Belcoo Mummers' Play, c.1940

A.Helm & E.C.Cawte (1967) pp.30-35


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Context:
Location: Belcoo, Fermanagh, Northern Ireland (IH0838)
Year: Perf. until about 1940
Time of Occurrence: Christmas
Collective Name: Mummers

Source:

Alex Helm & E.C.Cawte
Six Mummers' Acts
Leicestershire, The Guizer press, 1967, pp.30-35


Cast: (Click on any name for the character name index.)
Text:

Captain*

Room Room Gallant boys,
Give me room to Rhyme,
Till I relate some activities
Of the Christmas Times.
Active young and active age,
The likes of this was never acted on any stage.
If you don't believe in what I say
Enter in Billsie Bub and he'll clear the way.

Billsie Bub

Here comes I, Billsie Bub,
And on my shoulder I carry a club,
And in my hand a frying pan,
I think myself a jolly wee man.
If you don't believe in what I say,
Call in Jack Straw and he'll clear the way.

Jack Straw

Here comes I, Jack Straw,
The funniest man you ever saw.
My father was straw and my mother was straw,
So why shouldn't I be straw too.
So if you don't believe in what I say,
Call in Grand Turk and he'll clear the way.

Grand Turk

Here comes I Grand Turk,
From Turkey land I came.
I came to fight the champion,
Prince George is his name.

{Enter Prince George}

{or in place of Grand Turk, Green Knight now takes his place.}

[Green Knight]

Here comes I, Green Knight,
With my sword and armour bright.
My body's made of iron,
My hands are made of steel,
My fists are made of knecklebone,
I am commanding of the field.

Prince George

Here comes I, Prince George,
From England I have come.
Many battles have I taught in.
Many battles I have won.

Grand Turk

That's a lie, sir!

Prince George

Put up your sword and try it!
I will run my rusty rapier through your heart and let you die away, sir!

Captain Doctor! Doctor! Ten Pounds for a doctor!

{Doctor enters}

Doctor

Here comes I, pure and good.

Captain

What can you cure, Doctor

Doctor

I can cure the plague within, the plague without, the palsy and the gout.

Captain

What medicine do you use, Doctor?

Doctor

The heart and liver of a creepy stool,
Put into a wren's blether
And stir it with a cat's feather.
Take that fourteen fortnights before day
And if that does not cure you I ask no pay.
So, Hokis pokis, ali come pain,
Rise up young man, and fight again.

Captain

Wonderful! Wonderful! The likes I have never seen
A man of seven senses driven into seventeen.
Whether be a wolf, whether be a bear,
For I am the only king's son and heir.

{Enter Big Head}

Big Head

Here comes I that didn't come yet,
Big Head and Little Wit.
Although my head is big and my body is small,
I will play you a tune that will please you all.

{Two of the mummers dance, and sometimes songs,' The Rose of Tralee', 'The Man who broke the Bank at Monte Carlo', 'The Boys of Armagh' and possibly 'Kitty of Coleraine' were sung.}

{Enter in Biddy Funny}

Biddy Funny

Here comes I, Biddy Funny,
With my long black bag that carries the money.
Money I want and money I crave,
If you don't give me money
I will send you all to an early grave.


Notes:

Helm and Cawte's Introduction:

"Fermanagh Straw Boys

Recent work being done by the Irish Folklore Commission the Ulster Folk Museum Staff and private collectors has greatly increased our knowledge of the Play in Ireland. All known examples are Hero-Combat texts, no Sword Dance or Wooing actions have come to light, and it is almost certain that none existed. The Play in Ireland is only found in areas of English or Scottish settlement, all are in English with no hint of Gaelic texts, and it is evident that the Play was taken to Ireland by settlers from Great Britain. There is some evidence of an earlier Irish ceremony which contained a death and resurrection. This could be an indigenous custom which was overlaid by the new importation. As in England, there is regional variation in texts and characters in the Irish ceremonies, and this example, typical of its county of origin, is reproduced from the collector's own manuscript, unaltered.

Belcoo Mummers' Play

Collected by Mrs Jennifer Robinson 1965, from Mr Ted De Lacy, a performer in his youth. The play was performed regularly until about 1940, and Mr De Lacy thought that the Border situation finally killed it. Passes were not Issued to troupes to move backwards and forwards over the Border, and the gangs of disguised men were not popular with the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The mummers came out on or before December 26th for about a week and collected funds to celebrate on their big night, January 6th. There were several neighbouring teams and much rivalry as to who could 'do' a village first and get the most generous contributions. A good team would consist of anything up to eighteen performers and possibly several musicians; extra characters used on occasion at Belcoo were Tommy Stout, Devil Dout and The Linnet, the last being the singer. Other odd characters were invented if there were a lot of extras in some years, and they made up rhymes to fit their names. They came in at the end. Green Knight replaced Grand Turk In the team's later days.

Belcoo is on the Fermanagh/Cavan border and is fairly remote from any big town, the nearest being Ennisklllen. The team toured as large an area as their legs or available trans- port could make It, and the men came from Belcoo and Boho, two neighbouring hamlets, the latter formerly having its own team.

Costume

Captain - A bandolier, made from a flour bag or some such. An odd cap or hat, or a bigger version of the straw hat worn by the others with more horns on the top and more ribbons. Carried a staff to give three knocks on the door at each house.

Doctor - Hard (billycock) hat and black jacket. A beard (artificial) and blackened face.

Jack Straw - 'All over straw'.

Biddy - Funny Female clothes.

Others - As illustration, page 30. Prince George carried a wooden 'rapier' and Grand Turk a wooden 'long sword'.

The faces were either hidden under hats or disguised and the voices were disguised If possible. The hats and the horns on top were lengthened or shortened as required to make the men as far as possible the same height.

Belcoo Mummer

Based on a drawing by Mrs Jennifer Robinson The straw costume worn by these performers is not as elaborate as in other examples from the same county, the straw being confined to the headdress, the belt and knee ties. A correspondent to the Ulster Folk Museum gave a thumbnail sketch of a straw clad mummer which showed that in the area of Drumquin, Co. Tyrone, the mummers wore straw costumes made like the elaborate paper fringes worn at Andover, Hampshire. Similar straw costumes were worn by the Straw Boy in Ireland, who appeared at weddings and danced with the Bride, but had no play text."

Helm and Cawte's Note:

* The text as written down by Mr De Lacy was in continuous prose, but is divided Into verse here for convenience.

Indexer's Notes:

Electronic text (less notes) copied from: http://members.tripod.co.uk/Sandmartyn/mummers1/mum33.htm


File History:
1999 - Scanned by Martyn Collins
13th June 1999 - Marked up by Peter Millington
22nd February 2002 - Proof-read against original and notes added by PTM
10th April 2004 - Missing notes and illustration added by PTM

The recommended URL for this web page is www.folkplay.info/Texts/94ih03dl.htm
Last generated on 26/12/2007 by P.Millington (Peter.Millington1@virgin.net)