Red-Haired Women (Birmingham, 1911)

1.698-706. George A. Birmingham, The Lighter Side of Irish Life, with Sixteen Illustrations in Colour by Henry W. Kerr, R.S.A., (London and Edinburgh: T.N. Foulis, 1911), pp. 185-86. BL

An extract from George Birmingham, The Lighter Side of Irish Life (1911), on red-haired women.

Birmingham opens his chapter on ‘Old Customs and Superstitions’ with the following passage:

Red-haired women are in the height of the fashion in England now, if we may trust the novelists. Nearly every heroine has hair which is either frankly red or, if the author has scruples about that, of the shade described as “red-gold.” In the country parts of Ireland we are not so advanced, and still retain a prejudice against women with hair of that particular colour. We do not like meeting a red-haired woman when we are setting out to do any important work. She is a sign of bad luck before us; and if we are wise we turn back and put off the work, whatever it is, until the next day. This is inconvenient, especially for the women. . . . It cannot be pleasant to have to dodge your fellow-creatures during the early hours of every day. But a girl of any good feeling would, of course, submit to any amount of inconvenience rather than paralyse the industry of all her neighbours. And, after all, there is nothing worse than inconvenience. A girl is not ostracised or in any way despised or ill-treated because her hair is red. She stands just as good a chance of getting married as her dark-haired sisters. I suppose that the familiarity of married life in some way breaks the force of the evil spell. Otherwise I do not see how a man with a red-haired wife would ever succeed in doing anything. It would be immensely difficult to avoid seeing her some time in the morning before the day’s work began.