Until fairly recently Ireland used to have a festival called Skellig Night, Skelliking Day, or Skeleton Night, on the eve of lent, where boys had free licence to lasso girls, tie them up, and pour water on them in a grim sort of pre lent carnival.
Weddings were forbidden - Ash Wednesday to Low Sunday (the days that bookmark lent) but the parish priest of the Skelligs (a series of rocky islets) would perform the ceremony on The Great Skellig on Shrove Tuesday. If you wanted to get married during lent, that’s where you went.
Skellig Michael (The Great Skellig) was a medieval island hermitage whose ascetic monks calculated the date of Easter differently. The whole of Ireland initially used a different calculation table to Rome, but Ireland eventually confirmed. All except for Skellig Michael.
It’s possible that the time difference on Skellig was an artefact from when Ireland adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752. That year, Wednesday, September 2nd, was followed by Thursday, September 14th.
Whatever the reason, Easter came later on Skellig, so opening up the possibility for couples in nearby areas like Cobh and Dingle who wished to (or had to) marry during lent. Thus the Skellig Rock was joined in the popular imagination with courting, marriage, sex, and desire.
According to an 1895 account: “All the marriageable young people, men and women, in any parish, who are not gone over to the majority at Shrovetide, are said to be compelled to walk barefoot to the Skellig rocks, off the Kerry coast, on Shrove Tuesday night.”
But rather than this being a pious pilgrimage the ‘holiday’ was characterised by debauchery, courting, drinking, and eventually tying up and dousing in water any single girls unfortunate enough to be cornered by a group of boys on Skelliking Day.
Skellig Lists were anonymous broadsheets of doggerel verse pairing together the unwed inhabitants of the locale and listing their characteristics, very often in disparaging terms.
“Miss Puffmuffin Callaghan goes next for the shore,
With her waxbottom neighbour, the cordwainer Hoare.
While Kate Lynch comes on after, decked out in black silk,
On the bleak rocks of Skellig to skim her sour milk.”
This is a painting of Skellig Night in Cork city by cork artist James Beale (1845). Bachelors and spinsters are paraded through the streets towards the end point of their great humiliation - being drenched with water from the pump in the square.
Like Mardi Gras in the Middle Ages Skellig Night was a carnival. A response to the church mandated 40 days and 40 nights of austerity and fasting that was to follow from the next day. It was a time for eating, drinking, and sexual activity.
All of this morphed into a tradition where schools would let the girls go home an hour before the boys to give them a chance to avoid being roped and drenched. Sometimes a policeman would stand at the school gates to discourage such non consensual activity.
And that is about all I know on the subject of Skelliking Night, Skeleton Night, Skellig Night. Head over to Duchas.ie for first hand accounts of the festival.

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