Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Superstition of the Irish Fetch by Lewis Spence 1920


The Superstition of the Irish Fetch by Lewis Spence 1920

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 According to Irish belief, this is an apparition of a living person; the Irish form of the wraith. It resembles in every particular the individual whose death it is supposed to foretell, but it is generally of a shadowy or ghostly appearance. The fetch may be seen by more than one person at the same time and, like the wraith of England and Scotland, may appear to the person it represents. There is a belief, too, that if the fetch be seen in the morning, it indicates long life for the original: but if it be seen at night, his speedy demise may be expected. The Fetch enters largely into the folk-tales of Ireland; and it is hardly surprising that so many tales have been woven around it, for there is something gruesome in the idea of being haunted by one's own "double" which has frequently been turned to account by more sophisticated writers than the inventors of folk-tales.

Patrick Kennedy, in his Legendary Fiction of the Irish Celt, speaking of the Irish fetch, gives the following tale of The Doctor's Fetch, based, it is stated, on the most authentic sources: "In one of our Irish cities, and in a room where the mild moonbeams were resting on the carpet and on a table near the window, Mrs. B., wife of a doctor in good practice and general esteem, looking towards the window from her pillow, was startled by the appearance of her husband standing near the table just mentioned, and seeming to look with attention on the book which was lying open on it. Now, the living and breathing man was by her side apparently asleep, and, greatly as she was surprised and affected, she had sufficient command of herself to remain without moving, lest she should expose him to the terror which she herself at the moment experienced. After gazing on the apparition for a few seconds, she bent her eyes upon her husband to ascertain if his looks were turned in the direction of the window, but his eyes were closed. She turned round again, although now dreading the sight of what she believed to be her husband's fetch, but it was no longer there. She remained sleepless throughout the remainder of the night, but still bravely refrained from disturbing her partner.

"Next morning, Mr. B., seeing signs of disquiet on his wife's countenance while at breakfast, made some affectionate inquiries, but she concealed her trouble, and at his ordinary hour he sallied forth to make his calls. Meeting Dr. C, in the street, and falling into conversation with him, he asked his opinion on the subject of fetches. 'I think,' was the answer, 'and so I am sure do you, that they are mere illusions produced by a disturbed stomach acting upon the excited brain of a highly imaginative or superstitious person.' 'Then,' said Mr. B., 'I am highly imaginative or superstitious, for I distinctly saw my own outward man last night standing at the table in the bedroom, and clearly distinguishable in the moonlight. I am afraid my wife saw it too, but I have been afraid to speak to her on the subject.'

"About the same hour on the ensuing night the poor lady was again roused, but by a more painful circumstance. She felt her husband moving convulsively, and immediately afterwards he cried to her in low, interrupted accents, 'Elleo, my dear, I am suffocating; send for Dr. C.' She sprang up, huddled on some clothes, and ran to his house. He came with all speed, but his efforts for his friend were useless. He had burst a large blood-vessel in the lungs, and was soon beyond human aid. In her lamentations the bereaved wife frequently cried out, 'Oh! the fetch, the fetch!' and at a later period told the doctor of the appearance the night before her husband's death.



From Irish Folklore by Lageniensis

The Fetch—a well-known Irish superstition—claims some affinity with the Highlanders' belief in "second sight." The Fetch is supposed to be a mere shadow, resembling in stature, features, and dress, a living person, and often mysteriously or suddenly seen by a very particular friend. If it appear in the morning, a happy longevity for the living original is confidently predicted; but if it be seen in the evening, immediate dissolution of the prototype is anticipated. Spirit-like, it flits before the sight, seeming to walk leisurely through the fields, and often disappearing through a gap or lane. The person it resembles is usually known to be labouring under some mortal illness at the time, and quite unable to leave his or her bed. When the Fetch appears agitated or eccentric in its motions, a violent or painful death is indicated for the doomed prototype. This phantom is also said to make its appearance, at the same time, and in the same place, to more than one person,—as we have heard related in a particular instance. What the Irish call Fetches, the English designate Doubles. It is supposed, likewise, that individuals may behold their own Fetches.

The renowned Irish novelist and poet, John Banim, has written both a novel and a ballad on this subject. Somewhat analogous to the Highland seer's gift Of second-sight, especially in reference to approaching doom — Aubrey tells us, that a well-known poet, the Earl of Roscommon, who was born in Ireland, 1633, had some preternatural knowledge of his father's death, whilst residing at Caen, in Normandy. Such forebodings were recognized by the early Northmen; and it is probable their origin amongst the people of these islands had been derived from a Scandinavian source. Oftentimes they were invested with circumstances of peculiar horror,— according to northern traditions, which were also transferred to the Hebride islanders. These latter adopted a strange admixture of superstition, from their former independent ancestors, and the invading pirate hordes, that colonized their exposed and defenceless homes.

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