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 -
"Room, room, gallant boys
"Here comes I Saint George, from England I have sprung
St Patrick would swagger in, waying his sword and shouting -
"Here comes I St Patrick,
"I say by George you lie 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
"What can you cure Doctor?"
"I can cure the plague withinThe Doctor administers medicine from a bottle with the incantation -
"Hocus Pocus - potters and pain
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
"Here comes I Beelzebub, and over my shoulder I carry my club
Then up stepped Devil Dout, armed with a broom -
"Here comes I, wee Devil Dout
Now came Johnny Funny, with his collecting tin
"Here come I Johnny Funny
Finally up would step the last character
"Here comes I that didn't come yit
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.