Rhymers in Inishowen

Santa Claus was not the only seasonal visitor to Carndonagh homes in the past, as throughout December, Rhymers would roam from door to door, ready to perform for any household that would welcome them in.

The Rhymers, also known as the Christmas Rhymers or the Mummers in different parts of the country, were a group of local people wearing masks and costumes, who would go from house to house, banging drums and shouting as they went. If they were welcomed into a home, they would perform for the household, reciting a dramatic piece, singing songs, playing instruments and dancing.

Although there were variations in the characters and the script from parish to parish, they were often similar, as in the example of a Rhymer’s script further down the page: the Leader, Black Prince, Prince George, Doctor Brown, the King of Egypt, the Slasher, Saint Patrick, Jack Straw, Devil Doubt, and even Saint Nick himself. 

In this extract from his 1884 diary, John Norris Thompson of Bridge Cottage, Church Road, Carndonagh, recalls the annual visit of the Mummers:

“During the Christmas time, the mummers came out in great force and it used to be great fun to me when the ladies would rush out of their several parlours calling downstairs to their servants to keep the hall door shut, and the warning would come too late, the door sometimes being found ajar, sometimes inadvertently opened and sometimes the maidens in the kitchen were slyly desirous of the fun. Then on would rush the mummers in their fantastic costumes and in would put as many of the accompanying crowd as could find vacant space. I do not now remember all the characters personified. There was Olive Cromwell, Jack Straw, Beelzebub, little Devil Doubt and each with his appropriate thyme thus:

‘Here comes I, little devil doubt.

If you don’t give me money I’ll sweep you all out.

Money I want and money I crave,

If you don’t give me money I’ll sweep you all to your grave,’

– flourishing a huge broom or besom as an accompaniment. Shirts and paper caps profusely adorned with ribbons were worn by the performers except Jack Straw who wore a coat of thatch which completely concealed his form and made him look like a miniature stack of corn.”

The photos included here (courtesy of Seán Beattie) feature the Glengad Rhymers performing in Ballyliffin in December 2002. The Folklore Commission sent representatives up from Dublin to record this performance for their archive.

 

Here we have a copy of a Rhymers script from Drumfries, as transcribed by Kevin Graham:

CHRISTMAS RHYMERS

LEADER:

Room, a room my gallant boys and give me room to rhyme;

I’ve come to show you some activity around this Christmas time.

Act of young and act of age,

The likes of me you saw dancing on a stage.

Stir up that fire and give us light

For in this house we’re going to fight.

And if you don’t believe what I say, enter in Prince George.

 

PRINCE GEORGE:

Yes, yes, here comes I, Prince George. From England I have come.

Many deeds and battles I have fought and always won.

I fought those unruly dragons and brought them to the slaughter;

With my long sword by my side I won the King of Egypt’s daughter.

 

LEADER:

You’re a liar, Sir!

 

PRINCE GEORGE:

Well, if you don’t like to believe in what I say, enter in Black Prince

 

BLACK PRINCE:

Yes, yes, here comes I, Black Prince. From Egypt here I came

To seek my sister whom you, Prince George, have stole away.

 

PRINCE GEORGE:

You’re a liar, Sir!

 

BLACK PRINCE:

Take out your purse and pay or I’ll take out my sword and slay;

For I must have recompense before I go away.

 

PRINCE GEORGE:

Go back, you black Mollohan dog, or with my sword I’ll make you die.

I’ll fill your body full of holes and make your blooming buttons fly.

(slays Black Prince)

 

KING OF EGYPT:

Yes, yes, here comes I the King of Egypt who is so anxious to appear

To seek and find my only son. Ah! I see him slain here.

Who slew him or did him kill?

 

 

PRINCE GEORGE:

‘Twas I that slew him; ‘twas I that did him kill

And on this ground his precious blood did spill.

Please your honour to obtain if you were there I’d do the same.

 

KING OF EGYPT:

Slasher! Slasher, My gallant soldier, step in and defend your Royal King.

 

SLASHER:

Yes, yes, here come I, your gallant soldier. Slasher is my name.

With sword and buckle by my side, I hope to win the game.

And for to fight with you, Prince George, to show that I am able

With my long sword by my side, it is you I will disable.

 

LEADER:

Five pounds for a doctor; ten pounds for a doctor;

Any money for a doctor to cure these weak and wounded men.

 

DOCTOR BROWN:

Yes, yes, here comes I, Doctor Brown,

The best wee Doctor in the town.

 

LEADER:

What’s your cure, Doctor?

 

DOCTOR BROWN:

The sap of the sage, a wild goose’s egg,

The liver of a louse, the brains of a mouse

And the heart’s blood of a wee creepy stool;

All mixed up together with a guinea hen’s feather and a ram’s bleather.

Clap that to your soul as hot, hot as you can thole.

If that doesn’t cure them, the devil can cure them

So long as I get my fee.

Besides all this bring an old maid of four score and ten

With her nose and her toes all to one end

And I’ll make her as neat and complete as a maid of sixteen.

If you don’t believe what I say, enter in St. Patrick

And he’ll soon clear the way.

 

SAINT PATRICK:

Yes, yes, here comes I, St. Patrick, with my arms shining bright.

We fought those famous battles among those weary knights.

Who was there but Prince George’s stable boy

Who fed his horse with oats and hay

For seven years and a day

And then he ran away.

If you don’t believe what I say, enter in Jack Straw

And he’ll soon clear the way.

 

JACK STRAW:

Yes, yes, here comes I, Jack Straw.

Striddle through a riddle, through a reel, through an old spinning wheel;

Through a bag of water, through a sheep-shin shankbone

And then back home again.

If you don’t believe what I say, enter in Devil Doubt.

 

DEVIL DOUBT:

Yes, yes, here comes I, Devil Doubt,

The worst wee devil ever came out.

It’s money I want; it’s money I crave.

If you don’t give me money, I’ll sweep you all to your grave.

Here’s a wee box that speaks without a tongue,

Nine or ten shillings will do it no wrong.

Ladies money, marriage money, wooden half-crown;

There’s nothing like the steady money

And after this a song.

 

LEADER:

We’re all as merry as the birds in June.

Step in old Santa and give us a tune.

 

SANTA:

Yes, yes, here comes I, Santa. I hope you will delay.

I’ll give you a tune on the accordion before I go away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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