Cork –

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Illustration by Niamh Ní Ruairc of Wytchwood Creations, 2016.

William Hackett, 1853;

‘It is not many years since on Samhain’s eve, 31st October, a rustic procession perambulated the district between Ballycotton and Trabolgan, along the coast.

The parties represented themselves as messengers of Muck Olla, in whose name they levied contributions on farmers; as usual they were accompanied by sundry youths, sounding lustily on cows’ horns; at the head of the procession was a figure enveloped in a white robe or sheet, having, as it were, the head of a mare, this personage was called the Láir Bhán, “the white mare,” he was a sort of president or master of ceremonies. A long string of verses was recited at each house.

In the second dispatch we distinctly mentioned two names savouring strongly of paganism, the archaeological reader will understand what they were. Though they did not disturb the decorum of the assembly, they would not have been allowed to be publicly uttered elsewhere, for these people, and, indeed, all our peasantry are very free from any coarse expressions.

The other verses purported to be uttered by a messenger of Muck Olla, in which it was set forth, that, owing to the goodness of that being, the farmer whom they addressed had been prosperous all his life, that his property would continue as long as he was liberal in his donations in honour of Muck Olla; giving a very uninviting account of the state in which his affairs would fall should the Muck Olla withdraw his favour, and visit him with the vengeance certain to follow any illiberal or churlish treatment of his men.

Whether it was owing to the charm of the poetry or the cogency of the appeal, the contributions were in general of a liberal scale, every description of gifts was bestowed, milk, butter, eggs, corn potatoes, wool, &c. To distribute the accumulated store, it was the regular practice for a sort of rural merchant or two to await the return of the group and purchase the whole stock, distributing each share to each according to conventional arrangement of the respective ranks.’

Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries Ireland, 1855.

Although Hackett believed the word Muck Olla to be a deity, the Irish Folklorist, Kevin Danaher, speculates that it could have its root in the Irish word for echo – macalla.

If you would like a print of the above drawing please contact Niamh Ní Ruairc at www.facebook.com/wytchwoodcreations/

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One thought on “Processions, Tributes & the Láir Bhán at Samhain

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