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Tales from the Other Side: Secret diary of a caul girl

Welcome to ‘Tales from the Other Side’ where we look at folklore, mythology and magic.

Throughout history and to this day there are many old wives’ tales surrounding childbirth. From

guessing due dates and the gender of the baby to foods eaten to induce labour. It’s often the case

that the more unusual the pregnancy or birth, the more superstition there is associated with it and today we are going to look at some of the beliefs surrounding caulbearers.

What is a Caulbearer?

This is the name given to a baby born ‘en caul’ also sometimes referred to as a ‘mermaid birth’ or a ‘veiled birth’. On very rare occasions, a baby is born still inside or partially wrapped in the amniotic sac. There are various stories related to Caulbearers throughout the world and some have much darker connotations but in Ireland it is seen as a gift. A child born under a caul was considered to be very lucky and magically powerful blessed with supernatural abilities.

The caul itself was supposedly a lucky charm which was usually kept by the family. There are also stories of them being stolen to be sold, as there were certain people who were prepared to pay handsomely for the properties they believed the veil would bless them with.

Prevention from drowning

Just as the baby floated in the amniotic sac, it was thought that a Caulbearer would never die from drowning and because of this many seafarers would be prepared to pay large sums of money to carry this magical protection with them. Many anxious people emigrating from Ireland during the famine would also try to obtain a piece of a caul before boarding the ‘coffin ships’ to America in the hope it would help them survive the journey.

Cecil Fitzpatrick was born en caul in Kilkenny in 1890. Fitzpatrick was a mess steward on the ill-fated Titanic. On the night of its sinking, he helped other passengers board lifeboats until the deck became overwhelmed with people clamouring for safety and he plunged himself into the freezing cold water. He managed to swim to an upturned boat where he stayed afloat until he was pulled into a lifeboat. After surviving the disaster Fitzpatrick rarely spoke of his experience on the ship and he never worked at sea again. It is claimed that his caul came into the possession of a Second World War navy officer who said it saved his life after his ship was sank by a torpedo during the battle of Crete.

Cauls in Irish folklore

In Irish folklore, creatures who are human from the waist up and fish from the waist down are called merrows. The females are exceptionally beautiful with flowing green hair and they are said to wear an enchanted cap called a ‘cohuleen driuth’ (little magic hood) which allows them to swim far below the sea’s surface and live underwater. There are many stories of men becoming infatuated with female merrows and some would attempt to steal her cohuleen driuth so that she would be unable to return to the sea. It is thought that this enchanted cap is based on the powers associated with a caul.

A veil between two worlds

The caul was thought to be a representation of the veil between this world and the ‘other world’ and Caulbearers were believed to be able to sense things from both sides. They have powers of

extraordinary perception and some are known for having the ability to foresee the future. Due to

this foresight, a caul was particularly prized amongst lawyers who believed that possessing one

would allow them to win their trials.

This veiled connection is also said to give the ability to communicate with spirits and even to be able move between human and non-human worlds. This intuition lent itself well to rural life. Caulbearers can detect changes in the weather which was useful for cultivating and harvesting crops. They could predict animal behaviours and some have the ability to detect water through the old practice of dowsing which are skills highly valued by farmers. There are accounts of Caulbearers having healing powers and in some communities, they would be approached for a cure if a doctor was too far away or too expensive.

Whilst it is not a very common occurrence these days, it is still something that is considered

fortuitous in Irish culture with great expectation of Caulbearers and the potential abilities they may develop.

Further Information:

A detailed resource on Caulbearers and the Philosophy of The Way, the teachings of the Nazarenes available here.

Local newspaper report on the rediscovery of Cecil Fitzpatrick's caul in 2016 here


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