Growing up in Drumbally

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7. Christmas

Approaching Christmas was the time for the mummers or rhymers. This tradition has mostly died out now but in those days it was still performed. The mummers were a a group of local lads who dressed up in old clothes, held together with straw ropes tied round the waist and below the knees. Their heads and faces were obscured with conical straw masks and they carried a variety of makeshift weapons and other objects. Some of them had musical instruments, a fiddle, tin whistle or a melodeon, They went from house to house performing their routine and collecting money which was then put towards a party in Glasdrummond Hall.

The performance itself was colourful and loud and we were simultaneously elated by the action and frightened by the anonymous and intimidating figures who had invaded and now filled the room. The action was - challenge, fight, death, revival, song and dance and finally, collection. The characters were St Patrick, Saint George, The Doctor, Oliver Cromwell, Beelzebub, Devil Dout, Johnny Funny and Big Head. Sometimes there were other characters as well. I don't recall all of the rhymes but it went something like this -

First Mummer-

"Room, room, gallant boys
Give us room to rhyme.
We come to show activity
Around this Christmas time.
Acts of youth, and acts of age
The like was never acted on the stage
And if you don't believe me
and take heed of what I say,
I'll call in Saint George
and he'll clear the way. "

St George

"Here comes I Saint George, from England I have sprung
Many a great and noble deed of valor I have won
I was seven long years in a close cave kept,
from there into a prison leapt
Out of that in to a rock of stone
where I gave many a sad and grevious moan.
I fought them all courageously and always gained the victory.
Show me the man, how dare he stand
I'll cut him down wit my courageous hand."

St Patrick would swagger in, waying his sword and shouting -

"Here comes I St Patrick,
With my shining arms so bright
I am a famous champion
By the day and by the night
Who are you but Saint George, St Patrick's boy,
Who fed his horse on oats and hay
And afterwards he ran away."

Saint George

"I say by George you lie sir,
Take out your sword and lie sir.
I'll rum my rapier through your body
and make you run away sir."

Saint Patrick would take up the challenge and after a brief sword fight Saint George would fall dead to the floor. St Patrick would call out

"A doctor, a doctor, ten pounds for a doctor"

Up steps the doctor with his black bag

"Here am I wee Doctor Brown
The best wee Doctor in the town
If this man I mean to save
Fifteen guineas I must have"

St Patrick

"What can you cure Doctor?"

Doctor Brown-

"I can cure the plague within
The plague without
The palsy and the gout.
Show me an old woman of three score years and ten
with the knuckle bone of her big toe broken
and I will put it right again."
The Doctor administers medicine from a bottle with the incantation -
"Hocus Pocus - potters and pain
Get up dead man and fight again"

Saint George would arise to general acclaim and an occasional "Hit him again".

Now comes Oliver Cromwell

"Here comes I, Oliver Cromwell, as you might suppose
I've conquered many nations with my long copper nose.
I have made the French to tremble, and the Spaniards to quake
And I fought the bloody Dutchman till I made his heart ache.
And if you dont believe me
and take heed of what I say
I'll call in Beelzebub and he'll clear the way."


"Here comes I Beelzebub, and over my shoulder I carry my club
In my hand a frying pan,
And I think myself a jolly old man.
And if you dont believe me
and take heed of what I say
I'll call in Devil Dout and he'll clear the way."

Then up stepped Devil Dout, armed with a broom -

"Here comes I, wee Devil Dout
If youse dont give me money I'll sweep youse all out
Money I want and money I crave
If youse don't give me money
I'll sweep youse all to your grave
and if you don't believe me
and take heed of what I say
I'll call in Johnny Funny
and he'll clear the way"

Now came Johnny Funny, with his collecting tin

"Here come I Johnny Funny
I'm the man that collects the money
I have a wee box under my arm
And a couple of shillings will do it no harm
All silver, no brass, bad ha'pence won't pass
Get up owld woman and ruffle your feathers
Do you take us all for fools or blethers
We didn't come here for the crack or the fun
So give us the money and let us go on.
And if you don't believe me
and take heed of what I say
I'll call in Big Head
and he'll clear the way."

Finally up would step the last character

"Here comes I that didn't come yit
Big head and little wit
Though me head be big and me wit be small
I'll play a tune to plaze yiz all."

All would then join in tune on the melodeon or whatever, a song, usually a Christmas carol and after a cup of tea "in their hand" would depart to the next engagement.

Glassdrummond Hall was a small single roomed building in a hollow opposite the old church. It is still there, dilapidated and forlorn, almost 60 years after I first entered its bright, and to me exciting atmosphere. It was used for dances and plays, bazaars and other parish functions. The dances were mainly ceilidhes; reels, jigs and set dances. I painfully recall my first Waves of Tory. One of the sequences of this set was for couples to line up facing each other down the length of the hall and then dance through each other alternately raising their joined hands to let the facing couple through and ducking under the next pair of raised arms. It was the practice for some smart alecs to wait at the end of the line and when the couples turned to continue in the opposite direction, administer a swift boot to the backside of the male of the pair when he ducked under the approaching arms. When this happened to me for the first and only time I determined to get my own back so on the next pass I delivered a sharp back heel to the perpetrator's shin. I was left alone thenceforth.

I saw my first play there - "The Murder of Maria Martin in The Red Barn". The play was performed on a dimly lit stage, red and sinister and it made a lasting impression on me.

Christmas was a magic time. Mother starting to prepare the pudding several days before the event was early indication that the countdown had begun. It was an annual ritual and we hung around hoping to cadge a few scoops of the rich mixture that included a couple of bottles of stout. She wrapped the mixture in cloth in the shape of a football and boiled it in a large black pot over the open fire for many hours. The smell was wonderful. I was so excited by the idea of Santa coming down the chimney with presents that I could hardly get to sleep. A bottle of stout and a piece of pudding were set out for Santa. Every year the bottle was empty in the morning although sometimes the pudding was still there. Mother would hang our socks on the foot of the bed and in the morning there would be an apple or a pear and a few sweets. I would rush down to the kitchen to see what we had got. In those days there was little spare money so presents were few in number and traditional. Gun and caps for me and dolls for the girls. There would also be snakes and ladders and ludo. We all thought this was smashing and were grateful for what we had. We were unaware of deprivation and in truth we were not deprived as we had love and support from our parents, poor in material things though they were. There was turkey and ginger cordial for dinner followed by the pudding.

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