Growing up in Drumbally

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2. Ceilidhe

The houses were scattered - I doubt if there were more than a dozen in a radius of a mile and there wasn't much by way of entertainment available. What there was, was talk. Our house was a ceilidhe house, and there was nearly always someone visiting. No one knocked, the latch would be lifted and a voice would say "God bless all here" before the visitor entered the room. Apart from Mrs Burns most regular visitors were male. Caps were worn at all times, in the house as well as out. They were removed only when tea was served; usually hung on knees. We children were supposed to be in bed but we could usually hear most of the craic. The talk was mostly about family and community issues; who was poorly, and if someone had died and how much the "Offerings" had been.

"Offerings" was a Catholic custom whereby at the funeral mass the congregation would file past the priest and make a donation. As the money was handed over its amount and the name of the giver was announced to the congregation. Originally the money had been intended for the family of the deceased but had at some point been transferred to the parish. I suppose this change had been initiated by better off families making the donation voluntarily, followed by those who took the lead from such behaviour until gradually it became the norm. The custom continued into the 1960s. The total figure was announced at the next Sunday Mass. The size of the "Offerings" was a hot topic of discussion; a person's standing in the community being unfairly assessed by the amount raised.

I well remember the first time I saw a dead body. It was that of an old man who lived in a cottage on the hill opposite Glasdrummond School. He was known as "Sailor" Murphy, I suppose he must have been to sea in his youth. I was apprehensive going into the bedroom but the sight of the old man, laid out neatly in a white garment, with his flowing white hair and beard, evoked no horror, only pity and a feeling of mortality.

People on their ceilidhe, after the usual round of gossip and comments on the weather and the horse racing invariably lapsed into stories about banshees, pookas, fairies and ghosts. It seemed as if the whole country was haunted; There wasn't a crossroads or an empty building, or a planting of trees that did not have its coterie of spooks of one sort or another. We were not supposed to hear this and were banished to bed but we would creep down to the bedroom door and listen. Gradually we would slip into the kitchen and sit on the floor beside the adults and keep quiet in the hope of being allowed to stay, as we were often permitted to do. Most of the stories were personal experiences or folk memory, things their grandparents told them. Inevitably for me the supernatural world was an integral part of our own and contributed to my occasional nightmares. These were so vivid I can still remember in detail three recurring and a single terrifying one, which can still raise the hairs on the back of my neck when I think of it, all in full colour. As I learned to read I was further affected the choice of reading material - ghost stories in the Irelands Own, horror comics sent from America eg "Tales from the Crypt" and Bram Stoker's Count Dracula that I read under the bedclothes with a torch.

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