Category Archives: Irish Culture

Women’s Christmas, January 6 -An Irish Christmas Tradition

 

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Having celebrated Christmas and the New Year, we in Ireland are not done yet! We are still counting the twelve days of Christmas at the end of which we will have the final celebration. This is of course the uniquely Irish tradition of  Women’s Little Christmas when Irish women celebrate the end of the Christmas Season.  Although celebrated mainly in counties Cork and Kerry, it is great to see this tradition being revived and celebrations happening all lover Ireland. This post from 2012 has been read over 12,000 times, and here it is again to wish all female readers a Happy Women’s Christmas! 

 

 

All over Ireland, January 6 marks the end of the Christmas season – it is the day  on which the fairy lights, the Christmas tree, the decorations and the Christmas cards are taken down and put away for another year. It is considered bad luck if decorations remain displayed after this date! January 6 has many titles – Epiphany, Little Christmas, 12th Night , Women’s Christmas, Women’s Little Christmas,and Nollaig na mBan. Such an important day to have 6 different names!

Epiphany: The 3 Kings arrive with gifts

In Ireland, ‘Little Christmas’  (‘Nollaig Bheag’ in Irish) is one of the traditional names for January 6, the feast of the Epiphany. Epiphany is a Christian celebration of the day on which the Magi arrived with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to honour the new-born baby Jesus, the day on which Jesus is revealed to the gentiles. Epiphany is one of the oldest Christian holy days that originated in the Eastern church and was adopted by the Western church in the 4th century. ‘Little Christmas’ is so-called because under the Julian Calendar, Christmas day celebrations were held in January,whereas under the Gregorian calendar, Christmas day falls on December 25.

Twelfth Night,which coincides with Epiphany has been celebrated as the end of the Christmas season for centuries. In the 18th and 19th Centuries, Twelfth Night was one of the most  important days in the Christian calendar. Twelfth Night parties were common where participants enjoyed food and drink and games. A special Twelfth cake, the forerunner of today’s Christmas cake, was the centrepiece of the party, with a slice offered to all members of the household, above and below stairs. In 1756, The Gentleman’s Magazine reported that: the king, and his entourage ” went to the Chapel Royal at St James’ and offered gold, myrrh and frankincense” on Twelfth Night.

Some years ago I found myself in County Kerry on January 6. I was astonished to see hotels crowded with women – and no men to be seen! On enquiring, I was informed that they were celebrating ‘Women’s Christmas’ or ‘Nollaig na mBan’ in Irish. This has been a long-standing tradition in Counties Kerry and Cork, when women celebrate the end of the Christmas season, the decorations are down, the long season of preparation and cooking is over  and the women folk have a celebratory meal. It is also celebrated in Newfoundland which has a strong affinity with Ireland and in some  states of the United States of America where the tradition was kept alive  by Irish immigrants.

The fascinating thing about this tradition is that, rather than dying out like so many other traditions, its popularity has begun to grow and it is now being celebrated across the country. Women in Dublin organize lunches for their women friends, Limerick women are meeting in their own homes for lovely dinners, Sligo women are coming together to enjoy female company – women only ‘get-togethers’ are being organized all over the place! Long may it continue!

If you know of other areas where this tradition is celebrated, I would be delighted to hear about it.

Happy Nollaig na mBan (pronounced null-ag na man) to all readers!

References

Internet Archive :Gentleman’s Magazine 

bbc.co.uk

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Filed under Celebrations in Ireland, Ireland, Irish Culture, Irish Heritage, Irish Traditions, Living in Ireland

New Year Customs in Ireland

It’s almost the New Year! The Irish word for New Year’s Day is ‘Lá Caille’ which sounds slightly different in various parts of the country – Connaught, Munster and Ulster each have their own pronunciations.  These can be heard here.

I was never aware of any particular New Year traditions when growing up in Ireland 60 years ago. A quick search on the Duchas Schools Collection* however found several references to customs that have now sadly died out. (In the Irish transcriptions the day is given as ”Lá Coille”)

 

ny5.jpgOne scholar in Kilcurry School in Dundalk tells us that church bells and fog horns of boats and ships would ring the old year out and the New Year in at 12 o’clock, whereas in another there was a practice of tolling a slow bell in the last minute of the old year before the joyful ringing in of the New.

ny1New Year memories of  Peadar Ó Cadhla  of  Ballytrisane Co. Waterford, as recorded by Maighread Ní Cadhla  (Duchas Schools Collection)

Here we learn from Peadar that the first person up that morning  makes three circuits of the house. On the first two rounds he stops at the door and says ”The Blessings of God in here”. On the final circuit he enters the house dispensing blessings to all inside who respond appropriately.

There are several references to the first visitor to the house on New Year’s Day from many parts of the country. They consistently say that if the visitor is male and dark haired there will be good luck in the house for the entire year. If the first visitor is female however there will be no luck during the year.

ny2Séan Ó Maolchaoine from Kilfenora Co Clare tells us that and if a red-haired woman is first to enter there will be no luck whatsoever in that house for the entire year. It seems that red-haired women are really bad news at this important time! The similar tradition of ‘First Footing’ (or the first foot in the house after midnight) is still common across Scotland, where the  ‘first foot ‘should be that of a dark-haired male, to bring good luck for the year.

A ‘folk belief’ or superstition is known as a ‘piseog’ or ‘pisreog’ in the Irish language. These are often associated with major events, such as May Day and many relate to farming and crops and are to do with adding to or bringing ‘luck’.  Many of these associated with New Year have now fallen out of use but they were in widespread use at the time of the Schools Collection in the 1930s.

In Kerry, Paddy Donoghue from Kilmurry school tells us that water must never be drawn from the well on New Year’s eve. It will turn to wine at 12 o’clock (which appears to be a bad thing?!) and anyone who stays up to watch the transformation will disappear! Water for the day after New Year’s Day was drawn from the well before midnight on January 1st, as anyone going to the well after this would be drowned.  It was also soin Donegal according to Hugh Cassidy of Drumbar,  who added that old people never threw anything out on New Year’s Day.  ‘All the leavings of tea’ were kept in a bucket by the dresser. Other accounts say that ashes from the fire or used dishwater must not be thrown away either as all your luck will be thrown away with them.  There was also a belief that you should never part with money on New Year’s day. These customs are associated with a wish to have a year of plenty and actions carried out on New Year’s Day would continue throughout the year.

Donegal cows and horses were given an extra sheaf of corn on the day to make them work harder and produce more milk in the coming year.

ny3There are many references to the belief that if you eat plenty on New Year’s Eve then you will have plenty to eat for the rest of the year.  In this extract, from West Waterford we learn that the doors were struck with a loaf of bread on New Year’s Eve in the belief that to do so would keep hunger away. Here too we see that the direction of the wind on the day itself was crucial..if it blows from the north Protestants will be favoured, from the south and Catholics will benefit. Also if you stay up til 12 o’clock you will see the man you will marry in the mirror. Imagine that!

One of my favourite customs was that of giving a ‘hansel’. This was a gift of money given to relations on the Monday after the New Year. It was usually a threepenny bit. The receivers of the hansel will have money throughout the year.

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The old threepenny bit – Hansel of days gone by

As 2017 draws to a close, I would like to thank everyone who has visited these pages  – over 50,300 this year. I look forward to welcoming you in 2018 and reading your own fabulous blogs. May you have a year of plenty in 2018!

ny4

 

References

More information on the Schools Collection, which is part of  the National Folklore Collection can be found  here

The manuscripts are in Englsh and Irish and are easy to search and use.

 

 

 

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Filed under Celebrations in Ireland, Ireland, Irish Culture, Irish Folklore, National Folklore Collection, Schools Folklore Collection

The Irish Workhouse Centre

 

The Women’s building at The Irish Workhouse Centre, Portumna

Yesterday I attended a conference at the Irish Workhouse Centre in Portumna,Co Galway. This was my first visit to this complex of buildings, which date from 1850.  Workhouses were introduced in 19th Century Ireland to provide food and shelter for the destitute. The very name ‘Workhouse’ has terrible connotations to this day because of the awful conditions in which the inmates lived.

Families were split up on arrival with separate wings for men, women, boys aged between 2 and 15 and girls aged between 2 and 15 .  Children under the age of 2 could stay with their mother. Parents were permitted ‘ to have an interview with their child at some time in each day’, other than that, there was total segregation. How cruel for little children who would not understand what was going on.

The rear the building that housed the boys. With piles of rocks in what was the yard .

At the height of the Great Famine that raged from 1845 to 1851 or 1852, the poor were clamoring for admittance. Buildings built to accommodate 600 people could have been packed to overflowing with 1,600 people. The daily food allowance was minimal and of poor nutritional value, and many inmates of these establishments died of disease such as dysentery, cholera and typhus.

Inmates had to work in exchange for food and shelter. Women took care of laundry, scrubbed floors, did the cooking and did sewing and mending while men did often meaningless heavy work such as breaking stones.  The laundry area has some very fine industrial archaeology.

By the end of the Great Famine Ireland had 163 Workhouses. Many of these eventually became local hospitals and still stand today as care centres for the elderly. Many have been demolished and have disappeared without trace.

This wonderful project in Portumna which houses the Irish Workhouse Centre is a credit to those who had the foresight to save these buildings from total dereliction. Steady  progress is being made with restoration and conservation work. The centre is in use  for educational purposes and  there are plans for a Workhouse Museum.  The guided tours of the buildings are a revelation, and are conducted with knowledgeable enthusiasm.

Only a handful of Workhouses remain in their original format. This unique complex of buildings in Portumna  stands testament to the history of the ordinary people of Ireland, the non landed gentry from whom most of us descend. Ordinary people who endured extraordinary hardship –  many of them died, many emigrated, many survived too.  This is a tangible monument to them all and deserves our support.

For more information see http://www.irishworkhousecentre.ie

 

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Remembering Francis Ledwidge, Poet and Soldier

Just outside the village of Slane, County Meath is the Francis Ledwidge Museum. The museum is housed in the family home with a yard and garden to the rear.

Francis was born in this small cottage that dates from 1886, the 8th of 9 children. His father died soon after the 9th child was born.  Desperately poor, their mother laboured in the fields to keep bread on the table until the eldest son, Patrick  was sufficiently educated to get a job and help the family. However, Patrick contracted tuberculosis and had to return home  and their mother was forced to return to her back -breaking labouring.

Francis left school at 15 and took whatever work he could get – he worked as a farm labourer, as a groom, in a copper mine and as a foreman on the roads. All the while he was writing poetry and having some poems published in the local newspaper.  His poetry was brought to the attention of Lord Dunsany who arranged for publication in London and who also got introductions to literary figures of the day.

Francis Ledwidge known as ‘Poet of the Blackbird’  (Image Wikipedia Commons)

Having for a time been involved with the Irish Volunteers who sought Home Rule, Francis enlisted in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers on October 24, 1914. It is possible that his decision to join up may have been influenced  by the fact that he was disappointed in love. He wrote to a friend  saying that he looked forward to poetry and fame after the war and that by joining he hoped to bring peace to the world.

He came home on leave to Slane at Christmas and was shocked to learn of the death of a little boy he knew well, who had herded cows past the Ledwidge house. Francis  wrote what is one of my favourite Ledwidge poems, A Little Boy in the Morning

He will not come, and still I wait. 
He whistles at another gate 
Where angels listen. Ah I know 
He will not come, yet if I go 
How shall I know he did not pass 
barefooted in the flowery grass?  

Then in 1915 he wrote this lovely Lullaby to a tired child

Shall I take the rainbow out of the sky

And the moon from the well in the lane

And break them in pieces to coax your eye

To slumber a wee while again?

While based in Basingstoke he heard of the death in childbirth of the girl he had loved and he got leave to attend her funeral in Manchester. He wrote

To One Dead

 A blackbird singing

On a moss-upholstered stone,

Bluebells swinging,

Shadows wildly blown,

A song in the wood,

A ship on the sea.

The song was for you

and the ship was for me.

On August 7, 1915  Francis and his comrades in D Company landed in Suvla Bay in Gallipoli. The conditions were awful, the stench from corpses, dysentery, and swarming flies all added to the horror. When they pulled out on September 30th, 19,000 of their comrades had been killed. They were sent marching towards Salonika, but Francis became ill and he was sent back to England at about the same time as the Easter Rising was happening in Dublin. His good friends Patrick Pearse and Thomas McDonagh were among the first to be executed. He then wrote what is probably his most famous poem

A Lament for Thomas MacDonagh

He shall not hear the bittern cry

In the wild sky, where he is lain,

Nor voices of the sweeter birds,

Above the wailing of the rain.

Nor shall he know when loud March blows

Blowing to flame the golden cup

Of many an upset daffodil.

But when the Dark Cow leaves the moor,

And pastures poor with greedy weeds,

Perhaps he’ll hear her low at morn,

Lifting her horn in pleasant meads.

Now in B Company, 1st Battalion of the 29th Division, he set sail for France and eventually ended up in Ypres where in mid July the Third Battle of Ypres began. on July 31st when engaged in road marking a shell exploded near him. The chaplain wrote: ‘Ledwidge killed, blown to bits’

The Ledwidge home is now a Museum where it is possible read from his many letters, and to see how he lived in his beloved Slane.

MemorIal in the Museum Garden

It was a special thrill to visit this place, his home and his garden, just a few weeks after the  centenary of his death.

He is buried at Artillery Wood Cemetery, Ieper, Belgium.

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The grave of the 29 year old Francis Ledwidge (Image Commonwealth Graves Commission)

References

Francis Ledwidge ‘Poet of the Blackbird’  published by Francis Ledwidge Museum

Commonwealth Graves Commission

Published collections

Songs of the Fields published 1916

Songs of Peace  published 1917

Last Songs  published 1918

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Ireland, Irish Culture, Irish Heritage, Poetry

Postcards from Ballybeg Priory, Buttevant, Co Cork

img_4885For years I  have been travelling the torturous route between Limerick and Cork, the N20, surely one of Ireland’s worst major routes with single file traffic wending its way along through towns and villages, with serious sharp bends to be negotiated.

Perched alongside this road, on the Cork side of the town of Buttevant is the fantastic Ballybeg Priory. As many motorist do, I have been taking side glances at this ruin for decades as it is far too dangerous and impossible to stop on the main road.  Before you know it, you have gone past the narrow access road.  However on my last foray on the notorious N20,  I was determined to pull over to take a look at this ancient place and so I finally managed to turn off into the access laneway.

Founded in 1229 for priests who lived a monastic life, the Canons Regular of St Augustine, the Priory was laid out with buildings surrounding a central courtyard or  cloister. Two fine windows of the original church were incorporated as part of a tower some centuries later.

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Much of the site is inaccessible as there seem to be some works being undertaken by the OPW.  It’s an awful pity that they do not provide notices as to what the are doing or why sections are barricaded. Their non medieval porta-cabin does nothing to enhance the visitor experience.

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Cabins and barriers but no explnataion.

Not withstanding these 21st century intrusions, this is a very special place with a wonderful mystical atmosphere. It is sobering to think that I have walked where monks did as long ago as 800 years back.

This site also has a pigeon house, or columbarium, with roosts for about 350 birds and is considered to be the finest of its kind in all of Ireland. It was not possible to get any closer on the day of my visit.

This dove-cot provided food for the monks and also fertilizer for their farm.  An internal view of the dovecot can be seen here.

It is well worth stopping here to explore this ancient site. It’s a pity that not all of the site is accessible, but hopefully that will improve when  the OPW finish their works.

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Further reading

http://www.buttevant.ie/History/Ballybeg-Abbey.html

http://irishhistorypodcast.ie/ballybeg-priory-co-cork/

 

 

 

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Postcards from Ardagh, County Limerick – a hidden Ireland

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Ardagh Main Street (Image thesilvervoice)

For over 35  years I lived adjacent to the small village of Ardagh in rural west County Limerick. We came here from London in 1981, back to the parish where my late husband was born and grew up. It is astonishing to think that I have lived here much longer than he did and this opens up interesting questions about where ‘home’ is. Is it where we grew up? Is it where we lived longest? Is it where we have best memories? A debate for another day, but Ardagh is the place that was ‘home’ to me for longer than anyplace else, in fact for almost half of my life!

At first sight Ardagh is a low key unremarkable place. The village has suffered from the general decline in the towns and villages of rural Ireland, having seen the closure of  general stores, petrol stations, a number of pubs and more recently, the Post Office. It is not on any tourist route, and but for GPS systems routing vehicles (and inappropriately heavy commercial traffic at that, on our twisting narrow access roads) through the village on shortcuts to and from Listowel, Limerick and Foynes, we would probably see relatively little traffic. The village street dominated by a Catholic Church, in all honesty  has little to commend it. It has a few commercial properties including a butcher shop, and a couple of pubs. It has many traces of better times, throwbacks to times of more commercial activity in the village, such as closed and abandoned public houses, a closed timber factory, and several houses with very large front windows, indicators that once upon a time shops traded from these premises. A road leads off the main street towards the local school that caters for pupils up to age 11 or 12, a school attended by my own children. The village ‘ends’ at the junction of the Main Street with the busy Newcastle West/ Foynes Road, for many years a dangerous junction that is thankfully now marked by traffic lights.

But there is more to Ardagh than the very unremarkable village street. It is in fact a shining example of a ‘Hidden Ireland’, an Ireland that has to be sought out and explored and when that surface is scratched there is real treasure to be found! The Ardagh locality has a number of historic features and a very rich late prehistoric and early medieval heritage, making it unique among the villages of Ireland.

A glance back at the 1901 and 1911 census for Ardagh reveals that not much has changed in the village over the past century. The census returns show a small number of grocers and publicans and a number of  servants, farm labourers, railway workers, coopers, blacksmiths etc such as would be found in a small rural community. The hinterland is lush farmland at the edge of the Golden Vale  which provided employment for farm and agricultural workers.

The name Ardagh is derived from the Irish word, Ardachadh, which means ‘High Field’. The Ardagh area has been inhabited for aeons, and there is evidence for such all about the place. The area has a high concentration of ‘Ringforts’, which are fortified dwellings dating back to the first millennium. There are quite noticeable Ringforts at several townlands near the village including  at The Commons in Ardagh, at Dunganville, at Rathronan and at Reerasta with their earthworks quite evident to this day.

Rathronan Ring Fort (Image thesilvervoice)

In 1981 a very large Hill Fort, covering over 50 acres and dating back possibly 3,000 years to the late bronze age, was identified during an aerial survey of the area. The climb to the top is worthwhile, and will be rewarded with stunning views of  five counties – Limerick, Clare, Tipperary, Cork and Kerry. This Hill Fort at Ballylin, known locally as The Black Hill, is one of the largest ever discovered in Ireland, yet it remains relatively unknown.

The Black Hill Hill Fort

The Black Hill Hill Fort seen from the Foynes Road.

Just across the road from our house was the Ringfort at The Commons with a beautiful view of thousands of years of heritage!

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The Ringfort at The Commons, with the Hillfort at Ballylin in the background (Image Damian Shiels)

Ringforts are often associated with fairies!  My mother in law used tell tales of cattle straying into Dunganville Fort (which was near her home ) and people trying to round them up unable to find their way out again sometimes for hours on end!

There is a ‘Holy Well’ dedicated to St. Molua, the Patron Saint of the catholic parish adjacent to the graveyard in the village. St Molua died in 629. It is not really known whether or not he lived in Ardagh as there is no written evidence of any direct connection with him, and it is thought that there were dozens of St Moluas in Ireland. So which one was he? Mary Kuiry local historian is an authority on the St Molua associated with Ardagh and an interview with her can be heard here.

The ivy clad ruins of an old church in the graveyard date to about the 15th Century and it is believed that there was an earlier church on this site. According to Lewis Topographical Dictionary of Ireland the church ‘was destroyed in the insurrection of 1641, and has not been rebuilt’. Among the burials in the ruins are those of a Bishop of Limerick, Robert De Lacy.  He was made bishop by Pope Clement XII in 1737 and died on August 4th 1759.  He chose to be interred in the family vault in Ardagh rather in more sophisticated surroundings!

The present Roman Catholic church dates from 1814. I found this very surprising as both inside and out, it looks very modern. A 20th Century renovation seems to have removed every vestige of an earlier building .

The interior of the church is very pleasant and bright and visitors are welcome.

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Interior of the catholic church (Image thesilvervoice)

There are two other churches in the vicinity – the ruined  Church of Ireland at Kilscannel  which dates from 1822 and is interesting as there are both catholic and and protestant burials in the grounds. The oldest headstone in this graveyard dates to 1795. This church is located adjacent to a sharp bend in the road, where motorists must slow down. A local story tells of car doors mysteriously opening and closing again at this spot, souls apparently getting a lift to someplace. Of course you do not believe these tall tales, but you cannot help but wonder when you pass by late at night!

The other church is the Kilronan Church of Ireland and is also in ruins. Dating from 1820, this little church is accessible by means of a narrow lane. I find that there is something very serene and magical about it. Attached is a small graveyard with about 40 or fifty headstones and two mausoleums.

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Rathronan Church of Ireland in ruins (Image thesilvervoice).

I was fortunate enough to get to see inside this church a few years ago. It has some nice windows and the pulpit stands abandoned.

This beautiful spot is the final resting place of William Smith O’Brien, Irish Nationalist, Member of Parliament and leader of the Young Ireland Movement. See an earlier post about him here.

The road to the little graveyard where Smith O’Brien rests is accessed from the Foynes road.

His family worshiped at this church as they lived nearby in Cahermoyle House. He died in 1864. His funeral was attended by crowds of people who lined the route between his home and the graveyard. It is fascinating to walk up the quiet narrow laneway in the footsteps of such a famous funeral cortege.  This site is of national importance because of his sacrifice for the people of Ireland and really deserves to be better known as indeed does this beautiful site.

Just three years after the death of William Smith O’Brien, on March 5 1867, about 40 men attacked the police barracks in Ardagh. This was part of a general national rebellion against British Rule in Ireland, organized by the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and known as the Fenian Rising. I think Smith O’Brien would have been proud that the small village near his home put up such a show of strength with their pikes and muskets marching on the police barracks! The insurrection was unsuccessful, due mainly to lack of planning and coordination, but nevertheless it set the scene for the 1916 rising in Ireland.

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One year later again, Ardagh was back in the news. This time it was because of the discovery of one of the most wonderful treasures ever found in Ireland!

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While digging potatoes in a field at Reerasta Ringfort, two local men, Jimmy Quin and Paddy Flanagan, unearthed the treasure. This hoard of magnificent objects included the very distinctive 8th Century Ardagh Chalice, fashioned from silver, bronze and gold. The chalice and the rest of the hoard are in the National Museum of Ireland where they have pride of place. The Sam Maguire Cup, awarded to winners of the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship, is modelled on the Ardagh Chalice. Our home was for many years the only house in Reerasta South in modern times, a fact that filled us with pride. Our site was at the edge of the farm on which the Ardagh Hoard was discovered.

There is a very nice new monument in the grounds of the Catholic church in Ardagh marking the discovery of the hoard in the parish. It would be wonderful if there were some decent replicas in the village as it would certainly be a tourist attraction for the thousands of tourists who pass within a few miles of it on their way to Kerry!

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The very attractive commemorative monument, with carved representations of the Ardagh Hoard.

The Great Southern Trail, an off-road walking and cycling greenway passes through by the disused Ardagh Railway station. For delightful traffic free walks and spins in all seasons this amazing amenity is  second to none and in my opinion is one of the highlights of West Limerick.

Located in a beautiful part of West Limerick, with lovely views across the rich farmland, Ardagh deserves to be ‘on the map’ and explored and is a perfect day tripper destination.

You will be very welcome!

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Ardagh  Signage

 

*I am much obliged to Skyview Photography for permission to use the wonderful aerial footage  of the village. See more awesome footage and images at their website http://skyviewphotography.ie/

Further information.

http://www.southerntrail.net/

https://westlimerickheritage.wordpress.com/

http://skyviewphotography.ie/

 

 

 

 

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Games children played

Hurley burley trumpa trush
The cows are in the market place
Míle muc, Mála muc
How many horns stand up?

For decades I have been trying to trace the origins of this rhyme recited by our father to his small children and grandchildren. Perched on his knee he would drum out the rhythm on their backs; he would raise a  number of fingers behind their back and they had to guess the number. If they guessed incorrectly, he would say ‘five (or whatever number) you said, but three it was’ and off he would go again. If they guessed correctly the game was ended with ‘Two (or whatever number) you said, and two it was’. How the children loved it, even though neither they nor our father really understood what they were saying!! I asked him once what it meant and where he got it and he said he thought it came from Fanad, in County Donegal where he and his siblings spent much time visiting Aunts and cousins during their childhood. He never knew the meaning of it and he may well have been reciting it phonetically. There was always a plentiful supply of children about so perhaps he picked the verse up by watching adults acting it out with smaller children. Whatever the origins, I remember him playing this game with younger siblings and later with my own children and their cousins, his grandchildren. Interesting too to see that the next generation has continued the tradition! My own daughter set me straight on the wording as she remembers it, and she in turn has played it with her own children.

Maurice Leyden's Book 'Boys and Girls Come out to Play'

Maurice Leyden’s Book ‘Boys and Girls Come out to Play’ (Image thesilvervoice)

It was very exciting to find reference to a similar rhyme in a book I recently discovered called ‘Boys and Girls Come Out To Play. A collection of Irish Singing Games’ by Maurice Leyden. This book traces the origin of the rhyme to the 1790s. It was associated with an outdoor  game for several children. One is blindfolded while another ‘thumps’ out the rhyme on his back while reciting
“Hurly burly Trump the trace
The cows ran through the market place
Simon alley hunt the buck
How many horns stand up?”
The ‘thumper’ then holds up several fingers while the blindfolded child has to guess the number. A correct guess means the blindfolded child becomes the thumper, while an incorrect guess means that another child continues the thumping. All of this sounds potentially violent, but the version used by our father was gentle and fun for the child who insisted on having more!

I got to thinking about children’s singing games generally and wonder how long they have been in use and how they are faring in the 21st century electronic world. We did not learn these from books, this was oral tradition that had in the main, been passed down from older children to younger children, often over hundreds of years. Rhyming and singing games were and are an important part of childhood. Nursery rhymes remain popular but I wonder if the ‘playing’ element surv?

Most parents would probably still play singing  games with small babies. I remember our mother bouncing babies while reciting:

Gun Jack, Gun Jack
Who’ll buy fish?
Out with the money
In the wee wooden dish.
At which point the child,facing the mother and being securely held by the hands, is dropped through the mother’s knees! The resulting giggles were a thing to behold! I have not been able to find reference to this game anywhere and would be interested if any readers have heard of it?

After our ‘knee bouncing ‘ days we went on to use rhymes for our everyday street and schoolyard games. Everyone knows of ‘Ring a ring a roses’ recited by a group of children in a circle holding hands. For a number of decades we were led to believe that it was a shout back to the days of the plague when a rosey rash appeared on the face and by ‘ all falling down’ was meant all dead! (This theory is nowadays contested by folklorists)

Ring-a-ring o’ roses,
A pocket full of posies,
A-tishoo! A-tishoo!
We all fall down.

This game can be dated back to the 1790s and was extensively recorded in the mid 19th century so it has been passed on by word of mouth for a long time.

We enjoyed singing games in large groups such as ‘Nuts in May’ and ‘The farmer’s in his den’.  Both these games  required an outer moving ring of children holding hands,and someone in the middle of the circle who selects another person to join them in the centre, while the circle sang and danced around.

Nuts in May

Here we go gathering nuts in May,
Nuts in May, nuts in May,
Here we go gathering nuts in May,
On a cold and frosty morning.

Who will we have for nuts in May,
Nuts in May, nuts in May,
Who will we have for nuts in May,
On a cold and frosty morning.

We’ll have [name] for nuts in May,
Nuts in May, nuts in May,
We’ll have [name] for nuts in May,
On a cold and frosty morning.

Who will we have to take her/him away,
Take him/her away, take him/her away,
Who will we have to take him/her away,
On a cold and frosty morning.

We’ll have [name] to take him/her away,
Take him/her away, take him/her away,
We’ll have [name] to take him/her away,
On a cold and frosty morning.

This rhyme was first recorded by Alice Gomme in The Traditional Games of England, Scotland and Ireland (1894-8). It is a variant of “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush”, with which it shares a tune and closing line. (Wikipedia)

The ‘Farmer’s in his den’ was similar in format.

The farmer’s in his Den, the farmer’s in his Den,

Heigh ho, the derry-o, the farmer’s in his Den.

The farmer wants a wife; the farmer wants a wife,
Heigh ho, the derry-o, the farmer wants a wife
(The ‘farmer’ picks a girl who joins him in the circle). The game goes on with
The wife wants a child; the wife wants a child,
Heigh ho, the derry-o the wife wants a child

(The wife chooses a child to join them inside the circle) The game continues

The child wants a nurse, the child wants a nurse

Heigh ho, the derry-o the child wants a nurse

( A nurse is chosen and goes into the centre group). The game continues with the nurse choosing a dog, and the dog choosing a bone. At the end everyone sings

We all pat the bone, we all pat the bone

Heigh ho, the derry-o, we all pat the bone

while patting the ‘bone’ on the back, (hopefully as gently as possible) and the bone then becomes the farmer and the game begins over again. Interestingly Leyden suggest that this rhyming game is of much more recent origin dating probably from the beginning of the 20th Century.

We also had chants – our sister believes solely for mocking people, such as

Skinny Malink Malodoen,
Big Banana Feet
Went to the pictures and couldn’t find a seat
When he found a seat, he soon began to eat
Skinny Malink Malodeon
Big Banana Feet!

Name-calling at its worst!

When we children’s were not at school we were  OUT, meaning we were away playing. In our case this could  mean that we were riding a bike or tricycle on the street, playing cowboys and Indians in the planting, away in a field hiding in corn, down by the shore looking for Fluke (a flat fish), playing shop in someone’s shed with old empty bean and pea tins, chasing Mrs Duffy’s hens; or playing marbles or horseshoes in the back lane.

Playing marbles

Playing Marbles. All we needed was a bag of marbles and a hole in the ground!  (Image: Manchester Daily Express)

Burling hoops, was another favourite. For this we had to commandeer an old bicycle wheel and a stick to have hours of fun and exercise trying to keep the wheel upright.

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Playing Hoops. Image Wikipedia

Often we would find a plank of wood and throw it across an old barrel or a stone and we had an instant see saw, with no thought of health or safety!

children playing seesaw

An improvised see saw (Image Wikipedia)

See-saw, Margery Daw,
Johnny shall have a new master,
He shall have but a penny a day,
Because he won’t work any faster.

This rhyme is said to date from the 1700s and is thought have origins in sawyers cutting wood and using the verse to keep a rhythm.The ryhme and the game have survived as children enjoy modern see saws in playgrounds and backyards.

Boys tended to play football while girls would play hopscotch, skipping or ball games. My favourite ball game required a smooth gable end and a small ball. Every time the ball was thrown against the wall an activity had to be performed before it was caught again.

To the best of my recollection (and happy to be corrected) it went something like this:

Plainey- ball thrown against wall and caught again

Clappy- clap hands before catching ball

Roley – Roll hands and arms forward before catching ball

Poley- Roll hands and arms backwards before catching ball

Backey – Hands are clapped behind the back before catching ball

Right Hand – Ball caught in right hand

Left Hand – Ball caught in left hand

Sugar Bowl- catch returning ball in open hands with fingers entwined

Basket – Catch the ball with fingers locked together and hands facing oncoming ball

Under the arch – the ball is thrown under the right leg

Round the back – the ball is thrown from behind the back

Tip the ground- the ground is touched before catching the ball

Burley round – the player spins around in a circle before catching the ball.

My grandchildren are not familiar with this simple and interesting game, so my next project is to show them how it goes and I am sure they will have lots of fun perfecting their skills!

How magical to think that these small girls have benefited from the ‘Hurly Burly Trumpa Trish’ Oral tradition that has spanned centuries and the miles from Fanad to Australia!  I like to think that they will check back with their Mother when they try to recall our father’s special bouncing game to share with their own children! What a fascinating link back to their past.

Do you have any favourite street singing games? I would be very interested to hear from anyone who has special recollections of them, so do please get in touch!

References

Boys and Girls Come out to Play.  A collection of Irish Singing Games. Maurice Leyden Appletree Press. 1993

Wikipedia.org

In researching this post I discovered a great website that deserves a look!

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Filed under Ireland, Irish Culture, Irish Heritage, Irish Traditions, My Oral History, Oral History