in the finding of unserved houses.  It is certain that the whole of the central counties of Ireland are thrown into a singular state of agitation.  Yesterday, along the whole line of the Grand Canal from Dublin to Shannon Harbour, people might be seen running.  The captain of one of the packet boats that arrived in the city last night, saw a turf cutter running along the bank in the Bog of Allen, to whom he owed some money for fuel.  He called to him, "Paddy, get in and I'll pay you now."  "I can't," replied Paddy, still running, "I've to serve seven houses yet with the holy turf and I'd rather lose the money than earn the cholera."  The priests, into whose parish is this wildfire has spread, confess themselves as ignorant of its origin as the peasantry.

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