To the child’s eye, the Mummers were characterised by fantastic hats and costumes, flowing beards, long coats – many worn inside out, black and painted and masked faces, oddly behaved and strangely dressed women, underwear worn on the outside, sword fights in tiny kitchens and a vague sense of threat. They were, I suppose, the precursors of our modern amateur drama groups but the general gist of their scripts were ancient and handed-down. There was also ready room for improvisation and adaptation, copied now in the drama of pantomime.
In his notes, the collector T G F Patterson refers to the similarities and differences of Cast and Performance of two groups with which he was familiar between the wars. The Drumcree Players (yes, that Drumcree) had the following cast:
St George red tunic, white trousers, sword, plumed hat
Turk black tunic, white trousers, green beret (turkey feathers) sword
Old Woman red flannel petticoat, shawl, stick
Cromwell red coat, white trousers, sword, huge false nose
S Patrick gilt crozier, robe decorated with gold and silver paper
Beelzebub black coat, white trousers, club in hand, frying pan
Big Belly huge padded trousers and wearing long beard
Divil Doubt red coat, white trousers, blackened face, besom in hand
John Funny all in white, red hat, carrying money-box
Locals note in bygone days the characters wore plaited straw hats with coloured streamers and feathers and had their limbs encased in straw ropes; shirts or coats were worn inside out. This fairly describes the costumes of Sheetrim, Cullyhanna of later (1930s-1940s) times.
Patterson said that the Ballymore-Mullavilly Rhymers (not far removed) were dressed more in that traditional way, long shirts over their ordinary clothes tied at the waist by a twisted straw rope or coloured scarf and all carried swords made from the backs of scythes. Hats were usually made from old-fashioned strong white (7-14 lb) paper flour bags adorned with coloured streamers. Others wore ‘dunce’s-cap’ headgear similarly decorated. The bottom half of bodies were neatly encased in ‘leggings’ of straw ropes or in long women’s stockings. Their characters were similar to those of Drumcree with the addition of Turk’s Father and Big Head with Divily Doubt substituting for his namesake above!
I’ll beat him up,
I’ll hack him as small as any fly
An’ throw him to the divil
To make a Christmas pie.
What are you but St Peter’s stable boy
Who fed his horse on oats an’ hay
For seven days, then ran away.
That’s a lie, St George!
Take out your purse to pay, Sir
Take out your sword to try, Sir,
I’ll run my dagger through your heart
Or make you run away, Sir.
They fight. The Turk falls. A doctor is called.
I can cure, the plague within, the plague without
The pip, the pop, the palsy and the gout
Lumbaga, sciatic and dicktolleroo
Moreover I can make an oul’ woman on critches
Burst her britches
Leppin’ over stones hedges and whitethorn ditches.
An’ what medicine do you use, Sir?
I use the heart and liver of a creepy stool
The brains of an anvil
The giblets of a dish cloth
Put that in a wran’s bladder
Stir carefully with a cat’s feather
Take that fourteen fortnights before day
An’ if that doesn’t cure ye, I’ll ask no pay
Moreover I’ve a little bottle on the end of my cane
Hocus, pocus, Sally Campane
Rise up, dead man, and fight again!