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!