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Superstitious fishermen touch wood to keep redheads at bay

WELL-EDUCATED, young Irish fishermen are among the most superstitious people in the world, according to new research.

Seeing a priest before setting out to sea, saying certain words or phrases aboard or allowing a red haired woman on to the boat are all likely to trigger fear of bad luck.

So says Bairbre Ni Fhloinn, archivist and lecturer at University College, Dublin's department of folklore.

She found those with most at stake financially were most likely to believe in fishing-related superstitions.

And younger, better-educated professional fishermen working aboard state-of-the-art trawlers were more likely to be superstitious than older, more traditional fishermen.

Among the more common triggers of ill fortune are:

� Saying the word "pig" or "fox" on board ship, or "cat" "hare" "goat" or "rabbit", which are all forms a witch could easily take. To name them was an open invitation to her to bewitch not only your boat but you as well.

� Seeing a clergyman by the boats before setting off to sea, as the priest worships a different god than the pagan one who guards the boat.

� Having a red-haired woman aboard.

� Mentioning "salt" at sea.

� Bringing eggs on board.

� Whistling into the wind - making a sound like the wind will bring a storm.

� Talking about church or ministers.

The only cure is to touch cold iron, hence Ms Ni Fhloinn's forthcoming publication, Cold Iron: Occupational beliefs of Irish Fishermen.

But the research was rebuffed by Frank Doyle of the Irish Fishermen's Organisation.

"I heard these stories 25 or 30 years ago. They are just recycled nonsense. There may be one or two who are superstitious, but you can't make broad generalisations," he said.

Ms Ni Fhloinn's research appeared in New Scientist magazine in the UK.

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