Trevor Laffan: Bird poo and horseshoes: I’ve no time for such superstitions

I’m not superstitious, but I know many who are, and there’s nothing wrong with that as long as it isn’t taken to extremes, so says Trevor Laffan
Trevor Laffan: Bird poo and horseshoes: I’ve no time for such superstitions

FORTUNE OR FOLLY? Some cultures have the horseshoe with the open end facing upwards, to stop the luck from falling out.

A FEW years ago, I was about to get into my car outside the front door, when a bird relieved himself on top of me.

I can’t remember where I was going, but it must have been somewhere special because I was dressed up for the occasion and that’s not like me.

I’m a jeans and t-shirt person, but I had a suit on that day, so it was either a funeral or a wedding, but either way, I was destroyed. 

I had a foreign substance all over my head and running down my neck, which wasn’t pretty. It didn’t smell great either.

My first suspect was a bird, but I couldn’t be certain. It could just as easily have been the contents of the waste tank of a passing Boeing 747. There was a lot of it and it’s hard to believe it could have come from a living creature. Not a regular bird anyway — at the very least it was an albatross with a serious bowel complaint, but I’ll never know because I was afraid to look up.

I went back into the house to get changed, and when my wife saw the state of me, she was very amused. I got little sympathy, in fact she told me I should be grateful because it was a sign of good luck.

I wasn’t convinced that being covered in bird crap was going to bring me any good fortune and I reckon I was right.

I had tickets booked with Cobalt Air for a trip to Cyprus around that time. I booked them early in the year to get the best price, but before I got a chance to use them, the airline went wallop. They went out of business, and my tickets went with them.

Not long after that, I ended up in hospital for a bit of surgery, so as far as I’m concerned, that bird did me no favours. How a dollop of smelly, nasty bird poo on your head could ever be considered as a moment to be cherished is beyond me.

Apparently, we can thank the Russians for it. It was they who came up with the theory that the odds of being dumped on by our feathered friends are so small, you have a better chance of winning the lottery. So, being a designated target for bird poo is a sign of good fortune.

I’m not superstitious, but I know many who are, and there’s nothing wrong with that as long as it isn’t taken to extremes.

Some people have great faith in horoscopes, piseogs and lucky charms and so on, and more power to them. I know one family who insist on having a horseshoe in their house to protect them from harm.

The origin of the lucky horseshoe goes back to Saint Dunstan, who died in 988 AD. According to the legend, Dunstan was a blacksmith and he was commanded by the devil to shoe his horse. He didn’t want to help the Devil, so he refused. That led to an argument and when things got a bit heated, he nailed a horseshoe to the devil’s foot.

The devil screamed in pain and pleaded for help, but Dunstan refused to remove it until he received a guarantee that the devil would stay away from any house with a horseshoe on the door. The Devil agreed so the nail was removed.

It’s not clear which way the horseshoe is to be hung though, so there are a few interpretations. Most of the horseshoes I’ve seen here are hung with the open end facing the floor but, in some countries, they’re hung with the open end facing the ceiling to stop the luck from falling out.

In many cultures, a horseshoe is the luckiest of all symbols, especially if you find one with the open end pointing toward you. If you come across one of these good-luck charms, you’re supposed to pick it up with your right hand, spit on one end, make a wish and toss it over your left shoulder and leave it where it lands.

It would be wise to check over your shoulder first though, because I suspect those instructions were issued in a time when population density was nothing like it is now and the streets were much quieter. Heavy traffic back then probably meant there were two horses on the road at the same time. Throwing a lump of metal behind you these days is not recommended.

Sometimes, luck comes to people without the benefit of bird poo or horseshoes. 

The story of Frane Selak is well known in Croatia, and while much of it hasn’t been verified, it hasn’t been discounted either.

Mr Selak was born in 1929 and grew up to be a music teacher in Croatia. In 1962, he was on a train that derailed and plunged into a river where 17 passengers perished. He survived and managed to swim ashore with just a broken arm.

He was also involved in a plane crash that claimed the lives of 19 people, and three years later, he was involved in an accident on a bus that killed four people, but he was unhurt. A few years after that, he suffered burns and hair loss when a car he was driving burst into flames after a petrol leak.

Twenty years later, Mr Selak was knocked down by a bus in Zagreb while crossing the road but survived with cuts and bruises.

Maybe it was that final brush with death that convinced our man to buy a ticket in the Croatian Lottery and in 2003, at the age of 74, he won €600,000.

He promptly gave it away to his family and friends, and returned to the simple life he enjoyed as a teacher.

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