Laa’l Breeshey is the first day of Mee-hoshee yn niarragh, celebrated on 1-2 February by the modern calendar and 12 February by the old reckoning. Heralding the end of winter and the return of spring to Mona’s Isle, the traditions of Mannan’s folk are similar to those of the neighbouring Irish and Scots, but with a peculiarly witchy spin.
Bride is much loved on the Island, with many wells, a church and seven ancient keels dedicated to her. The women of the Isle would prepare a Bride’s bed, strewing rushes inside the threshold of the home, or in a clean swept area of a barn. The family matriarch would stand upon the threshold of the house with the door open, holding the bundle of rushes as she requests the blessing of the Fair Folk and invites Bride into the home, bestowing blessings for the year to come. In some houses, a table would be set with food, drink and a candle to burn through the night, along with a bed for Bride.
“Breeshey, Breeshey, come to my house, come to my house tonight. Open the door to Breeshey and let Breeshey come in.”
In the morning, signs of occupation would be sought and if found, would foretell a prosperous year ahead.
Prognostications for the weather are carried out on this day, with a fair Laa’l Breeshey warning of a longer winter, and foul weather that day promising an early spring.
The day is called Caillagh ny groamagh, the Old Witches Day.
“The old witch was said to have been an Irish witch, and was thrown into the sea by the people in Ireland with the intention of drowning her. However, being a witch, she declined to be drowned and floated easily until she came to the Isle of Mann, where she landed on the morning of February 12th (old calendar). It was a fine, bright day, and she set to work to gather sticks to light a fire by which she was able to dry herself. The spring that year was a wet one. It is said that every 12th February morning she still goes out to gather sticks to make a fire by which to dry herself, and if she succeeds in doing so, then a wet spring will follow. But if the morning is wet and she cannot get dry, then the spring will be a dry one.”*
* Manx Calendar Customs, Cyril Ingram Paton, Folk-Lore Society, 1942.