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16 October 2014
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Christmas Rhymers
Mummers Play

This play came to Ireland in the 1600s and is related to the medieval mystery plays.

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Mummers Play

This play came to Ireland in the 1600s and is related to the medieval mystery plays. Up until about 40 years ago the mummers used to perform on Christmas Eve in most areas of the province. Many people still remember the mummers coming to their house. Do you? Or have you ever participated?

Irish mummer (member of The Armagh Rhymers)
Irish mummer
(member of The Armagh Rhymers)
It was mainly men who took part and they would dress up in elaborate costumes, the primary purpose of which was disguise, as they usually performed in their own area. Contrary to popular belief the costumes were not all straw or wickerwork, but varied with each character. One would wear a top hat, another armour, yet another sported a 'copper nose'. Each carried a different item such as a broom, a frying pan or a club. Only one was in the full straw regalia and he was called, of course, 'Jack Straw'.

The group would visit various houses in the area with the 'Captain' arriving first to clear a space in one of the rooms (and also to ensure there were no young children who would be frightened by the sight of these strangely masked men).

The original point of the play has been lost in time, but would appear to have been a way of taking 'luck' to the houses visited.


Mummers performing in Mayday celebrations in the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, Co. Down (M Johnston)
Mummers performing in the Mayday celebrations in the
Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, Co. Down

YOUR RESPONSES

Raymond Adams - Feb '07
Hi there i dont remember the mummers as i was from glasgow but my relations lived at ervey school house anniemary frank francie and oliver gerrald my grand mother was the late sara leitch and my mother who just passed away aweek ago freda leitch (adams)i am her son raymond so i am looking for info or pics about old ervey school house if anyone has any please send to me at raymadms@aol.com thanks there take care

Ernie Swain - Dec '06
Sheena McCann: If you contact me, I'll send you the version of the Mummers Play which the Ards Rhymers have developed over the last 25 years and perform each year, coming up to Christmas. We will be performing in Enniskillen tomorrow (Sat 08 Dec)!

Sheena McCann - Nov '06
Could someone please send me the rhyme for the Christmas Rhymers.

Paddy McGuckian - April '06
The McGuckian family appreciate the comments about their father and husband.

Willie Curran - Dec '05
I lived in Ervey - Co Derry
Mummers or Christmas Rhymers as we called them were very popular up until the early sixties. As stated in your article only one character was dressed in straw (Jack Straw). I remember some of the other characters... Prince George, Doctor, Devil Doubt.
Each group had to have a singer and maybe an accordion.

Anne - Dec '05
In the late seventies and into the eighties a group of mummers from the Belcoo area did the rounds of houses in the area. Have to say I found it all a bit creepy and primitive but I suppose it was keeping a very old tradition alive even if it did interupt the latest episode of Kojak at a key moment. No offence Mummers - I was only a shallow teenager.

Ted Wilmont - July '05
My late Father used to tell us of him and friends doing the christmas rhyming as a boy in co Antrim. On christmas nights he would recite many of the parts he could still recall. I would really like to hear from anyone who has any information, especially words as I can only recall snippets.

Condor - December '04
St Malachy's Primary School, Armagh. Every Christmas the children did singing and plays and the children in P7 always did the mummers. The rest of the school was buzzing for it and when they went on the dinner hall would erupt with excited children. It was the same play year after year, nothing changed, probably due to the excellent foresight of headmaster Paddy Hamill. I went back into the school last year and sneaked into the store room in the dinner hall and there up on the top shelf was the big head prop (sorry to those who didn't go to the school as you haven't a clue what I'm on about).
And then afterwards a certain duo would get up and do a turn, Mark would sing Elvis songs and Barry would do the dancing. Excellent memories.

Melanie Clarke - December '04
The late Mr. Patrick McGuckian (once principal at St. Patricks P.S, Portrush) taught my class this play. He was a wonderful man who took us for drama once a week. We would all look forward to Thursday afternoon in our wee lunch hall and practice. I can remember my lines even to this day "Here comes I Prince George from England have I sprung; I've fought many warriors and always have I won. Show me the man who dares before me stand". Fantastic!! Long may this tradition of teaching our Irish kids this play, go on forever.


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