Christmas day, Gifts, Feasting and the Mummers

Fermanagh –


Lombe Atthil writing about the Christmas of his youth,  in Fermanagh, in the 1830s;

‘Christmas seemed a glorious time, but what my grandchildren would think of the Christmas-boxes with which I was content, I can well imagine, for the nearest shop at which presents could be bought was fourteen miles off, and even then the choice was of the poorest kind. But then there was a splendid plum pudding as big as a small haycock; this would be carried in all aflame. There were mince pies, too, home-made cakes, etc., and for us youngsters a bottle of home-made gooseberry wine.

Party of Mask Mummers-x350-M-1288

Then I have vivid recollections of bands of boys being admitted to the kitchen at Christmas time, dressed up fantastically to the best of their ability, and called “mummers”; and of the excitement of us children, when the servant would, some evening between Christmas and Twelfth Night, enter the drawing-room and utter the almost magic words, “the mummers have come.” Down we would rush to find the kitchen cleared, the servants ranged around the wall, and the table brought to one end for us to stand on.

These mummers were boys farmers’ and labourers’ sons residing in the district, and were of course poorly clad, but decorated with scraps of coloured calico and ribbon sewed on here and there, and I think they wore paper caps of various shapes. They came into the kitchen one by one, each reciting some scrap of doggerel verse, and when the whole band had come in they danced in some fantastic way on the flagged kitchen floor. Then, a little money being given them, they went their way to some farmer’s house, at which they might hope to receive a trifle. One of the rhymes has fixed itself in my memory, probably because it frightened me. A boy about thirteen, farther better got-up than the others, with a frying-pan in his hand, on one occasion entered, strutted into the centre of the floor, and turning to face us, Said,-

“Here come I little devil doubt;

Under my arm I carry a clout;

In my hand a dripping-pan;

Money I want and money I crave,

If you don’t give me money,

I’ll sweep all to grave.”’

Recollections of an Irish doctor, 1907