1942 Edward Anderson’s Fermanagh Folklore.

Eddie Anderson  1897-1960. Christened Edward Andrew he was the eldest son of Kinawley schoolmaster Andrew Anderson and his wife Mary McHugh. He lived at Corragun, Kinawley and in the 1940s as Éamann Mac Aindréis he contributed a weekly column on the history and folklore of South Fermanagh the Anglo-Celt. The Fermanagh Herald also began to serialise his award-winning collection of folklore on 1 November 1941. Another series began FH 29 October 1949. His youngest brother John Peter, a clerical student died January 1927 and his other brother Francis and sister Mary Kate also died young of TB. Master Andrew Anderson who died on Good Friday 1928 lived at Drumlish and had Donegal author Seumas Mac Manus as a young teacher in his school. Mac Manus regularly sent him copies of his latest publications and mentions the Andersons in his autobiography The Rocky Road to Dublin.   Eddie Anderson married Bridget Gilleece from Gorgesh and they had six children. In the Shadow of Benaughlin, a selection of his writings was edited and published by his grand-daughter Iona McGoldrick in 2013. 82 pages, softback, printed by The Print Factory, Enniskillen. I wrote the introduction and helped to launch a collection of his writings a few years ago. The Fermanagh Herald ran a competition for collections of folklore; there were three winners, Anderson, Jim McVeigh and Paddy Tunney. Jim McVeigh’s collection was published in book form by Fr. Joe some years ago. Seamas

Fermanagh Herald 21-2-1942. Folk Tales of Fermanagh. By EAMON ANDERSON

In the closing paragraphs of last week’s article I hinted a little at the kind of times we had in most parts of Fermanagh not only during the whole of the last century, but even through the first decade of the present one. And mind you, Fermanagh was one of the better-off counties, things were far worse in many other parts of Ireland and especially in the western counties from Donegal to Cork. Some of the younger generation who have been reared in comparatively prosperous, times (although we farmers cannot by any means boast of our wealth, even yet)— may say “Oh the times could not have been as bad as all that, and if they were, what was wrong anyway ?” Well, there were several things wrong. There were bad wet seasons—off and on, such as we have got even so lately as 1924 and 1931, with consequent failure of crops and deaths of cattle. Let us hope and pray that the bad seasons will not come back while this war lasts, else we may have to face something like the horrors of another “Black “47” Then there was bad prices for farm produce in those days so that often everything that the farm produced, except a few wretched potatoes, had to be sold, to pay the rack-rent that was on it. An old farmer of Kinawley who died some ten years ago aged 96, told me that in his young days he sold 6 yearling calves for a five pound note. Not five pound apiece, mind you, but five pounds for the whole lot. And many people, still alive, remember all the bull calves of the country side being sold for veal at a half-crown each as it would not pay to rear them. Pork was sold at from 23 to 25 shillings per cut, and eggs at the noble price of 2d to 3d a dozen! There were very few pigs or hens kept in the old days, and no wonder. And eggs could not be sold at all in this part of the country—they had to be carried to Dublin or such places. A woman named Gilbride used to buy eggs here. When she would have a small creel full, she used to make arm ropes for the creel and get it on her back and carry it the whole way to Dublin to make a few shillings. If she got an odd lift, on a cart, for charity, well and good, but often most of the journey had to be done on foot. You may stare at this, but it’s true notwithstanding. And even more astounding things happened as you shall see. Fermanagh was always a great grass county, but often, when the larger farmers went down in stock and had not many cattle, they could not get their hay sold. So they often carted it the whole way to Dublin City. One of my old Shanachies, the late Mr. John Maguire, of Drumbinnis, told me that his grandfather often saw about 20 carts of hay from near Enniskillen going up the old coach road through Kinawley and Derrylin. Their route would be on through Belturbet and Cavan, on through Kells and Navan and on to the Capital, 100 miles in all, changing horses every 20 miles as the old stage coaches did. The wheels of the carts were blocks of wood, all in one piece, shod with iron, somewhat like the ‘‘trindle” of a turf barrow. Most of the gentry of Ireland lived in Dublin in those days and it was full of horses. The 20 carts or so of hay would be all in a row with the loads built in such a way that there was place for the next horse’s head left in the back of each head so that he could not see to left or right. I never could find out what price the hay used to go. It must have been as far back as 1810 or earlier.

But the main cause of the chronic poverty of the farmers was the curse of landlordism, the exactions of the rack-renting landlords, and of their satellites, the agents and bailiffs. For it was not enough to pay the landlord far more than the yearly value of the land, but another rent and often, two rents had to be spent in bribing and tipping the agents and bailiffs to keep them in good humour.

And the agents often kept back the receipt and closed on the rent so that the unfortunate tenant had to pay it again, or else be thrown out on the roadside. Any of us who remember the first decade of this century can recall the closing days of landlordism. Things were not as bad,

of course, as in earlier times, but they were bad enough. First the bailiff would go around from house to house warning for the rent. In a few weeks after the “pross-sarver” would be out, visiting and delivering, blue papers with the unfortunates who were not able to pay in time. And the said unfortunates often even made jokes about it. It is largely our Irish sense of humour, even under the worst circumstances that has kept us from despair, down the long centuries of oppression. One old fellow in our neighbourhood would “on his ceilidh” to a neighbour’s house, when the “pross-sarver” would be going his rounds. “Did yiz get the blue paper yet’’ he would say, “I got mine the day”. The lawyers, I believe, call them civil bills, but in troth. I would call them the most uncivil documents that ever came to a man’s house. Another old humourist had met with a few bad seasons—his crops failed, and his stock had to be sold one by one to buy a bit to eat ‘for herself an’ the childhre.” Then the “presses” began to come in, shop-keeper’s, bills, rent and everything. One day the “pross-sarver” handed him still another “pross.” on the “street,” so he opened the door and shouted in— “Here Nelly, lave that wan in on top of the rest of the prosses.”

Here is another story of the bad old days—-from Teemore—which is not without its humorous side. A small farmer by dint of tremendous labour had reclaimed a field of bogland. Owing to the wet, heavy nature of the uplands in this part of Fermanagh, a field of moss is highly valued, as it is the only chance for a crop in a wet, bad season. The bailiff, a man named Robinson, was an autocrat with unlimited power in the district, and he had his favourites among the tenants, his greatest favourites being those who gave him the biggest bribes. One of these favourites coveted the poor man’s field of moss and as a preliminary to grabbing it; brought the bailiff a present of a pig. He then made his request and the bailiff told him to go and work and crop the field of moss, that it was his from that day forward. When the other man saw his field being taken from him he went almost crazy and asked the advice of a “dacint neighbour man” called Banker Magee. (I will tell you later why he was called ‘‘Banker”). j “Have’nt you a heifer there,” says Banker. “I have,” said the man. “Well, drive your heifer up and make a present of her to the bailiff and request him to give your field back to you,” said Banker. He did so, and the bailiff was very thankful and told him to go home and order the other man off his field and take and work it himself. He did that too, and the other man went in an awful rage to the bailiff; “Didn’t you give me that field’ he said. “I did, but the other man gave me a heifer to get it back again” said the bailiff. Well give me back me pig.” How can I give you back your pig, when the other man’s heifer is after stickin it’ The man dare not press the thing so the bailiff had both pig and heifer.

Banker Magee above mentioned was so called because he was the only man I have ever heard of, except one, who succeeded in digging up one of the numerous crocks of gold that are buried here and there over the countryside. He dreamed for three nights running that the gold was hidden beneath a thorn tree. He dug out the thorn tree by the roots and found the full of a large basin of gold coins. He lent money, in his time, over the whole country, and so he was called ‘Banker’. There is no one belonging to him now—more’s the pity.

Another man—nearer my own place, was awakened one night in old times by a noise in his kitchen. He seized his gun and went down and found three men digging up his hearth-stone.  They fled for their lives and he concluded that they had dreamt of gold there, so he took the spade and dug away till he found it. He got so much gold that his family and descendants have been rich from that day to this. I have often wished I could dream of a crock of gold but no such luck for you or I! A tenant on the Kinawley estate lost an acre of moss in those days and never got it back. He had a crop of oats sown in it. A man living in the neighbourhood had procured a second farm and wanted a field of moss to it so he coveted the field and bribed the agent to give it to him. It was approaching the harvest and some of the owner’s hens were going into the field of corn as it was near the house. So the grabber went into the house and told the woman of the house to keep the fowl out of the corn. The woman—not knowing of the base transaction, said ‘‘Sure the hens are our own and if they eat a little of it  it’s no odds. They have to be fed anyway.” “O” said the man the corn and field both belong to me now. You may have sown it but it will be me cutting it.” So he had the field ever after. There were dozens of instances like that on the Kinawley estate, and of course on every other estate in the country. Even tenants, who did not want favours, had to be always bribing and tipping the agents and bailiff. A bailiff on an estate nearer Enniskillen expected a tip of £1 every time he visited a any tenants house. He was such a grand fellow of course that the tip could not be handed into his hand, but he used to leave his hat on the table and woe to the poor tenant if the bailiff did not find a pound note under the hat when leaving. It did not matter if the poor tenant’s family went to bed supperless that night and many a night after.

The landlord of the Kinawley estate lived in Dublin. He was a counsellor in the years around ‘Black 47’. He never came near the estate and left the management of it to the agent. In many cases the agent  used to refuse the rent from the tenants, as he wanted an excuse to put them out and give the land to favourites. In these cases the tenants had to walk the 100 miles to Dublin, where the landlord was always decent enough to take the rent from them and give them a receipt for it. Dozens of the tenants here had to walk to Dublin like this, including my two grandfathers, on both father and mothers’ side of the family. A woman named Maguire—a widow with a family of small children, had a small farm of 3 cow’s place. The agent refused the rent and the poor woman had to start and walk to Dublin in the depth of winter without either shoe or stocking, barefoot and barelegged.

She wore a homemade coarse linen skirt and on the journey the coarse cloth cut her legs in a hundred places. While waiting on the landlord’s doorstep in the city the blood flowed from her feet and legs till it lay in pools on the street. At last the landlord came to the door took the rent from her, gave her a receipt and gave her a shilling for charity sake and then she had to walk the 100 miles home again. On this same estate the men of four townlands had reclaimed a bog of about 20 acres and each had a field of it for crop ground. The agent decided to talk it all from them and gave it all to a group of favourites. The agent lived near Enniskillen and was to come out on a certain day to take the land from them. A young man who had a gun volunteered to shoot the agent in the bog when he would come out. He said to the men “Collect my passage money for America and leave a new suit of clothes for me in a certain spot over there on Clonturkle Rock so that I can escape when I do the job. But although he lay hid the whole day in the bog with his gun, the agent never came as he got the whisper that there was a bullet waiting for him. He never came near that place for years after and the people concerned have their moss plots there ever since. The place is known is Carrameen Moss.

The bad wet season of l879 is still remembered by many of the old people in this part of the country. All the low-lying lands of Fermanagh were lying under water the whole Summer and Autumn as the “back water” from Lough Erne came up in places two or three miles from the lough. At two places on the road from Enniskillen to Derrylin a large ferry boats had to be used the whole Summer and Autumn to take people and vehicles across the water which lay 6 ft. deep on the road. All crops in the country were a complete failure and the greater part of the hay rotted as it never was got cut so that the cattle died. Not a single clod of turf got dried for the fire that year. Only for Charles Stewart Parnell, leader of the Irish people at the time the plight of many of the country people would have been as bad as ‘Black 47.’ Somehow or other, he wrung relief from the British Government and meal was given out to destitute people and bread given to the children in schools. In Kinawley parish alone 300 300 families had to get relief. 1882 was very little better, rain and floods all the summer; blight and failure of crops. In most cases no rents could be paid in bad years and the arrears were added up by the landlords till they rose to gigantic figures, which the poor tenants could no more pay than they could pay the National Debt.  I know of one farm in my own part of the country where the arrears of rent amounted to £140 and of course the result was an eviction. And evictions were the order of the day during the 80’s. Those were the days of the Land League fight, and later I will devote an article or two to the Land League in Fermanagh and give ballads describing it.

It took the country people 30 years to recover from the effects of the two bad seasons I have mentioned in Fermanagh.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s