25-4-1942. FOLK TALES OF FERMANAGH. BY EAMON ANDERSON. It is truly said that the history of Ireland is written in ballads. Before the days of writing, two thousand or more years ago, the old Gaelic bards of Ireland composed all historical happenings in verse which were committed to memory and handed down for countless generations. Irish historical poetry begun with Amergin, the son of Milesius, about fifteen centuries before Christ, and continued ever since, generation after generation, down to our own day. Some of the early Gaelic historical poems, such as the Táin Bó Cúailnge (Great Cattle Spoil of Cooley), amounted to hundreds of thousands of lines. No wonder that in the Gaelic Ireland of the past it took twenty years’ hard study for the Bardic Order. Not only had a man to be naturally a poet himself, but had also to commit to memory all the Gaelic poetry up to his own time. If we add to that all the ballads and songs that have been composed in English during the last century or so in every parish and corner of this island of ours, and got it all printed in books, it would fill the Fermanagh Co. Library.
So that is the reason that we know so much about the Ireland of the past from the earliest times down to our own day.
For some weeks past I have been writing about the Land League days which many, of our readers can remember. It would be interesting to know how many are alive to-day of the countless thousands who attended the great Land League meeting in Enniskillen on 2nd, of October, 1887. That meeting would have been almost forgotten to-day but for the ballad which Frank Maguire composed to commemorate it. I am going to publish that ballad here this week, and you will find that it describes the meeting far better than any dry prose history could do.’
I have mentioned Frank Maguire in these articles before. He was a fanner and lived his lifetime in the townland of Ruscaw, a mile north of Kinawley village, the next townland to Drumlish, where I was born myself. I never remember him, as he passed away before my time, but his songs and ballads are living still in this part of the country. When I was a child I thought that the few townlands around us were the most wonderful place’s in the world, and I have the same opinion yet! Ruscaw produced two of our parish bards, Frank Maguire and the old school master, Michael Maguire, In Teravally, a short half-mile away, lived Charley Farmer, another of our parish bards. In Drumbinnis lived two of our noted shanachies whom I have often quoted here, John Maguire and Owen Jones. Once I said to Mr. Cahir Healy, who, alas; is far from us to-day, “I think our parish of Kinawley is the best in Fermanagh for folklore and traditions, and bards and ballads.” “I agree with you,’’ said he. “and anyway, that is the right spirit for a person to have—to regard his own townland or parish as the hub and centre of the universe. If every townland would preserve its own traditions we would then be able to preserve those of all Ireland.”
So now here is Frank Maguire’s ballad on the Enniskillen Land League Meeting. The Dean mentioned chairman was the Very Rev. Dean Bermingham, then parish priest of Enniskillen.
“Bold Redmond” was Willie Redmond, then M.P. for North Fermanagh, who was then a fiery young patriot, even fiery enough at that time to please that most ardent Irish Nationalist, Seumas MacManus, the famous Irish writer, who was in Enniskillen at the time. To those of us who remember 1914 and later times and how the old Irish Parliamentary Party lost much of their early Nationalist enthusiasm, this will seem rather strange. But in later days they apparently forgot Parnell’s oft-repeated warnings. Parnell had only a limited belief in the efficiency of Parliamentary agitation. He was of the opinion that without a well-organised public opinion in Ireland his power in Parliament would be slight. He publicly stated that long association with the House of Commons would destroy the integrity of any Irish Party, and publicly advised the Irish people to keep a keen watch on the conduct of their representatives in the British House of Commons at all times. As I say, the Irish Party, and many of its people must have forgotten these warnings in later times, else they would never have agreed, even temporarily, to the so-called Home Rule Act of 1914, which merely empowered the Irish people to play at a “Parliament” in Dublin, whose enactments could be vetoed by either the British Lord Lieutenant or the British Parliament, or ruled illegal by the High Court of Justice, and, alas, providing that Ireland’s finances would remain chiefly in England’s hands, and also for the first time in history, agreeing to the partition of Ireland. We get an idea of how the Irish people advanced in the seven years after, when we consider that although Griffith and Collins “Treaty,’’ and “Free State” gave control over tariffs and finance, and many other great powers of all kinds, yet a civil war was fought against it. The Constitution of Eire, of recent times goes a long step further again and gives far-reaching powers, and yet the partition question cannot yet be solved.
So here now for the Land League Song.
ENNISKLILEN MONSTER DEMONSTRATION.
Rejoice, ye sons of Erin, for old Ireland shall be free,
The bard’s inclined to tell his mind for all that he did see.
On the 2nd of October, right well I mind the date,
When our Members they came over, their minds for to relate.
That morning, as the bell did ring, to chapel we did go,
And fervently we all did Pray against the daring foe,
Returning from the altar, with a mark upon our brow,
Saying freedom for our country, where is coercion now.
With horse and foot we took the road,
each shepherd led his flock,
We arrived in Enniskillen at the hour of two o’clock
From Portora gates to Belmore Street was crowded with the throng,
No man to yield, but for the field in thousands we marched on.
For to make up their number, I might go through the count,
There is no rule in learning could tell the full amount. ,
I saw the hand of Shane O’Neill on the green flag from Tyrone,
And the royal band of Fintona, they played us “Garryowen.”
At the Jail Square I rested there to take another view,
When Lowry, off the Monument, he asked me “Is that you?’
And are these the Derry Prentice Boys, or when did yous leave home?
I took you for another man, I thought you were Maglone.”
“We’re not the Derry Prentice Boys, nor yet from Sandy Row,
For our Parliament is landed in old Ireland once more.
We have the men of Ulster here, our cause for to maintain,
Our member is bold Redmond, and our chairman, is the Dean.”
North and South Fermanagh, they made a grand display.
With Kinawley and Kilskeery, and the boys from Lisnaskea.
From Maguiresbridge to Monaghan, and Tempo in the glen,
With Montiagh lads and Macken men, who fought their way and won.
We had Belleek and Bellashanny, and the men from sweet Roslea,
With Mullaghdun and Arney like an army in array,
And noble Enniskillen, with good order and command,
Their cry was “No coercion, but freedom for our land.”
And now a few words about the song to explain certain points in it. “Maglone” was “Barney Maglone,” a beloved Enniskillen poet of those days who used to write in the Fermanagh vernacular. His real name was Wilson, and I don’t think he was entirely nationalist in politics, in fact he did not express any opinion on politics. At any rate, when making verses he used to go and stand and ‘chat’ with the statute of Sir Lowry Cole on the top of the monument on the Forthill to gain inspiration. So, according to Frank’s imagination in this ballad Sir Lowry mistook Frank for “Barney Maglone,” and the immense procession for the “Derry Prentice Boys” who were paying a visit to the town of Enniskillen. And a very ghostly visit it would be for, like Sir .Lowry himself, the Prentice Boys had departed this life. They closed the gates of “Derry against King James’s Army in 1685, which is generally considered one of the brave deeds of Irish history, but, unfortunately, on the wrong side! Not that Irish Nationalists ever thought much of King James, and always considered him an old coward anyway, who ran away from the Boyne,, and from Ireland. It was really for Ireland, and not for King James, that the Irish were fighting in that war, and it’s the gallant Patrick Sarsfield was the real hero of it, a man who was admired for his bravery even by those who were fighting against him. Probably Sir Lowry, or his statue, or his ghost, as in life he belonged to the unnational and aristocratic party, would much rather see the Derry ’Prentice Boys marching the town in ghostly array, than a great demonstration of people standing for what he would consider the “preposterous” idea of a free Ireland, and the still more “preposterous” idea of “The Land for the People,” and not for the landlords!”
Belashanny is spelt the old way here, as in the ballad, instead of Ballyshannon, which is a modern corruption. “Bela-shanny” is the phonetic pronunciation of the old Gaelic name of the place (Beal atha na Seannach). Bands and banners from all over the place mentioned, and a lot more attended the meeting.
Up till recent years we had the old Land League banner preserved in Kinawley inscribed “Kinawley to the Front. Away with Landlordism.” We carried it in all processions up to 1917, when we changed it for the Tricolour. But the same three colours were also on the old banner, only fixed in a different way— a white cross on a green background, yellow shamrocks and a white fringe. Also a life-size picture of Charles Stewart Parnell. As1 said before, there must be many people still in Fermanagh and neighbouring counties who attended the great Enniskillen demonstration of 1887. Seumas MacManus admired this ballad so much that he has included it in his latest book, “The Rocky Road to Dublin,’’ which is the author’s own life story.
But there are a great many other local ballads of the Land League days which never have yet been in print which I must publish in these columns so that they will live in future ages.
And now a word about Frank Maguire, the composer. Like many of the old generation, he got little or no schooling, and only “met the scholars,” as they used to say. He only got into the second standard at a hedge school. But my uncle Joe used to write down all his verses, and also the verses of old Master Michael Maguire. So Seumas MacManus christened him “Secretary Joe” in the poem which he made commemorating old Master Maguire—
“His songs shall be recorded By Secretary Joe.”
Frank Maguire was a great humourist. At that time there was a family in this district called the “Quaker Crawfords.” Whether some of the family in times gone by belonged to the religious persuasion called Quakers I know not, but at any rate they were never called anything only the Quakers. Frank used to “kailey” in it, and was very “great” in it. They had a big farm of land, and often sold a lot of meadows. They were not satisfied with how auctions were going one summer, so Frank said to them, “If yiz give me the sale of your meadows I will get you the best price in the country.” “But sure you are no auctioneer. ” “No matter.” says Frank, “I can be an auctioneer for wan day anyhow, and I’ll bring Joe Anderson to write down the bids.” So the auction was advertised by word of mouth from mountain to lough, and the whole country gathered in hundreds to see the fun of the thing. Frank started to auction the plots with hammer and all, like a real auctioneer, and Joe with notebook and pencil took down the ‘bids.’ Any advance on thirty bob for this plot. Any advance. Come on now, and don’t be like beggar men. Give the landlord’s rent of it itself.” And so on. Carried away by the fun, many men bought meadows that day and gave a good price for them, that did not want hay at all. The end of it was that the meadows fetched far more than any auctioneer could get, and that auction is talked of to this day. There was a man in the country at that time nicknamed “Pat the Moat,” and he was very fond of taking near-cuts, even tramping across fields of crop and vegetables. Going daily to work one summer he had made a regular “pad-road” across the middle of Frank’s field of corn so Frank met him one day on the road and gave him this warning in verse—
O Clatty Moat, you’re nothing loath, your habits to maintain,
Marchin’ o’er me cornfield, and comin’ back again.
But if you do not stop it, and from it don’t refrain,
I’ll meet you on some evenin’ and tramp you in a drain.
Frank had many original sayings. There was a woman in the countryside who had a lot of style and polish, but very little real good breeding, Frank’s comment on her was: “In spite of Art, Nature will appear.”
He once took the contract of opening a drain, in the village which served the barrack and other houses. He had to carry the drain along the edge of a field, and the owner of the field came like a lion and objected to the right-of-way of the water that way. The row rose higher and higher, and at last a villager named Paddy Flynn came on the scene. Frank saluted him in this way:—
“Paddy Flynn yon are welcome in,
In dignity and glory
To join our force, yon are not loath,
to drive away this Tory!’’
Paddy Flynn, by the way, was father of the late Mr. John Flynn, of Enniskillen. In this country the words “wit” and ‘sense’ are often used as to mean the same thing. Frank, however, used to distinguish between them by saying, “The want of wit is as bad as the want of sense!” By “sense” he correctly meant one of the five senses, i.e., hearing, sight, etc. What he meant to convey was that the want of wit. i.e. foolishness, was as bad a failure as to be blind, or deaf, or dumb, There are many more articles to be written about our parish bards, and many songs of their’s which will be published at a future date.