THE OLD BOREEN.

By Arthur M. Forrester. (1890)

Embroidered with shamrocks and

spangled with daisies,

Tall foxgloves like sentinels guarding the

way,

The squirrel and hare played bo-peep in its

mazes,

The green hedgerows wooed it with odorous

spray;

The thrush and the linnet piped overtures in it,

The sun’s golden rays bathed its bosom of

green.

Bright scenes, fairest skies, pall to-day on my

eyes,

For I opened them first on an Irish boreen!

It flung o’er my boyhood its beauty and

gladness,

Rich homage of perfume and color it paid;

It laughed with my joy— in my moments of

sadness

What solace I found in its pitying shade.

When Love, to my rapture, rejoiced in my

capture,

My fetters the curls of a brown-haired colleen,

What draught from his chalice, in mansion or

palace,

So sweet as I quaffed in the dear old boreen?

But green fields were blighted and fair skies

beclouded,

Stern frost and harsh rain mocked the poor

peasant’s toil,

Ere they burst into blossom the buds were

enshrouded,

The seed ere its birth crushed in merciless

soil;

Wild tempests struck blindly, the landlord, less

kindly,

Aimed straight at our hearts with a “death

sentence” keen;

The blast spared our sheeling, which he, more

unfeeling,

Left roofless and bare to affright the boreen.

A dirge of farewell through the hawthorn was

pealing,

The wind seemed to stir branch and leaf with

a sigh,

As, down on a tear-bedewed shamrock sod

kneeling,

I kissed the old boreen a weeping good-by;

And vowed that should ever my patient

endeavor

The grains of success from life’s harvest-field

glean,

Where’er fortune found me, whatever ties

bound me,

My eyes should be closed in the dear old

boreen.

Ah! Fate has been cruel, in toil’s endless duel

With sickness and want I have earned only

scars;

Life’s twilight is nearing— its day disappearing

My weary soul sighs to escape through its

bars; But ere fields elysian shall dazzle

its vision,

Grant, Heaven, that its flight may be winged

through the scene

Of streamlet and wild-wood, the home of my

childhood,

The grave of my kin, and the dear old boreen!

Baron of Sluggan

An Old Tale from the Annals of my Family

There was a time when every poor Irish peasant could tell you that he was the descendants of Chieftains and Kings, who were all beaten down by the vile English and had their lands stolen from them. Now, I am not going to tell you that my ancestry stretches back to one of the ruling families of old Ireland since I cannot trace my paternal or maternal line beyond ‘The Great Potato Famine in Ireland’, or as some would call it the ‘The Irish Genocide by the English.’ There are stories from days prior to the beginning of that terrible time that have been handed down but not earlier than the beginning of that century. It appears, after the failure of the ‘United Irishmen Rebellion of 1798’ the British Government decided to increase its military presence throughout the land. One area that saw an increase in the number of red-coated soldiers was the County of my forefathers, County Tyrone.

In the year of the ‘Union’, 1801, a certain regiment was ordered to Tyrone and was very soon dispersed over various districts of that County. One detachment was sent to be stationed in the townland of Sluggan, and their first impressions of that area were far from favourable. The detachment leader and his two assistants, however, soon discovered an Síbín (Shebeen), which was an illegal drinking place, where alcoholic drink was sold without a license and without having paid revenue to the government. This drinking den for the locals was based in the small, thatched cabin where the soldiers had been sent to be billeted. One night, soon after arriving, the three soldiers began to discuss the types of leisure-time amusement that were on offer, and they were quite quickly disappointed with what they found.

Under the instructions of their military superiors, the three men were not allowed to associate with the locals or get too friendly with them because of their rumoured rebellious nature. They sought further entertainment to keep them amused but, for them, there was no hunting, no shooting, no gaming, no horses to ride, no lively young ladies that they might flirt with. It should be understood, military men in those days rarely had an interest in literature, but books suddenly became very important to these men and, when they had read the few they had, they sent to the nearest town, which was quite a distance away, for more. Unfortunately, reading is not the sort of active amusement that young, healthy men truly yearned for.

One evening the three soldiers took a walk along some of the tracks and boreens of the district, and their faces soon brightened when they saw a local peasant boy, wearing a shabby hat, a torn coat, and a pair of britches that were held together by a single button and a rope belt. As he paraded merrily along his way, he was whistling a merry tune and, in one hand dangled two fine-looking trout in one hand. In his other hand he was waving a long ‘switch’, and he marched along the track with his curly red hair blowing over his bright, rosy-cheeked face in the fresh breeze. He was a picture of health and of careless happiness.

“Hello! My fine fellow! Where did you catch these trout?” asked the leading soldier.

“Now, your honour, in the small lake, just over ‘thonder’,” replied the boy with a smile, pointing back along the track

“’Thonder!’ Where the devil is that?”

“Do you see ‘thone’ hills? Well, just behind them hills there’s the lake with plenty of fish. By Jaysus, if I had but a decent fishing-rod, and something more sensible than a crooked pin!’

“Aren’t you a handsome intelligent boy! What are you called?’

‘Patrick McCoille, if pleases your honour.’

‘Well, Paddy, if you will show us the trout lake, I’ll give you a shilling.’

Paddy McCoille had heard of a shilling, but he had never yet seen one, so he was overjoyed at the prospects of getting one. He not only showed them the small lake but made rush-baskets to carry the fish they caught. He told tales to the three soldiers, sung them songs, and, by his good-humour and love of fun, very much enlivened their stay at Sluggan. He was happy to be at the centre of the soldiers’ attention and was happy to be doing anything for them that gained him a few coppers. Now, when the time came for the soldiers to leave the district, Paddy was genuinely sorrowful at their going. The soldiers decided that they could help the young lad by recruiting him as a boy soldier in the regiment.

In those days there was not much money in a family of Roman Catholic, Irish Peasants, and Paddy’s mother encouraged him to begin a military career as a fifer in the British Regiment. There he would get clothes, shoes, a bed of his own, and three good meals a day. When he was older, Paddy entered the ranks full-time and became valet to a Captain Chalmondley-Rowbotham.  Within months Paddy’s extraordinary intelligence and military bearing brought quick promotion to the rank of Sergeant. There was a war with France at this time, of course, and on two occasions he showed great courage and wisdom while leading a detachment of men in battle. As a result, Paddy was unanimously put forward for officer training and once again succeeded in gaining the promotion. Despite his rapid rise through the ranks, however, he retained the good opinion and friendship of all who had been former comrades.

It is said that Paddy was considered by many to be a handsome man and, as we have seen a very clever person. What he lacked in education he took advantage of every opportunity to improve himself. But no one is perfect, and Patrick McCoille became extremely ambitious and ever vainer. He came to a point in his ‘new’ life that he did not want to remain in a situation where his very humble origins were so well known, and he finally transferred to another regiment, where he soon became equally as popular with his new companions as he had been with his old friends. Eventually, however, war with France came to an end and Paddy’s financial status quickly fell below that which he had been used to. He needed a new life and he decided to use his long-held talents to help him seek out a fortune and further growth in his social status.

With the peace gained, Paddy settled himself in a town that lay along the north coast of France and began to seek a wife that would bring with her position and wealth. He did not have long to wait. Having become a fluent French speaker and his quick wits helped him greatly to open many doors which were closed the higher born, but less talented army companions. Before long, he met the widow of a wealthy hotelkeeper who, though twenty years his senior, gave him clear signals that all he needed to do was to propose. Whether this was a case of him being greedy or a real case of love, it is hard to say. Nevertheless, they married, and lived together for three years, during which he was both affectionate and kind to her. Then, when his wife died, she left him all that she had, which, although much less than he had hoped for, made up, together with his army pension, a reasonably good income.

Although this amount of income would have represented a mere pittance to most men, it was a fortune to such an adventurer. Armed with this money and his natural talents, Paddy set out for Paris, where he made a great impression upon a young and beautiful widow who held a high situation within French society, and very soon after they met the two were married.  One problem arose, however, during the nuptial preparations when the lady objected to his name.

McCoille!” she cried, (pronouncing it as M’ecole — My School); “I cannot allow myself to accept such a name in my social circle. It is demeaning!

Well, my dear, I am very sorry about that, but it is my name.”

Does your family not possess a title?

None,” said Paddy, who now insisted on being called Patrick.

What, then, is the name of your father’s estate?

Patrick’s thoughts turned to the small, thatched cabin in which he had passed his childhood. He recalled the pig that had once been a playmate before it was delivered to the landlord to pay the rent. He remembered his father, in his long, heavy coat, with a hay-band round his hat, and his mother, dressed in fluttering rags which so many of the Irish peasantry thought added smartness to their dress. After so many years he, perhaps, thought with regret of the warm, loving hearts that had beat beneath in their breasts, so fond and so proud of him. With quiet dignity, he told her, ‘Sadly, my love, it is no longer in our family.

But” persisted the lady, “you were born near some village, or in some place that had a name?”

“The townland of Sluggan was where we lived.”

Fantastique! That is just what is needed! You will call yourself the Baron de Sluggan!

“Call myself?”

Of course, and why not? I shall not object to being called ‘De Sluggan’”.

She accordingly had her cards printed ‘La Baroness de Sluggan,’ and her husband, who had a great love of his family name, now became known to all as ‘Baron McCoille de Sluggan’. One of these cards is preserved as a memento by one of my relatives and Paddy’s adventures are frequently repeated at wakes, weddings, and other family gatherings.

The Wake at Big Peter’s.

Celebrating a Man’s Life

Poor Sean Maguire died, just as Mr. Roche suspected he would, and the gold and the notes were found quilted into his wretched clothing. A search was then made for any of his relatives from in and about Moneygeran. in the West of the County, where his mother was known to have lived. Meanwhile, as much was taken from the hoard by ‘Big Peter’, in whose premises he died, as was necessary to buy a shroud and coffin, and some pipes, and tobacco, and snuff. Sheets were hung up in a corner of the barn, and the poor corpse was shaved and washed, and provided with a clean shirt, before he was laid on a table in the same corner and covered with a sheet.

Two or three large, roughly coloured wood prints of devout subjects were pinned on the sheets, and candlesticks, trimmed with coloured paper and furnished with candles, were provided. One or two persons relieved each other during daylight, to keep watch and ward off any evil. Of course, any poor neighbour who was cursed with a taste for tobacco smoke was only too ready for this duty, but the approach of darkness brought company enough, more indeed than were benefitted by the social duty.

The brave old patriarch Peter rested comfortably in his own chair and was talking intently to two or three of his neighbours, as old as himself, on the old chronicles of Castleton. We had paid little attention to his legends and tales, and we are now sorry enough for our inattention. On this occasion the hero of his story was a certain Squire Heaton, who, it appears, was the possessor of the Castleton demesne in some former age, and a terrible blackguard he must have been. He was employed in some fierce argument or other with his neighbours or tenants, we cannot now remember which, about a certain common, overgrown with furze bushes. It was, in fact, a large hill, which gave shelter to hundreds of hares and rabbits, and as the Squire would not give way to the demand made on him about the hill, the party collected and set fire to it on a fine summer evening.

The Wake

Big Peter described, in a most graphic manner, the effect of the fire seen from the country round and about, all the poor hares and rabbits running for their lives, with their fur all scorched, and their eyes nearly burned out of their heads, and themselves falling into the hands of the crowds that kept watch at the edge of the burning mass. This reminiscence drew on others connected with matters that had taken place before the Rebellion, and while everyone was so engaged Eddie, Brian, and Charlie entered the room, reverently uncovering their heads, and reciting the ‘De Profundis’, verse and response. At the end they put their hats back on their heads and approached the elderly group.

A granddaughter of Peter’s and Mrs O’Brien’s servant girl, Joanna, a rattling young girl, came in with them, and after the psalm joined the ‘Big Peter’s’ womenfolk in the house, who occupied seats near the table. The older people, not willing to lose any of their usual hours of rest, began to leave, after having nearly exhausted all the interesting topics of the locality. But it was not long until a considerable amount of more lively conversation, of more interest to the younger portion of the company, began to develop itself among the various groups, two or three of the chief families keeping together near the table, as has been said.

At last a request came from a young woman in this group to Mr. Edmond, that he would entertain them with a song. Never being a man that was troubled with bashfulness, he immediately agreed, merely asking one of the little boys to bring a young cat from the kitchen to walk down his throat and clear away the cobwebs. He warned his audience that his song was useful to anyone thinking of paying a visit to the sites of Dublin.

” THE CONNAUGHT MAN AT THE REVIEW.

” With a neat house and garden, I live at my ease,

But all worldly pleasures my mind cannot please.

To friends and to neighbours I bid them adieu,

And I pegged off to Dublin to see the review.

Chorus Laddly, ta ral lal, ta ral lal, lee.

” With trembling expectations, to the town I advanced,

Till I met with a soup-maker’s cellar by chance,

Where I saw hogs’ puddings, cows’ heels, and fat tripes.

And that delicate sight

Chorus

” I stood in amaze, and I viewed them all o’er

The mistress espied me and came to her door.

‘ Step in, if you please, there is everything nice.

You shall have a good dinner at a reasonable price.’

Chorus

“I tumbled downstairs, and I took off my hat.

And immediately down by the fireside I sat.

In less than five minutes she brought me a plate

Overflowing with potatoes, white cabbage, and meat.

Chorus

” Says she, it was in Leitrim I was born and bred,

And can accommodate you to a very good bed.’

I thanked her, and straightway to bed I did fly,

Where I lay as snug as a pig in a sty.

Chorus

“In less than five minutes my sides they grew hard,

For every feather it measured a yard.

A regiment of black boys my poor corpse overspread,

And insisted they’d tumble me out of the bed.

Chorus

“I slept there all night until clear day-light,

And immediately called for my bill upon sight,

Says she, ‘as we both are come from the one town,

And besides old acquaintance, I’ll charge but a crown.’

Chorus.

” Oh, that is too much now, and conscience to boot;’

So, between she and I there arose a dispute.

To avoid the dispute, and to soon put an end,

She out for the police her daughter did send.

Chorus

“In the wink of an eye I was sorely confounded

To see my poor body so sadly surrounded.

I thought they were mayors, or peers of the land,

With their long coats, and drab capes, and guns in their hands.

Chorus

“‘Gentlemen,’ says I, ‘I’m a poor, honest man:

Before in my life I was never trepanned.’

‘ Come, me good fellow! Come pay for the whole,

Or else you will be the first man in the goal.’

Chorus

“I paid the demand, and I bid her adieu,

And was off to the Park for to see the review.

Where a soldier he gave me a rap of his gun,

And bid me run home, for the white eyes were done.

Chorus

“‘My good fella,’ says I, ‘had I you where I know,

I’d make you full Bore to repent of that blow.’

At the hearing of this, in a passion he flew,

And his long carving knife on me poor head he drew.

Chorus

There were three or four verses more, but the readers are probably content with the quantity furnished. There was clucking of tongues against palates at the mention of the roguish tricks of the Dublin dealers. But a carrier in company cleared the city-born folk of some of the bad reputation alleged by the song and pronounced country people who had made good their standing in Dublin for a few years, to be the greatest cheats in the kingdom.

Celebrating a Life

Mr. Edmond, having now a right to call someone up, summoned Joanna, the servant maid, previously mentioned, to show what she could do. Joanna, though very ready with her tongue at home, was at heart a modest girl, and fought hard to be let off. But one protested that she was a good singer, in right of a lark’s heel she had, but this was not the case, for Joanna had a neat foot. Another said that she was taught to sing by note when Tone, the dancing-master made his last round through the country, another said, that he heard herself and a young kid sing verse about one day when nobody was within hearing.

So, poor Joan, to get rid of the torment, asked what song they would like her to sing for them, and a dozen voices requested a love song about murder. So, after looking down, with a blushing face, for a while, she began with an unsteady voice, but she was soon under the influence of the subject and sung with a sweet voice one of these old English ballads, which we heard for the first time from a young woman of the Barony of Bardon, in the south.

There is another song on the same subject in some collection which we cannot at this remember at this moment. But Joanna’s version is evidently a faulty one. It has suffered from transmission through generations of negligent vocalists and now it is not easy to give it an original period of time.

“FAIR ELEANOR.

“‘Come, comb your head, Fair Eleanor,

And comb it on your knee,

And that you may look maiden-like

Till my return to thee.’

“”Tis hard for me to look maiden-like,

When maiden I am none:

Seven fair sons I’ve borne to thee,

And the eighth lies in my womb.’

”Seven long years were past and gone.

Fair Eleanor thought it long.

She went up into her bower,

With her silver cane in hand.

“She looked far, she looked near,

She looked upon the strand.

And it’s there she spied King William a-coming,

And his new bride by the hand.

“She then called up her seven sons,

By one, by two, by three.

‘ I wish that you were seven greyhounds,

This night to worry me! ‘

“‘Oh, say not so our mother dear,

But put on your golden pall,

And go and throw open your wide, wide gates,

And welcome the nobles all.’

” So, she threw off her gown of green.

She put on her golden pall,

She went and threw open her wide, wide gates,

And welcomed the nobles all.

” ‘ Oh, welcome, lady fair! ‘ she said.

‘ You’re welcome to your own.

And welcome be these nobles all

That come to wait on you home.’

” ‘ Oh, thankee, thankee, Fair Eleanor!

And many thanks to thee.

And if in this bower I do remain,

Great gifts I’ll bestow on thee.’

” She served them up, she served them down,

She served them all with wine,

But still she drank of the clear spring water,

To keep her colour fine.

“She served them up, she served them down.

She served them in the hall.

But still she wiped off the salt, salt tears,

As they from her did fall.

” Well bespoke the bride so gay,

As she sat in her chair—

‘And tell to me, King William,’ she said,

‘ Who is this maid so fair?

” ‘ Is she of your kith, ‘ she said,

‘ Or is she of your kin,

Or is she your comely housekeeper

That walks both out and in’

” ‘ She is not of my kith,’ he said,

‘ Nor is she of my kin.

But she is my comely housekeeper

That walks both out and in.’

‘\’ Who then was your father,’ she said,

‘ Or who then was your mother 1

Had you any sister dear,

Or had you any brother 1 ‘

” ‘ King Henry was my father,’ she said,

‘ Queen Margaret was my mother,

Matilda was my sister dear,

Lord Thomas was my brother.’

” ‘ King Henry was your father,’ she said,

Queen Margaret, your mother,

1 am your only sister dear.

And here’s Lord Thomas, our brother.

” ‘ Seven lofty ships I have at sea,

All filled with beaten gold.

Six of them I’ll leave with thee,

The seventh will bear me home.’ “

The usual interruptions arising from new visitors entering had occurred several times during these relaxations, with the last visitor being a young giant of a man called Tom Sweeney. He was a labourer on the farm of young Roche, and an admirer of the songstress of Fair Eleanor, who, if she returned his affection, took special care to conceal the fact from the eyes of their acquaintance. Tom was as naïve a young man as there was anywhere in the county, and Peter O’Brien called on him to give a song. But the young man could think of nothing else to sing but the lamentation of a young girl for the absence of her lover.

An Irish Wake

” THE SAILOR BOY.

“‘Oh, the sailing trade is a weary life.

It robs fair maids of their hearts’ delight,

Which causes me for to sigh and mourn,

For fear my true love will ne’er return.

“’The grass grows green upon yonder lea,

The leaves are budding from ev’ry spray,

The nightingale in her cage will sing

To welcome Willy home to crown the spring.

“’ I’ll build myself a little boat.

And o’er the ocean I mean to float:

From every French ship that do pass by,

I’ll inquire for Willy, that bold sailing boy.’

“She had not sailed a league past three

Till a fleet of French ships, she chanced to meet.

‘ Come tell me, sailors, and tell me true,

If my love Willy sails on board with you.’

“‘Indeed, fair maid, your love is not here,

But he is drowned by this we fear.

‘It was your green island that we passed by,

There we lost Willy, that bold sailing boy.’

“She wrung her hands and she tore her hair

Just like a lady that was in despair.

Against the rock her little boat she run—

‘How can I live, and my true love gone? ‘

“Nine months after, this maid was dead,

And this note found on her bed’s head.

How she was satisfied to end her life,

Because she was not a bold sailor’s wife.

“‘Dig my grave both large and deep,

Deck it over with lilies sweet,

And on my headstone cut a turtledove,

To signify that I died for love.’ “

It is probable that the sentiments of this ballad will not produce similar feelings in our readers. It was not the case with the younger portion of Tom’s audience, for he sung it with much feeling. He was, indeed, a sincere young fellow, besides being a lover.

It would be a little boring, except to those with an interest in such things, if I was to let you read many more of the songs which were sung there. If truth be told, there were few that could be distinguished by them possessing genuine poetry or good taste. The people who were there were not so lucky and had to hear “The sailor who courted a farmer’s daughter, that lived convenient to the Isle of Man.” That was followed by the merry song called “The Wedding of Ballyporeen,” which caused the audience to laugh loudly, although they had heard it many times heard before. Then there were popular tunes such as, “The Boy with the Brown Hair,” “The Red-haired Girl,” “Sheela na Guira,” and “The Cottage Maid.” Laments and Ballads about lost loves and promising romantic futures, which were popular and encouraged the audience to join in. But, at last, some of those gathered began to demonstrate by their manner and gestures, that they had heard enough sweet singing, and O’Brien, and Roche, and Redmond, were invited to get up  and perform the wake-house drama of ‘Old Dowd and his Daughters’, which would help them to hold out against the stale air in the room and the want of sleep.

The young men did not exhibit too good a sense of the moral fitness of things, since they were not normally disposed to vice, in private or in public. It was custom that influenced them to think that what was harmless at other times and in other places could be looked on as harmless at a wake. So, Charles at once assumed took his place as stage manager and assumed the role of Old Dowd with a daughter he needed to dispose of. He set the blushing and giggling Joanna on a chair beside him, Tom Sweeney, and two or three other young men on a bench at his other side, cleared an open space in front, procured a good stick for himself and each of his sons, and awaited the approach of the expected suitor.

O’Brien and Roche had gone out, and on their return were to be looked on, the first as the suitor, a caustic poet, who makes himself welcome at rich farmers’ houses by satirizing their neighbours, and the second as his horse, whose forelegs were represented by the man’s arms, and a stool firmly grasped in his hands. Roche’s election to this role was determined by his size and great strength. Finally, amid the most profound silence the performance of “Old Dowd and his Daughters” began—

OLD DOWD AND HIS DAUGHTERS.

[Present: Old Dowd, his marriageable daughter, Sheela, and his six sons. Enter poetic suitor, appropriately mounted. Father and sons eye the pair with much contempt.]

Old Dowd: Who is this, mounted on his old carthorse, coming to disturb us at this hour of the night? What kind of a tramp or traveller are you? for I don’t think we can give you a lodging, sir, and you must go on farther.

Suitor: I’m not an honest man, no more than you are yourself, you old sinner, and I don’t want a room. I’m seeking a cure for life’s troubles. In plain words, a wife who can be with me for the rest of my life on this earth. Are you lucky enough to be able to help me, for you won’t ever get another chance to make a more high-bred connection as myself? My grandfather owned seven townlands, and let more property slip through his fingers than the whole seed, breed, and generation of the Dowds possessed since Adam was a boy. Come on, are you ready for me?

Father of Bride: Aye, and what property have you got?

Suitor: A lawsuit that’s to be decided on day before Christmas Eve. If I gain it, I’ll get fifty acres of land on the side of the mountain at a pound an acre. If I lose, they can only put me in the jail. Come on, now, let us see the bride. But, first, as they used to say at the siege of Troy, let us know your breeding and bloodline.

Father. Here I am, Old Dowd, with his six sons. Himself makes seven, four more would be eleven, and hurrah, brave boys.”

At this point of the conference the patriarch flourished his stick, and aimed a few blows at the steed and rider, more, however, in courtesy than resentment. The suitor warded the strokes with some skill and gave a tap or two to his father-in-law elect. He at last setting his weapon upright and the argument ceased.

Father: Come now, I see that you are not altogether unworthy to enter the family of the Dowds. What’s your profession? How do you earn your bread? I won’t send out my dear Sheela to live on the neighbours.

Suitor: I’m a poet and live by the weaknesses of mankind.

Father: Och, what kind of trade is that? Your coat is white at the seams. Is that some sort of vest or is it a real shirt you have on you? How many meals a day do you get? Everyone knows the saying, ‘as poor as a poet’.

Suitor: Then I think three-quarters of the people about here must be in the same trade. If you were to be a father-in-law to me, then learn to be mannerly, Old Dowd. I scorn a vest, except when my old shirt is worn out, and my new one has not come from the seamstress, and if I could find an appetite, I might eat seven meals a day. I stop at a gentleman- farmer’s and repeat a few verses that I said for against a neighbour for his stinginess to one of the old-stock of the Muldoons, and a poet besides. And don’t myself and my steed live like fighting cocks, and the man of the house not daring to sneeze for fear of getting into a new a bad verse about himself. Is this my bride? Oh, the darling girl, I must make a verse in her praise off the top of my head, for if I was Homer, that noble poet, I’d sing your praises in verses sweet. Or Alexander, that bold commander, I’d lay my trophies down at your feet.”

“Venerable head of the Clan Dowd, my intended looks a little hot. I hope it wasn’t with the pot-rag she wiped her face this morning. Old Dowd, you’ll have to shell out something decent for soap. The young lady’s name is Sheela, you say. She’s not the same Miss Sheela, I hope! You know that Pat Cox, the shoemaker, was lately courting?

Father: You vagabond of a poet, do you think I’d demean the old kings of Leinster, my forefathers, by taking into my family a greasy shoemaker?

Suitor: I only asked a civil question. Pat met his darling one day, as she was binding after the reapers, and asked when she’d let him take her measure for a pair of new shoes. “No time like the present time,” says she, and off she kicked her right foot pump. Her nails were a trifle long and her lovely toes were peeping out through the worsted stockings. If there was anything between the same toes it wouldn’t be polite to mention it. So bewildered was the love-sick fool by the privilege conferred on him, that he felt in his own mind, that a prolonged communication would not be good for the peace of heart. So, the shoes are not yet made, and Pat’s nearest residence is in the village of Derrymore.

Father: And do you dare, you foul-mouthed blackguard, to cast insinuations on the delicate habits of my dear child? Take this for your reward.

Sympathetic Sons: And this … and this.”

And now began a neat cudgel-skirmish between the main contracting parties. The angry father not only struck at the evil-tongued suitor, but also whacked at the inoffensive horse. The suitor warded the blows from his trusty horse as well as he could, but still one or two made impressions on the more sensitive portions of his body, and the sons with their wooden sticks added to his overall discomfort. So, the noble animal, feeling his patience rapidly diminishing, executed a half-jump, and applying the hoof of his off hind leg to the bench on which the old gentleman and his sons were sitting in state, he overturned them with little effort, and their heads and backs made sore acquaintance with the wall and floor.

This disagreeable incident, and the still unconquered difficulties, stopped the further prosecution of the suit, and amid rubbing of sore spots, scratching of heads, and howls of laughter from all parts of the room, they set about another match with Peter’s grand-daughter being obliged to sit for the next blushing bride. In this second act, Redmond came in as a wooer, bestriding Tom Sweeney, His cue was to have nothing of the poet or the vagrant hanging to his skirts. He was the miserly, careful tradesman of country life. O’Brien represented Old Dowd.

Thrifty Suitor: God save all here!  Look here, I want a wife, and no more about it. Have you got one available?

Father: To be sure we have! Who are you if you please?

Thrifty Suitor: I’m not ashamed of my name nor of my business. I’m a brogue-maker to my trade, and my name’s Mick Kinsella, and I’m not short of a few pounds in my pocket, not like that scare-crow, Denny Muldoon, that’ll be obliged to throw his large cloak over his bride to keep her from freezing with the cold in the honeymoon. I won’t have Miss Sheela; you may depend on it.

Father: Indeed, I think you’re right, Mick-the Brogue. That dear girl was a little untidy, still she wasn’t without her good points. But she would persist in wiping the plates with the cat’s tail when the dishcloth was not at hand, and I’m afraid that her husband won’t be known by the whiteness of his shirt collar at the chapel. Well, well, we won’t speak ill of the absent. But here, you son of a turned pump, is the flower of the flock for you. Here’s one that will put a genteel stamp on your stand of brogues at a fair or market. By the way, the shoemakers don’t associate with you, men of the leather strip. They don’t look on you as tradesmen. What shabby pride! Begging your pardon, Mick, what property have you, and what do you intend to leave to your widow? After all, no one can say to your face that you married out of a frolic of youth. You’re turned fifty, I think.

Thrifty Suitor: No, I am not, Old Dowd! I am only pushing forty-five, and I have neither a red nose nor a shaky hand, Old Dowd. And I hope Mrs. Kinsella won’t be at the expense of a widow’s cap for thirty years to come, Old Dowd. But not to make an ill answer, I have three hundred red guineas under the thatch. And now tell me what yourself will lay down on the nail the day your daughter changes her name.

Father: Well, well, the impudence of some people stings! Isn’t it enough, and more than enough, to get a young woman of birth, that has book-learning and reads novels? And you, you big jackass, don’t you think but your bread will be baked the day she condescends to take the vulgar name of Kinsella? Why, man, the meaning of the word is “Dirty Head.” An old king of Leinster got it for killing a priest.

Thrifty Suitor: I don’t care a pig’s bristle for your notions and grand ideas. Give me an answer if you please.

Father: Oh, dear, dear, Old Dowd! Did you ever think you would live long enough to hear your genteel and accomplished daughter, Miss Biddy Dowd, called by the vile name of Biddy -the-Brogue?

Thrifty Suitor: Now, none of your impudence, you overbearing and immoral old toper! I want a wife to keep things snug at home, and make me comfortable, and not let me be cheated by my servants and workmen. You say that Biddy reads novels and, maybe when the ploughmen come in at noon, they’ll only find the praties put down over a bad fire, and the mistress crying over a greasy-covered book in the corner. To the Devil with all the novels in the world.

The Dowds (father and sons): This ignorant gobshite never went as far as the “Principles of Politeness ” in the “Universal Spelling-book.” Let us administer the youth a little of hazel-oil to make his joints supple and teach him some manners!”

Then another battle of arms took place, in which some skilful play was shown with the sticks, and several sound thumps were given and received, to the great delight and edification of the assembly.

Thrifty Suitor: Now that these few compliments are over, what is to be the fortune of Biddy, I beg a thousand pardons, Miss Biddy Dowd, I mean?

Father: Isn’t her face fortune enough for you, you vulgar man? Do you think nothing of the respectability of having her sitting on a pillion behind you going to fair or market to work after you, with her green silk gown and quilted purple petticoat, and her bright orange shawl? Ah, you lucky thief! Won’t you have the crowd of young fellows around you, bargaining for your ware, and inviting Mrs. Kinsella to a glass of punch? I think, instead of expecting a fortune, you should give a big bag of money for being let into my family.

Thrifty Suitor: Old Dowd, all your bluster isn’t worth a cast-off brogue. Mention a decent sum, or back I go to my work. I’m young enough to be married these fifteen years to come.”

Here the father and sons put their heads together, and finally the hard-pressed father named twenty pounds, but the worldly-minded suitor exclaimed against the smallness of the sum and insisted on a hundred. After a series of skilful thrusts and parries, they agreed to split the difference, and the candidate was asked whether he preferred to receive it in quarterly payments or be paid all at once. He inconsiderately named present payment and had soon reason to repent of his haste to become rich, for the dowry descended on himself and his charger in a shower of blows from the tough hazels and blackthorns of his new relatives. After receiving and inflicting several stripes, he shouted out that he was satisfied to give a long day with the balance. And so, with their shoulders and sides sore with blows and laughter, the play came to an end, and much appreciation was shown by the audience both with the action and dialogue, for many in the crowd knew the parties who were represented, and scarcely, if at all, caricatured. Denny Muldoon, and Mick Kinsella, and Biddy-the-Brogue, were well-known under other names.

When the enthusiasm had subsided a little, it being now about one o’clock in the morning, O’Brien, Roche, Edmond, Joanna, and Sweeney withdrew, but not before reciting some prayers before they left the room. When the vacated seats came to be filled, and lately bashful young fellows began to use the tobacco-pipes, which one but the older folk had meddled with before, the hitherto tolerably decent spirit of the society began to evaporate, and confusion and ill manners began to prevail. However, a young fellow, who felt a desire to hear himself sing in company, got some of his supporters to endeavour to quieten the noise, and request him to favour the assembly with a song. The noise did not entirely subside until the first notes were heard, and the dismal style in which the verses were sung needed to be restrained but indifferently.

” THE STREAMS OF BUNCLODY.

“Was I at the moss-house where the birds do increase,

At the foot of Mount Leinster, or some silent place,

At the streams of Bunclody, where all pleasures do meet,

And all I require is one kiss from you, sweet.

” The reason my love slights me, I do understand,

Because she has a freehold and I have no land.

A great store of riches, both Silver and gold,

And everything fitting a house to uphold.

“If I was a clerk who could write a good hand,

I’d write to my true love that she might understand,

That I’m a young man that’s deeply in love,

That lived by Bunclody, and now must remove.

” Adieu my dear father; adieu my dear mother.

Farewell to my sister, and likewise my brother.

I’m going to America, my fortune to try.

When 1 think on Bunclody, I’m ready to die.”

The general feeling at the time was too cynical to relish such a sad song. Several songs were sung, whose composers’ ghosts shall not have the gratification of seeing them here either in substance or name. At last, even the songs, such as they were, began to lose their charm, and games were introduced. The first was played in the following way –

The captain took five assistants, and arranged them in a semicircle, giving to each a name. He then began with a short stick to pound the palm of one to whom the mischance came by lot, keeping a firm hold of his wrist all the time, and naming the troop in this manner “Fabby, Darby Skibby, Donacha the Saddler, Jacob the Farmer, Scour-dish, what’s that man’s name?” He suddenly pointed to one of the group, and if the patient named him on the moment, he was released, and the fellow named was submitted to the handy discipline. If there was the slightest delay about the name, the operator went on as before—”Fibby Fabby, Darby Skibby,” etc., until the poor victim’s fingers were in a sad state.

In the second game a candle was placed on the ground, in the middle of a circle of lads, and all are told to keep their eyes fixed on it, and their hands behind their backs. The captain provided himself with a twisted leathern apron, or something equally unpleasant to be struck with, and walked on the outside of the ring, exclaiming from time to time, “Watch the light, watch the light.” Secretly placing the weapon into the hands of one of the men, he at last cried out, “Use the linger, use the linger;” and this worthy ran round the circle, using it to some purpose on the backs of his playmates. He then became the captain, and in due course delivered the instrument to someone else.

But the most objectionable trick of all was “shooting the buck.” Some person or persons who had not yet seen the performance were essential to its success, as it required a victim or two. The person acting the buck having gone out, the sportsman who was to shoot him required one to three unsuspicious persons to lie in wait inside the door, to catch the animal when falling from the effect of the shot, promising that they should see fine things. All became silent and watchful, and the retrievers were at their post, when the stag appeared in the doorway, a stool on his head, with the feet upturned to represent horns. The huntsman stooped, and squinting along a stick, cried out, “too-oo”! Back fell the animal, and down came the stool, and all the dirt with which the rogue had charged it outside, on the hats and clothes of the raw sportsmen, and great laughter rose from all the throats but theirs.

By this time, it is three or four o’clock, and time for anyone who dreads the terrors of an over-burdened conscience, while he lies passive and stretched out the next morning, to quit the scene of such frivolity. We might here moralize on the inherent evil of the institution, and the number of young men who became hardened in vice by attending wakes, and the number of young women who lost their character thereby, and everything with it, here and hereafter. The evil lay in visiting them at all, for more than a few minutes. It would be out of the question for the best-intentioned to remain in the foul room for the whole night and come out as innocent in the morning as they entered in the evening. Girls with any pretence to good conduct never remained in them beyond the early hours of the night and were always supposed to be there under the guardianship of a brother, cousin, or declared lover. We will say, for the honour of those districts of Ireland that were known to us, that it was rare to hear of a young woman, farmer’s, or cottager’s daughter, of bad character.

Selkie

Selkies or “Seal Folk” are mythological beings capable of changing from seal to human form by shedding their skin. These selkie folk are recounted in both Irish and Scottish mythology with  folk-tales frequently revolving around female selkies being coerced into relationships with humans by someone stealing and hiding their sealskin. While “selkies” is the proper term for such shapeshifters many refer to them merely as mermen or mermaids (Merrow), which in Ireland regarded as a half-seal, half-human being.

Selkie

The Mermaids (Merrow)  in Irish folklore have been regarded as seal-women in some instances. In a certain collection of lore in County Kerry, there is a tale from Tralee, which claimed that the ‘Lee’ family was descended from a man who took a mermaid for a wife, but she later escaped and joined her seal-husband, suggesting she was of the seal-folk kind.

There is also the tradition that the ‘Conneely Clan’ of Connemara was descended from seals, and it was taboo for them to kill the animals because it would bring ill luck to them. And since the name “conneely” became a by-word for the animal, many changed their surname to Connelly. There is also a mention in this folklore connection mentioning that there is a Roaninish (Rón-inis, “seal island”) off Donegal, outside Gweebarra Bay.

In many versions of the Selkie myth, the children produced by the coupling of a Selkie and a human, are born with certain physical characteristics that set them apart from normal children. The children of male selkies and human women have webbed toes and fingers, and when the webbing is cut, a rough and rigid growth takes its place. Such tales as these, stem from before the advent of modern medicine, when many physiological conditions were untreatable. When children were born with abnormalities, it was common to blame the fairy folk. One family became known locally as the ‘Seal Family’, claiming to be descended from a union between a fisherman and a selkie. This was an explanation for a hereditary growth of skin between their fingers that made their hands resemble flippers. At the same time children born with “scaly” skin were also thought to be the descendants of Selkies, though this could have been caused by ‘ichthyosis’, a genetic skin disorder that causes patches of skin to harden and appear “scaly.” This condition can be severe, appearing all over the body, but it is more likely to only cause slight disfigurement.

The Red Cap

The Redcap is what happens when a good fairy goes bad. It is a type of malevolent, murderous, leprechaun-type of being mostly found in Scotland, but occasionally can be found roaming ruined castles in the north-east of Ireland. He is said to inhabit ruined castles and, especially, those that were the scenes of brutal and wicked deeds, and the Redcap is known for soaking his cap in the blood of his victims.

The Red Cap

He is usually depicted as “a short, thickset old man with long prominent teeth, skinny fingers armed with talons like eagles, large eyes of a fiery red colour, grisly hair streaming down his shoulders, iron boots, a pikestaff in his left hand, and a red cap on his head” When unwary travellers take refuge in his lair, he flings huge stones at them, and if he kills them, he soaks his cap in their blood, giving it a crimson hue. It is said that he is unaffected by human strength but can be driven off by using words of Scripture or by brandishing a Crucifix, which will cause him to utter a dismal yell and vanish in flames, leaving behind a large tooth.

According to some 19th-century folklorists, the redcap has other varieties of his kind, some of which inhabit old forts, castles and some old church towers. It is said that the main activity of this other type of Redcap is to make noise like the beating of flax, or the grinding of barley in a hollow stone quern. But, if this sound goes on longer or louder than usual, it is considered to be an omen of death or misfortune. It is said that many of these forts and castles were built by the early occupants of the land, who allegedly bathed the foundation stones in human blood and caused such hauntings to occur. Those who study the spirit world  suggest that the Redcaps might indeed be ‘Elementals’, because they are made up of the ‘ethers’ and are ‘ethereal’ and therefore invisible to (most) of us, attaching themselves to practically every natural thing.

Pooka

An Irish Spirit

I have spelt the name for this particular spirit as ‘Pooka’, but there are other spellings – púca, phouka, phooka, phooca, puca or púka. However, it is spelt, the ‘Pooka’ is primarily a creature of Celtic folklore.  Some sources suggest that the origin of the name may have come from the Old Norse term ‘pook’ or ‘puki’, which refers to a “nature spirit”. The usage of the term in Ireland, however, predates the arrival of Viking settlers and may be derived from the Irish word ‘poc’, meaning a male goat, which is a form the creature is often said to take.

Pooka

‘Pookas’ are thought to bring either good and bad fortune, either helping or hindering the rural and marine communities in which they are found. They are said to be shape changers, which have either dark or white fur or hair. Because they are adept at changing their form the Pookas could take on the appearance of horses, goats, cats, dogs, and hares. Moreover, it is not unknown for them to take human form, which includes various animal features, such as ears or a tail. There exists a brief description taken by Thomas Crofton Corker from a boy living in Killarney in which he tells us, “old people used to say that the Pookas were very numerous…long ago…, were wicked-minded, black-looking, bad things…that would come in the form of wild colts, with chains hanging about them, and that did much to harm unwary travellers.”

One theme that runs through all folklore concerning the Pooka is their constant appetite for mischief. They are said to entice humans to take a ride on their back, giving the foolish rider a wild and terrifying journey before finally dropping the unlucky person back at the place they were taken from. It is said that the rider may be able to take control of the pooka by wearing sharp spurs and using those to prevent being taken, or to steer the creature if already on its back. While such pooka stories can be found across northern Europe, the Irish tales alone specify a protective measure for encountering them. The protective power of the “sharp things,” as they are always referred to by the pooka in the tales, may stem from the Irish belief that “cold iron” has the ability to ward off the supernatural. These stories bear similarities to other Irish folk creatures, such as the ‘good people’ or the ‘fairy host’, who are said to target humans on the road or along their regular fairy routes. Pooka encounters with humans, however, tend to occur in rural, isolated places, far from settlements or homes.

On occasion the pooka is represented as being helpful to farmers, particularly in tales where the creature intervenes before a terrible accident, or before the person is about to happen upon a malevolent fairy or spirit. In several of the regional variants of the stories where the pooka is acting as a guardian, the pooka identifies itself to the bewildered human. What makes this action particularly noteworthy is that it is in stark contrast to the lore of many other folkloric beings, who guard their identities or names from humans.

There were certain agricultural traditions surrounding the pooka, and it is especially associated with Samhain, a harvest festival, when the last of the crops are brought in. Anything that remained in the fields was considered “pooka”, or fairy-blasted, and was, therefore, inedible. In some regions reapers left a small share of the crop, the “pooka’s share”, to placate the hungry creature. Nonetheless, 1 November was always considered to be the ‘Pooka’s Day’ and, therefore, the one day of the year when it could be expected to behave in a civil manner. In some areas, however, the beginning of November saw the pooka either defecate, or spit, on the wild fruits rendering them inedible and unsafe.

I have spelt the name for this particular spirit as ‘Pooka’, but there are other spellings – púca, phouka, phooka, phooca, puca or púka. However, it is spelt, the ‘Pooka’ is primarily a creature of Celtic folklore.  Some sources suggest that the origin of the name may have come from the Old Norse term ‘pook’ or ‘puki’, which refers to a “nature spirit”. The usage of the term in Ireland, however, predates the arrival of Viking settlers and may be derived from the Irish word ‘poc’, meaning a male goat, which is a form the creature is often said to take.

‘Pookas’ are thought to bring either good and bad fortune, either helping or hindering the rural and marine communities in which they are found. They are said to be shape changers, which have either dark or white fur or hair. Because they are adept at changing their form the Pookas could take on the appearance of horses, goats, cats, dogs, and hares. Moreover, it is not unknown for them to take human form, which includes various animal features, such as ears or a tail. There exists a brief description taken by Thomas Crofton Corker from a boy living in Killarney in which he tells us, “old people used to say that the Pookas were very numerous…long ago…, were wicked-minded, black-looking, bad things…that would come in the form of wild colts, with chains hanging about them, and that did much to harm unwary travellers.”

One theme that runs through all folklore concerning the Pooka is their constant appetite for mischief. They are said to entice humans to take a ride on their back, giving the foolish rider a wild and terrifying journey before finally dropping the unlucky person back at the place they were taken from. It is said that the rider may be able to take control of the pooka by wearing sharp spurs and using those to prevent being taken, or to steer the creature if already on its back. While such pooka stories can be found across northern Europe, the Irish tales alone specify a protective measure for encountering them. The protective power of the “sharp things,” as they are always referred to by the pooka in the tales, may stem from the Irish belief that “cold iron” has the ability to ward off the supernatural. These stories bear similarities to other Irish folk creatures, such as the ‘good people’ or the ‘fairy host’, who are said to target humans on the road or along their regular fairy routes. Pooka encounters with humans, however, tend to occur in rural, isolated places, far from settlements or homes.

On occasion the pooka is represented as being helpful to farmers, particularly in tales where the creature intervenes before a terrible accident, or before the person is about to happen upon a malevolent fairy or spirit. In several of the regional variants of the stories where the pooka is acting as a guardian, the pooka identifies itself to the bewildered human. What makes this action particularly noteworthy is that it is in stark contrast to the lore of many other folkloric beings, who guard their identities or names from humans.

There were certain agricultural traditions surrounding the pooka, and it is especially associated with Samhain, a harvest festival, when the last of the crops are brought in. Anything that remained in the fields was considered “pooka”, or fairy-blasted, and was, therefore, inedible. In some regions reapers left a small share of the crop, the “pooka’s share”, to placate the hungry creature. Nonetheless, 1 November was always considered to be the ‘Pooka’s Day’ and, therefore, the one day of the year when it could be expected to behave in a civil manner. In some areas, however, the beginning of November saw the Pooka either defecate, or spit, on the wild fruits rendering them inedible and unsafe.

Pat Donnelly’s Encounter

Pat Donnelly was returning home one night, at about twelve o’clock, in his jaunting car with one side up, for he was carrying no passengers. It was a clear moonlit night, the horse was tired, and Pat smoked his pipe as he relaxed, and he allowed the tired horse to walk slowly along the road.

When they were about half-way home, Pat noticed that two men had suddenly appeared and were walking by the side of the car on which he was lying lazily. “Good God!” Pat Donnelly thought to himself, “where did they come from?” He had heard no footsteps and could not hear any now as they walked by the side of the car, although they were walking quite close to him and were going in the same direction. From his position in the driving seat of the car he had a clear view of the road to the front and to the rear all the way from town, but he had not seen anything until these two men appeared.

He wondered to himself if they had dropped down from the sky or had they risen from the ground? But he laughed at the silly ideas that were coming into his head, for he was sure that knew from where they had come. “Sure, they’re simply two beings from the mystic world who have decided to show themselves,” Pat told himself. “Will you take a lift?” he asked the two men in a friendly manner. When they did not reply, Pat thought, “By Jesus, these two are quare customers.” The two men still walked by the side of the car and their silence continued. Pat sat erect, tightening his grip on the whip, before slackening it again as he began to feel an odd sensation on the top of his head, all over his body and even to the tips of his fingers. There was a shiver that ran through him. But the strange men still said nothing as they walked on and on, at the same steady pace and in the same position with regard to the car.

The longer this went on the more courage filled Pat, and he asked politely, “Do any of you know what time it is?

Do you know what time it is yourself?” asked one of the strangers.

By God!” Pat thought to himself, “These are quare customers, for sure.

Not another word was spoke. The men evidently did not want to say anything, and Pat was much too afraid utter another word. He began to consider that these strangers may not be men at all. They were undoubtedly from another world, but what exactly they were called was a mystery to Pat. So, when they came to a crossroads, Pat parted company with the two strangers and they went off as mysteriously as they had come. One second, they were there and the next second, they were gone.

From the crossroads one of the roads wound its way northward to the hills and then into a more level stretch of road running along the sea. Pat went on and as he did so a strange drowsiness overcame him, forcing him to close his eyes no matter how hard he tried to keep them open. When his eye closed, his head gradually fell towards his chest and then he felt a slap. It was a quick, sharp blow of a cold, open hand on his cheek, and he awoke with a start. But Pat could not tell who it was that slapped him. There was no person about and still felt very sleepy. Why this should be so, he could not tell. Nervously he whipped the horse into a fast trot and suddenly came to a stop again. At the place where the two roads meet, he again caught sight of the two beings who had so recently surprised him, now running. When he pulled up his horse, the two strangers stopped running. Pat blessed himself with the sign of the cross and the mysterious beings vanished for good.

Pat once again fell asleep, totally unconscious of his surroundings and the horse continued on until it finally stopped. Pat awoke with a start and grabbed the rail of jaunting car. Looking around himself, Pat realised that he had come home, and from that moment he would relate his strange tale to all who would listen. Some believed, while other laughed and said that he was dreaming. Pat, however, would indignantly deny any such suggestion. Talking to a priest about the incident he told him, “Maybe you would believe me better after I have shown you this!” He would then point to a peculiar mark upon his cheek, where he had received the blow.

JW

Things to Remember

There are many important bits of advice among the Irish that you need to remember if you need ‘Good Luck’ in your life, and God knows none of us want ‘Bad Luck.’ So listen now to what you are being told.

Never put a boot on your foot until you have two socks on. Now, not two sock on the one foot, but one on each. You will say goodbye to your luck if you neglect this bit of advice, for St. Columbcille once put a sock and a boot on one foot, with the intention of doing the same to the other. But his enemies who were pursuing him came upon him just as he was putting on the second sock. He was unable to run away and was caught. He then gave the curse to the person who should do as he had done.

If you are driving any animals to market and you meet a person who does not ‘bless’ them, remember that you should say before the person passes on. “God Bless your heart, your eye, and my share.” The evil eye of the person cannot then ‘blink’ the animals.

The ploughman, too, needs to guard his horses from the same dreadful evil of blinking. When he is approaching the end of the field, if he observes any person standing there to whom he must speak, let him on no account allow the horses to stand until he has turned their faces towards the other end, with their tails to the person. They will be quite safe in that position.

The foregoing are preventatives, and we are all pretty familiar with the adage “Prevention is better than cure.” But is there no ‘cure’ for ‘blinking’? Indeed, there is, why wouldn’t there?

Quick is a glance of the eye under any circumstance, but quicker far is the glance of the blinker’s eye. The harm may be accomplished before we can guard against it. To counteract the spell should then be our aim. There is an antidote. Remember it. Strike, first, the affected animal with any part of your apparel or, to be accurate, with, as we say in Gaelic, the “tail of your coat,” and next the ground. Repeat the operation three times and you have affected a complete cure.

When travelling along a lonely road at night take the centre and walk between the ruts so that you can keep in the tracks which horses have made. Nothing can harm you while you follow the horses’ tracks.

Don’t give anything away on New Year’s Day. If, however, it is unavoidable, make the person who gets it bring something to you first. For instance, if your neighbour’s fire happens to be dead in the morning, don’t give a coal until you receive a turf first. Never on any account allow a coal to be removed from your house if there is any person sick within; and do not under any circumstance allow a coal out on a Monday morning.

Give no milk from the first churning. The person to whom you give milk from your dairy should ‘bless’ the milk and the cow that gave it.

Do not, as it is said in the North, “dung the byre” after sunset. It is strictly forbidden to re the manure after that hour also to put out the house sweepings. Such things should be attended to during the day, “After the sun has risen, and before he has set.”     

Put out no ashes or slops on New Year’s Day. Also have all the water required for domestic use in before dark on New Year’s Eve.JW   

TURF

Ireland’s Natural Resource

Any person who lives outside of Ireland, when they hear the word ‘Turf’ think of the green grass of a football pitch, or the horse-racing course, or a golf course. But for us Irish, the word brings to our minds lapping flames in a fire on a cold winter’s night, and the distinctive sweet smell that accompanies it. More commonly known as ‘Peat’ in other countries, we prefer to call it turf except when we refer to those modern hard, compressed blocks which are sold as ‘Peat Briquettes.” In modern days of smokeless fuel, the briquettes have grown in popularity, but mostly in the urban areas. In the rural areas of Ireland, the cutting, drying, and use of turf are still widespread.

Cutting the Turf

Gathering the Turf

‘Turf’ is an early form of coal which has been providing heat to homes, cottages, and castles throughout Ireland for centuries. In fact, we Irishmen and women have been cutting turf for over 2000 years with a special type of spade instrument, and it laid out and turned several times to ensure it dries fully. For those readers who have not had the joy to travel through Ireland’s beautiful villages, towns, countryside, mountains, and lakes it has hard to describe that unique aroma which belongs to the turf fire and the peace, serenity and comforting warmth that it provides. Those of you who have been fortunate to visit our beautiful country know that the smell of turf is something you cannot forget. Thinking about the word itself can conjure up faint traces of that aroma and bring back memories of wonderful days and evenings spent in a country with a unique beauty and history.

Bringing the Turf Home

To start the story of turf, we must begin by discovering what it is. Put simply, ‘TURF’ is dried peat and has been used as a source of fuel for the Irish people for thousands of years and is harvested from the bog-lands that once covered large areas of Ireland but is now disappearing. For the uninitiated, a ‘bog’ or ‘bog-land’ is a wetland that accumulates peat, which made up from deposits of dead plant material, such as mosses like the ‘Sphagnum Moss’. There other names for bogs that are used in other areas of the world i.e. ‘Mire’, ‘ Quagmire’, ‘Muskeg’ and ‘Fen’, which are covered in plants and shrubs of the heather family and are rooted in the ‘Sphagnum Moss’ and peat. The gradual accumulation of decaying and decayed plant material in the bog functions as a ‘Carbon Sink’, which means they soak up much more carbon than they emit, making it the ideal material for fuel.

Transfer from the Bog

‘Bogs’ are found where the ground surface water is acidic and low in nutrients. The ‘Fen’ is alkaline and therefore is not a ‘Bog’ in the true sense of the word. Usually, these bogs are ‘cloud fed’, which means they receive all their water and nutrients from rainfall and other precipitation, rather than from streams or springs. You find such environments as these are isolated from the surrounding landscape, and as rain is acidic and very low in nutrients, they become home to organisms that are tolerant of acidic, low-nutrient environments. The water content in these bogs are directly related to their climate and are not dependent on flowing streams or rivers, therefore it is the temperature that dictates how quickly water evaporates from these bog-lands.

Any water flowing out of the bogs has a characteristic brown colour that is derived from the dissolved peat tannins. But because of the low fertility and cool climate, there is relatively slow plant growth in the bogs, which also means decay is slower in the saturated soil and, therefore, the turf accumulates, and large areas of the bog landscape can be covered in peat to the depth of many metres. The bog, however, is not just important for the resources that can be recovered there. They have distinct animal, fungal and plant species that are unique to those areas and are of high importance for biodiversity in such areas that would otherwise be settled and farmed.

Turf, nevertheless, is the chief resource of the bog-lands of Ireland. As has been said it is an organic fuel that is created by accumulation and partial decomposition of vegetable matter in areas where the climate is, for the most part, wet and mild, and the drainage is poor. Turf, or Peat, deposits are the first stage in the formation of coal and, if the climate was drier the turf would dry quicker and decompose more quickly. But, currently, the moisture that is retained in the ground does not allow the vegetable matter to completely decompose. Turf, then, in its natural state is ninety to ninety-five percent water, and in the summertime, it is cut into blocks with a specially created spade and set in stacks to dry. When they are dry, the blocks of turf weigh between three-quarters of a pound to two pounds each. This dried peat is brought home by the cutter and placed on the fire, where it burns with a smoky flame and a very distinct, pleasant, odour.

The turf was the primary source of heating and cooking in Ireland for many centuries and great tracts of bog-land once covered the country. Today, bog-land covers about fifteen percent of Ireland, though in Counties such as Mayo large expanses of bog can still be found. Turf brings back lovely childhood memories for me as I can recall days visiting relatives in Sluggan, outside Carrickmore. I remember, as a young boy, helping as best as I could with the back-breaking work of cutting, stacking, drying, bagging and storing the turf for winter. Each morning of my short stay, my aunt would drag me out of comfortable bed to get ready for work in the bog. Though hard work, it was like an adventure to me as a young boy as I heard the men tell stories, make jokes, and talk about country life. The hot black tea from a tin mug and the soda bread and wheaten sandwiches were a treat that you could not help looking forward to when you saw my aunt coming over the brow of the hill with everything to hand.

For the hearth and for the cooking range the turf was harvested from the bog. It was all done by hand, using a two-sided spade called a “Sleán” to slice blocks of the turf from the bog. And, by God, it was hard, time-consuming work that in years gone by required entire families to be involved in the process. The turf was cut three blocks at a time, and you could hear the squelch of the spade in the still air, as it lifted in and out of the bog. The aim of the cutter was always to leave a ‘straight-face’ in the cutting for the next cutter who followed. Each turf cutter was followed along the bank by a ‘lifter’ who lifted the sods onto the bank where they were to dry. It was an important job because the lifter had to ensure that the wet turf sods weren’t broken as they were transferred to the bank.

The sods were left to dry on the bank until the sods of turf were able to develop a ‘skin’ thick enough to stop them breaking. It took every available hand to gather enough fuel to sustain the family throughout the cold winter months, for there was not just the cutting, but also the drying of the turf to a stage when it would light when it was needed.

There was a definite art to standing the sods of turf upright and leaning them against each other in a process that was called ‘footing’ the turf. This was usually started about a fortnight after the turf was cut, weather permitting, and this was an activity that involved all the family. ‘Footing’ was a back-breaking activity that involved four sods being lifted at one time and ‘footed’ together, which meant stacking them together in a pyramid style to allow air to circulate around the sods.

Then, when thoroughly dry, the sods are ready for ‘Rickling’. This process took place about a week later, but it could only take place when the sods were sufficiently solid. ‘Rickling’ was like building a wall with eight or nine sods of turf. Three sods laid in a horizontal row East-West with approximately one sod space between them. These were then topped with a further three placed North-South, followed by another two or three placed East-West on top. Although there are a lot fewer people who cut turf these days, in some the western counties of Ireland turf stacks can still be seen in the summer months, balancing against each other to dry out in the wind and the sun. Once the turf is deemed dry enough it is gathered together and brought to a turf barn or shed for storing. Some of the turf is also bagged and sold by individuals and shops to those not fortunate to have a turf-bog of their own. Either way, the sods will probably not see a match until the cold days of winter set in.

Conclusion

One terrible story, concerning the harvesting of turf, concerns the Irish peasantry during the years of the ‘Great Potato Famine’, 1845-1850. As we have seen, even in recent times cutting turf and saving it is hard and exhausting work and a day in the bog is still a daunting prospect for any person. So many of the Irish peasantry were starving with hunger and weakened by the lack of food that they were too weak to work at any job, let alone harvesting turf. This, of course, resulted in the Irish Peasant having an inadequate supply of fuel for the winter months, particularly the of extreme and bitterly cold temperatures experienced in 1846-1847. Those who did not die of hunger and disease and were evicted by heartless landlords froze to death in their thousands at the side of country roads throughout Ireland. The lucky ones were those with energy enough to salvage cowpats, dry them and burn them to provide some heat.

Today the majority of turf cutting is carried out by large companies, such as ‘Bord na Mona’ for large energy creation plants, peat briquettes and even compost for gardens. Their work is done by huge machines in the vast bogs of that cover Ireland’s inland counties.  Nevertheless, you can still see turf stacks in many places in the West, even places along the coast. Most foreign visitors to Ireland will only experience the glory of a glowing turf fire and its pleasant aroma in the family-run country pubs these days. It is a sad fact that because it is not a smokeless fuel turf has been banned from our major population centres. If the present trend continues it will mean that finding a turf fire will be like hunting the ‘Loch Ness Monster’, for even the poteen distillers have abandoned turf for bottled butane gas. That’s what is affecting the taste …

Cailleach

In Gaelic mythology ‘Cailleach is’ Irish for “hag”. A divine hag, a creator deity and weather deity, and an ancestor deity. In Irish lore, she goes under many names, including Digde, Milucra, Birog, Buach, etc. The word itself is found as a component in many Terms, such as cailleach-dhubh (“nun”); cailleach-oidhche (“owl”); cailleach feasa (“wise woman, fortune-teller”); and cailleach phiseogach (“sorceress, charm-worker”).

The Cailleach displays several traits that would be typical of winter, herding deer, she fights spring, and her staff freezes the ground. Alongside and in partnership with the goddess Brighde, the Cailleach is seen as a seasonal deity or spirit, ruling the winter months between Samhain (1 November or the first day of winter) and Bealtainn (1 May or the first day of summer), while Brìghde rules the summer months between Bealltainn and Samhainn. It is said that the Cailleach turns to stone on Bealltainn and takes human form again on Samhainn, just in time to rule over the winter months.

Depending on local climate, the transfer of power between the winter goddess and the summer goddess is celebrated any time between Là Fhèill Brìghde (1 February) at the earliest, Latha na Cailliche (25 March), or Bealltainn (1 May) at the latest, and the local festivals marking the arrival of the first signs of spring may be named after either the Cailleach or Brìghde.  Là Fhèill Brìghde is also said to be the day when the Cailleach gathers her firewood for the rest of the winter. Legend has it that if she intends to make the winter last a good while longer, she will make sure that the weather on 1 February is bright and sunny so she can gather plenty of firewood to keep herself warm in the coming months. As a result, people are generally relieved if Là Fhèill Brìghde is a day of foul weather, as it means the Cailleach is asleep, will soon run out of firewood, and therefore winter is almost over.

Traditionally, in Ireland, the first farmer to finish the grain harvest made a ‘Corn Dolly’, representing the Cailleach, from the last sheaf of the crop. The figure would then be tossed into the field of a neighbour who had not yet finished bringing in their grain. The last farmer to finish had the responsibility to take in and care for the corn dolly for the next year, with the implication that they would have to feed and house the hag all winter, so the competition was fierce to avoid having to take in the Old Woman.

There are some who believe the Old Irish poem, ‘The Lament of the Old Woman of Beara’ speaks of Cailleach. It was said that she had fifty foster-children in Beare. She was said to have had seven periods of youth one after another so that every man who had lived with her came to die of old age, and her grandsons and great-grandsons were tribes and races.