‘Heartsore imagining the years without
The Doctor, Darkie and Wee Devil Doubt.’
This couplet from Hewitt’s ‘An old woman remembers.. Christmas 1941’ reminded me of my earlier promise to return to the story of the Mummers. They were also known as the Christmas Rhymers. My mother recalls their visits to her home in Sheetrim, Cullyhanna in the 1930’s and, bless her, still has a few of their rhymes. The characters altered a little (or is it my memory, asks Eileen?) with the latter named then known as Wee Dibbley Doubt, and the Doctor given the surname Brown..
‘Here comes I, Doctor Brown
I’m the best doctor that’s in the town..’
She doesn’t recall any Cromwell, though with the big, false nose, he was a persistent character in most localities. There was however a Jack Straw and a Funny Face. Nor does Mother remember any barbs directed at local characters or political personalities, but she would hardly have understood then being just a young girl.
In addition to being a continuation of long custom and tradition, the Mummers were a much appreciated travelling drama troupe in a country area that had none other. This one had no costume department and the characters were dressed in apparel they made themselves, with much straw ropes in view, coats worn inside out and hats garnered with wisps of hay. The sword fight scene was common to all, the injury requiring the entry of the Doctor. Some had soot-blackened faces which gave us the character of Darkie. I haven’t yet evinced from Mum the name of any of the songs they rendered. Can anyone help?
I am envious of course, the modern re-enactment scarcely making up for the kitchen drama, learning the songs and rhymes, guessing real identities behind the costumes and masks etc. The entry of Johnny Funny sadly presaged the entertainment’s end, there following just the choral rendition of tribute and thanks to the home’s master and mistress.
‘Here comes I, Johnny Funny
I’m the man that lifts the money
All silver, no brass
Bad ha’pence won’t pass
Send the farthings to Belfast’.
All gather round to finish..
‘God bless the master of this house
Likewise the mistress too.
May their barns be filled with wheat and corn
And their hearts be always true.
A Merry Christmas is our wish
Where’er we do appear
To you a well-filled purse
A well-filled dish
And a happy, bright New Year.’
Which is our greeting to all our patrons on Newry Journal!