Cursed in the Seven Languages!

There was a man once set out to market with a few bags of corn.  It was the early hours when the sun hadn’t riz yit and the dew clung to his eyelashes like cold rain.  As he came to the graveyard he saw two cats sitting facing each other on the wall.
‘That’s a damp breed o’ a mornin”, says one cat, stiffening the man with fear.
”Tis,’ he muttered trippingly.
‘Where are ye for?’ asked the other cat.
‘The town’, the man answered, stupefied and gawking at them both.
‘Well, turn back and tell your wife that Craw Luk is dead.’
Glad to escape from such unearthly cats the man turned his horse and galloped home.  His wife saw him coming so fast and ran out in dread.  He couldn’t answer her rush of questions.  He slumped into a chair in the room.
‘A.. a… drink.. of water’, he begged.
When he had drank he told her, in stumbled words, of the two cats, while his own black cat sat on the hob winking at the burning turf and gazing now and then at the man in drowsy glances.
‘An’ one cat told me to tell you… that Craw Luk is dead!’
‘Craw Luk!  Craw Luk!’ screeched his own cat.  ‘Me own grandfather!!’
And it instantly began to whine and cry.
The man realised at once that his own cat was no right animal.  Later he went to the master of the Big House who had a pack of hounds and told him the whole story.
‘I see,’ said the master.  ‘Well, let you put your cat in a bag saying you are taking it to the graveyard wall to meet the other cats – and that you’re afraid the neighbours might wonder why you’re fetching a cat, and that’s the reason for the bag.  I’ll be there with the hounds and we’ll soon see what sort of a cat you have.’
The man did as he was told.  As he came to the crossroads the hounds began to yelp and the cat in the bag scratched and whined.  In a human voice it said,
‘Tom, if you let the cat outta the bag, I’ll cut your bluddy throat!’
But the man dumped it out in the middle of the hounds and away goes the chase.  Crossing a ditch one of the hounds bit a piece out of the cat’s thigh but it escaped nevertheless and was seen to leap through the open window of an old house on the mountain-side.
And when the men reached the house, all they found was an old woman spinning. 
But there was blood on the floor beside her thigh. 
And they say she just cursed them in the Seven Languages.

Originally posted 2004-12-22 00:00:00. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

The Mummers


The poem of John Hewitt reproduced below is particularly poignant for me, because my mother remembers the Christmas Rhymers at Sheetrim in the very same time period, that is, c.1941, and the fictional, often historical characters they played out.  There will be more on the Mummers, as they also were called, later, and the script of their dramas.


For now, enough to congratulate Pat Maginn of Bessbrook who revived the custom and has a Rhymers Group, and the Armagh Rhymers, who are excellent and whose costumes are highly impressive – perhaps just a little too polished!  Hewitt called his poem


The Christmas Rhymers, Ballynure, 1941: an old woman remembers


The Christmas Rhymers came again last year,

wee boys with blackened faces at the door,

not like those strapping lads that would appear,

dressed for the mummers’ parts in times before,

to act the old play on the kitchen floor;

at warwork now or fighting overseas,

my neighbours sons; there’s hardly one of these

that will be coming back here any more.


I gave them coppers, bid them turn and go;

and as I watched that rueful regiment

head for the road, I felt that with them went

those songs we sang, the rhymes we used to know,

heartsore imagining the years without

The Doctor, Darkie and Wee Divil Doubt.


In case you’re labouring under the misconception that there is no Ulster-Scots culture or tradition, let me inform you that John Hewitt is right there, to the forefront, and one of my favourite poets!

Originally posted 2004-06-19 00:00:00. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Civil ‘tinkers’

Sam Woods of Ballinalack was on his way home from Newry one time in his horse and cart when he came upon an old woman lying as dead in the middle of the road.  It was Mary Kelly.

Some locals helped him to unhook a nearby barn door and she was carried into the home of the Savages and laid out in front of the kitchen stove.  They managed to revive her and so prove she had not died.  She was fed a little warm milk.  Soon she was able to sit up at the table and eat a meal.  After having warmed herself at the stove a while she refused all offers of a bed for the night and insisted she must ‘push on’.  
Before she left she pressed a penny into the palm of the child of the house.  With nods and frowns behind backs the child was warned to accept with grace.  This was her way of retrieving her dignity and self-worth.

I was often as a youth called a tinker by adults and teachers alike, a term then denoting mischievous behaviour.  But tinkers were travelling people who made a living by mending pots and pans.
Nailey Rice was really a tinker by trade.  He still carried solder and a soldering iron.  He was a very lean, old man who at one time had had a wife and a house but had lost one and left the other.  People kept damaged buckets and pots against Nailey’s return. 
He had a very loud voice and once distressed a feeble-minded old man of the house he was working at.  The girl of the house cautioned him to lower his voice as ‘it annoys my father’s head’.
Nailey gave a lep into the middle of the road and bate the tin with the soldering iron!
‘What wud he do if there was thunder?’ he bellowed.

Gypsy woman called for alms to our doors in the Estates of the Sixties.
‘Missus, can ye spare a few coppers, for the love of God?’
They got a very mixed reception generally.  I remember them as clean and well-spoken usually, if over-obsequious.  They were always treated kindly at our home.  But my mother was reared ‘in the country’!
This was back when their encampment was on the Fathom Road near Drumalane.  A friend of mine who was their neighbour still speaks very highly of them.  They just got ‘a bad press’.

Originally posted 2005-01-03 00:00:00. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Pulling the Flax Plant

‘There wasn’t a lot of flax-growing in Fathom those days. 

It’s a very stalky plant, dark green at first, turning light green.  It produces a lovely blue flower.  It was the phloem – inside – of the plant that was valuable as linen thread.  Harvesters pulled it physically out of the ground.  It was gathered in bunches -beets, they were called – sheaves about two feet in diameter.  There were twelve beets to a stook, the twelfth laid crosswise over the others, to determine the dozen.  It was a hard pull, especially from clay soil that hardened in the summer time. 

Read morePulling the Flax Plant

Originally posted 2004-02-10 00:00:00. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Street Rhymes


Skipping, hop-scotch and juggling up to three balls against a wall were the exclusive pursuits of young girls in my day.  All were accompanied by rhymes either short or long.  I was envious that this ‘poetry’ was not for us boys, and gob-smacked that every girl knew them all by heart.  I would be delighted if any older ‘girl’ who remembers those I do not, would contact the Journal with their words!  Below are just a few that I do recall.

When I was young I had no sense
I bought a fiddle for eighteen pence
But the only tune that I could play
Was ‘Over the hills and far away’.

Read moreStreet Rhymes

Originally posted 2004-03-02 00:00:00. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Healing Heather Wine

Legend has it that certain heathers from Slieve Gullion contain a cure for rheumatism and pains.  I can say no more for it is a secret!
Indeed at one time there was a fine wine with healing powers that could be made from certain of these heathers.  The invaders, in their anxiety to get their hands on the recipe, slew all who refused to divulge the secret.  
Finally there remained on Slieve Gullion only a father and a son who knew the way.  They were seized and ruthlessly tortured and the father hastily agreed to reveal the secret if only his son was killed before his eyes, so that he might be certain of his death.  He gave as explanation the fear that the boy might escape and spread word over the land of the father’s infidelity.  
The invaders did as he asked.  Then the father stood up defiantly. 
‘He was too young to bear your tortures without at last divulging the secret,’ he cried.
‘Now he is dead I alone know the secret.
Kill me now, if you like for I’ll never tell.’
After further pitiless torturing, he was killed.  And the secret died with him forever.

Originally posted 2004-11-15 00:00:00. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Newry Journal