May Day Pistogues

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If you happen to see a strip of hawthorn bush draped with May flowers and eggshells before a cottage door, you will know that this simple custom is a pardonable – and permissable – factor in the queer rites and customs that once characterized the first day of May, in olden times.

You may have heard the word ‘pistogues’.  If you haven’t, I’ll tell you what they are/were.  Pistogues are little acknowledgements of the existence of the supernatural and the embodiment of witchcraft that often accompanied it here:  a kind of appeasement of the gods that ruled the destinies of earlier inhabitants, who themselves were past masters in the art of witchery and spell-casting – even hypnotism.  Only last Saturday, outside the Craft Fair at An Cuan in Rostrevor, my friend Leontia Keogh befriended a practitioner who wanted to exercise his art.  And exorcise some alleged demons.  With what results, I have yet to learn!

If you want to see some such pistogues, pay a visit to St Bridget’s Well in the graveyard at Faughart!

It tempers one’s scepticism somewhat to reflect that maybe those old rite of May Day were the remnants of the art of the ancient peoples – transmuted somewhat by the ravages of centuries.  May Day was a day when ordinary mortals could empower themselves with these forces of the supernatural to cast spells – and the like – on their neighbours. I was in conversation with an old fella of my acquaintace on the subject.

‘”Ye know, ye daren’t put the May Bush up on May Day itself,” he whispered, his sunken eyes leaving spirals of wrinkles on the eye sockets now gawping through dust and the exhaust fumes of a passing car.  He peered as though into the dim centuries of mysticism, as a pronounced quietitude and peace gathered shadow over the bog.

“Why can’t I, if I like?”  I asked, foolishly.  I cannot interpret his withering stare.

“Sure man, you’d have the divil’s own luck if you done that!  Man, sure , they used to say it wasn’t right to plack a May flower afore May Day.

Och, aye, t’was all right te pluck them to put on the May Bush.  THAT was no harm at all.  Not a bit.

More ….

Quigley Concert: The Brodsky Quartet : Tues 12th Feb

Newry Chamber Music visits the Sandys Street Presbyterian Church next Tuesday evening 12th February at 8 pm for a concert from the highly-acclaimed Brodsky Quartet.

Over forty years on the circuit, and named after the great Russian violinist A Brodsky, they have notched up over 4,000 concerts and released more than 60 recordings.

We are delighted and honoured that they have now chosen to play in Newry.

Please ensure a full house on the night by encouraging your friends to come.

The programme on the night will include pieces by Copland and George Gershwin, Samuel Barber’s String Quartet and the “American” Quartet by Dvorak.

We look forward to your company for the evening.

Newry Film Club: Incendies

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This Wednesday at 7.30 pm in the Arts Centre, Newry Film Club presents their latest offering, the highly-acclaimed film Incendies.

A mother’s last wish sends twins Jeanne and Simon on a journey to the Middle East in search of their tangled roots.

The film tells the powerful and moving story of two young adults’ voyage to the core of deep-rooted hatred, never-ending wars … but also enduring love.

It was adapted from the play of Wajdi Mouawad, of the same name.

Newry Film Club

The next film of Newry Film Club is on Wednesday night (7th November) at the usual time of 7.30pm.

We are showing ‘The Awakening’, a supernatural thriller directed by Nick Murphy and starring Rebecca Hall and Dominic West.

The movie is set in 1921 England where Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) is a published author on supernatural hoaxes who works with the police to expose charlatans and debunk supernatural phenomenon, having begun her foray into her profession upon the death of her lover in World War I.

Upon a visit from Robert Malory (Dominic West), a teacher from a boarding school with the request to investigate the recent death of a student and how it is related to sightings of a ghost of a child, she travels to the school hoping to explain the sightings and the death.

Initially, the mystery surrounding the ghost appears nothing more than a schoolboy prank, but as Florence continues to investigate events at the school, she begins to believe that her reliance on science may not be enough to explain the strange phenomenon going on around her.

A film sure to haunt you indefinitely ….

Noble Ploughman: .. end …

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Since man first turned the soil with his crude spade, revolutionary changes have merged into a progress which has created new worlds above the soil.  But it is still the same soil, and generally speaking producing the same foodstuffs for generally the same purpose.

As each scrape rises, turns and is folded over by the board, the furrow is fresh with dark-brown soil, from which rises a not unpleasant but queerly sour scent of earth.  One is gradually minded of some great rtevelation being unfolded:  as if the invisible veil of Time itself were being drawn off the great facts, the sacrifices and the stories now in the cold print of the history books.  One even feels the close, natural kinship which exists between man and earth – of which only those in constant communion with the earth are aware.

The land was dug with spades before the plough was invented.  When I see fields that, within living memory, were spade-dug by man, I marvel at such herculean tasks.  Ploughs then were few and far between.

There are a few wooden ploughs still retained for sentimental reasons or as museum pieces.  The spade was not been done away with.  It is still used for gardens and allotments and for digging round stones which the plough must pass over.  I have seen ploughmen with fast teams thrown clear of the handles after hitting such a stone.  Though most of the great ones are well-known.  Their location is passed down from generation to generation – as is the location of underground shores or drains.

” …. an’ about two perches out from the big bush in Paddy’s Hill field there’s a bad stone!  Now, watch yourself there!  I remember being thrown … “

It is such hidden stones that make the blacksmith’s forge “thronged ground” during the ploughing season, for almost everyone who enters has a sock to be mended or ‘squared’ or pointed with steel.  The ‘sock’ by the way is a detachable part of the plough which fits onto the sole-plate and which cuts the scrape underneath.  The ‘coulter’ – an iron knife on the forward beam, slices the sod.

In the forge the men talk of the incidents which occurred during their labours that day; about teams, ploughs and horses; and then go to their homes with the mended socks in readiness for renewed work the next day.

It seems a humble calling:  but all great labours are remote and inconspicuous.  For the song of the plough sings gently of the most distinguished labour in the civilized world.  Men labour that men may live when clay-clogged footsteps walk in fresh brown furrows after a team of pulling horses.

… end …