This section is from the book "Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, And Superstitions Of Ireland", by Jane Francesca Wilde. Also available from Amazon: Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, And Superstitions Of Ireland.
In all countries superstitions of good or evil are attached to certain birds. The raven, for instance, has a wide-world reputation as the harbinger of evil and ill-luck. The wild geese portend a severe winter ; the robin is held sacred, for no one would think of harming a bird who bears on his breast the blessed mark of the blood of Christ ; while the wren is hunted to death with intense and cruel hate on St. Stephen's Day.
There is no Irish name for the Magpie. It is generally called Francagli, a Frenchman, though no one knows why.
Many queer tales are narrated of this bird, arising from its quaint ways, its adroit cunning and habits of petty larceny.
Its influence is not considered evil, though to meet one alone in the morning when going a journey is an ill omen, but to' meet more than one magpie betokens good fortune, according to the old rhyme which runs thus--
" One for Sorrow, Two for Mirth, Three for Marriage, Four for a Birth."
The wren is mortally hated by the Irish ; for on one occasion, when the Irish troops were approaching to attack a portion of Cromwell's army, the wrens came and perched on the Irish drums, and by their tapping and noise aroused the English soldiers, who fell on the Irish troops and killed them all. So ever since the Irish hunt the wren on St. Stephen's Day, and teach their children to run it through with thorns and kill it whenever it can be caught. A dead wren was also tied to a pole and carried from house to house by boys, who demanded money ; if nothing was given the wren was buried on the door-step, which was considered a great insult to the family and a degradation.
If ravens come cawing about a house it is a sure sign of death, for the raven is Satan's own bird ; so also is the water wagtail, yet beware of killing it, for it has three drops of the devil's blood in its little body, and ill-luck ever goes with it, and follows it.
It is very unlucky to kill the cuckoo or break its eggs, for it brings fine weather; but most unlucky of all things is to kill the robin redbreast. The robin is God's own bird, sacred and holy, and held in the greatest veneration because of the beautiful tradition current amongst the people, that it was the robin plucked out the sharpest thorn that was. piercing Christ's brow on the cross ; and in so doing the breast of the bird was dyed red with the Saviour's blood, and so has remained ever since a sacred and blessed sign to-preserve the robin from harm and make it beloved of all men.