Tag Archives: See Saw Margery Daw

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