Corn Dolly

corn dolly newry

The last stalks of corn were cut an’ when they wur  plaited they wur taken to the house.  Then there wus singin’ and fun.


An’ all wud sing be ear but there wus one man cud do it be note.  He wus called ‘Geordie Look-Up’ because of he’s way of walkin’ an’ all the neighbourin’ ladies wud be there till hear him.

Read moreCorn Dolly



I was driving on the outskirts of Newtown’ one Sunday afternoon recently when for the first time I encountered a Bullets match. 

The group of affable and enthusiastic young men were solicitous to direct my oncoming car safely through, but I quickly pulled in to the grass verge and got out, to signify my interest in the game in hand.  With military regimen the contest resumed.

Read moreBullets

Lug Bhan Fada


Louth County Council is to be commended on its recent renovation work at this historic site.  Lug Bhan Fada or “The Long Woman’s Grave” now has car parking space (unfortunately, as yet, loose stone) and the following legend on granite in tribute to the Spanish Lady.

Read moreLug Bhan Fada

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.

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!

Newry Journal