Traditional Drama Forum - No.2 ISSN 1743-3789 April 2001


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The truly great news that we have this issue is that two new folklore projects have been funded, both of which have relevance to play scholars. Julia Bishop has succeeded in obtaining a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Board to produce an on-line catalogue of the James Madison Carpenter Collection in the Library of Congress. Julia is to be congratulated for raising what is an undoubtedly significant sum of money for folklore research. The second project is for research into Irish mumming plays. This is a joint project whose partners are the Department of Irish Folkore, University College Dublin and the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. The project was launched at a lecture given by Alan Gailey in Enniskillen last December during the annual mumming festival. We hope to bring you further details of each of these projects in later issues.

The National Centre for English Cultural Tradition (NATCECT) at the University of Sheffield has a new Director, Joan Beal. Dr Beal, a dialectologist, will take-over from Professor John Widdowson in April. Despite the fact that the university chose a non-folklorist for the post, we understand that it remains committed to the teaching of folkore at NATCECT which will also continue to provide research opportunities for MA and PhD students.

Easter is upon us and with it, the pace-egg season. We have put together a web page with details of all performances of the pace egg play we can locate. If there is anything we have missed please let us know and send details to Eddie Cass at +44 (0) 161 881 8640 or by email to

International Mummers' Festival
Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh - 8th/9th December 2000.
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A Performers' Perspective, or Rambling on with Colonel Slasher

Whilst reading 'The Heritage Lottery Fund News' my attention was caught by an article from Jim Ledwith, who wrote enthusiastically about an International Mummers' festival in Enniskillen. It was accompanied by a large photograph of an unnamed group of Mummers from Co. Fermanagh, wearing their distinctive straw costumes and high conical straw masks.

I contacted Jim, a Community Services Officer for Fermanagh District Council, and keen supporter of local Mumming. After an exchange of letters, photographs and numerous phone calls, arrangements were made for us to attend the next festival, as guests of the Aughakillymaude Community Mummers. We would be performing the Alderley Mummers Play, that was taught to us in 1977 by Alec Barber, one of the original Alderley Mummers.

Aughakillymaude is a small community of less than 500 people, situated on the banks of Lough Erne, twelve miles south of Enniskillen. The Mummers side was formed in 1988 to raise funds to convert the disused local school building into a Community Hall. Mumming has now become an important focus of local activity. In addition to fielding both a junior and a senior Mumming side, they have plans to open a Mummers Museum. Over the years they have met other Irish Mummers, Rhymers and Straw Boys plus some Morris Men from Leominster, but we would be the first English Mummers that they had met.

Our departure date arrived and so did storms in the Irish Sea. After getting up at 4:00 am,

And due to numerous ferry cancellations, we arrived at Aughakillymaude 18 hours later. We were all very tired, it was drizzling and cold, and there were only half a dozen cars parked outside the isolated Victorian stone building. The single source of illumination for miles around came from the few coloured lights strung up outside. We did not know what to expect from an International Mummers Festival, certainly more signs of life, things did not look too promising.

We need not have worried, as soon as we stepped inside the hall we were made to feel welcome, in fact welcome, was the word on everybody's lips as they met you. We soon settled into a weekend that would be marked by a relaxed view towards time keeping, many speeches, warm hospitality and a whole bunch of Mumming.

Jim Ledwith gave an illustrated lecture on the Mumming tradition in Co. Fermanagh in his usual snappy and enthusiastic style. During his lecture he made special mention of a couple of 'hate characters' who appear in local plays, and who would feature during the weekend. They were St George 'the man we all love to hate' and Oliver Cromwell, 'with his long copper nose'.

At some time approaching 1:00am we were asked to perform our play, bearing in mind that this was nearly 21 hours since we got up, I don't think it was one of our better performances. What really threw us at the time was that the audience actually booed when St George entered, although we later found out that this reaction was the norm.

On Saturday morning the Aughakillymaude Junior Mummers, over 20 of them, gave us a performance, I was spell bound. They seemed to incorporate just about every aspect of Irish Mumming that I might have expected to see during the visit. The whole performance was carried off with such pride and enthusiasm that it was infectious.

Their play was of the 'Hero Combat' type with a cast of 13 characters including, Captain Mummers, Jenny Wren, Jack Straw and Oliver Cromwell. In addition to the play there were songs, a recitation, step dancing and music. Many wore costumes made from straw, others were made from sacking or old working clothes, and some like the Doctor, dressed in character.

In the afternoon we went into Enniskillen and met up with other sides prior to performing out of doors. First to perform were Aughakillymaude Junior Mummers and then us. The weather stayed dry, so we did not need to use the transparent cagoules that had been given to us by Manchester United Football Club.

Next up were a side from Belfast, there were five in the group, with at least one of them doubling up and doing two parts. Their costumes ranged from straw, through representational, to one that reminded us of 'Xena Warrior Princess'. (Or was that just me?) The Aughakillymaude Senior side followed on and rounded off their performance with some fine singing and energetic set dances. To finish the proceedings for the afternoon, we performed the Alderley Play outdoors, and then again indoors, in one of the local bars.

The festival has been going on for about ten years, but for reasons that I do not fully understand, was on a much smaller scale this year. It was obvious that people were expecting something to happen, because during the course of the afternoon I was approached by members of two other local Mummers sides who had come to watch. Elsewhere in Enniskillen, over the weekend, there had been a conference on Mumming where Alan Gailey had given a paper.

Saturday evening was spent at the Community Hall where we were treated to some excellent Irish dancing and an outstanding local ceilidh band, The Emerald Ceilidh Band. During the evening we performed the Swettenham Souling Custom, 7 men, 2 songs and a horses skull. This is not a play but is typical of the Souling customs from the South West corner of Cheshire. The performers all wear masks and cover their jackets in long tissue paper strips.

After we finished one of the Aughakillymaude Mummers shook me firmly by the hand and said, 'you don't have to scratch us too deep and we are all the same', not quite what I had expected him to say. It did however, set me thinking about the weekend as a whole and my far too parochial outlook on Mumming. As the evening became early morning, there were more speeches and the exchange of gifts. We were presented with a full size straw mask and two miniature ones plus a model of a Mummer dressed as Oliver Cromwell.

We departed on Sunday morning after more speeches and another exchange of gifts. The journey back was uneventful except for the overwhelming feeling of well being. Our weekend had turned out to be very much a community based event, with as much emphasis on cross cultural relations, as there was on Mumming. It had been a privilege to meet the people of Aughakillymaude, I would not have missed it for the world.

A couple of weeks later when I went to see Uttoxeter Guisers, I deliberately sat in a side room in one of the smaller pubs. Although I couldn't see the play, I could still hear it clearly and spent my time watching the audience. I started wondering what they all made of it, and thinking that the Aughakillymaude gang would probably be more familiar with what was going on than many of the locals were. Then, as if on cue, Old Mary Ann entered and declaimed the line 'with my copper nose, I beat the Dutch, I beat the French'. Those words echoed back from Ireland, 'you don't have to scratch us too deep and we are all the same'

Colonel Slasher. (Alderley Mummers Play)
Also known as Duncan Broomhead

The Morris Ring Folk Play Archive View alone
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In January, I paid another visit to this archive which is held by Ron Shuttleworth at his home in Coventry. Unlike my earlier visits, my purpose this time was specific, but it is impossible to visit Ron's collection without wishes to browse in view of the mass of material which the archive contains.

This collection aims to hold photocopies of everything significant that has been written about folk plays and related subjects. At the last count the main sections of the archive contained 2,717 separate items in 143 volumes. It is Ron's claim that within the defined parameters of his collection, it holds more material than any other which is publicly accessible! The collection is being actively developed and expanded and Ron is currently working on an Access database which will provide bibliographic details unmatched anywhere.

For more information (and a photo of Ron), see our one-page description. Better still, see Ron's new website at (Merged November 2001 with this website - New Link).

In my experience as a user of the archive, any student of folk drama at whatever level of working would find the collection invaluable. In one place, one can find an enormous range of information on traditional drama either in original book and article form or in photocopy for the scarcer material. The archive contains enough material for a raft of MA dissertations and anybody considering a PhD on the subject could do worse than pay a visit as an initial approach to discovering what has been written on the folk play.

Eddie Cass

Mummers ex Kendal View alone
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The following is quoted verbatim from a message sent to Peter Millington by a website visitor from New Zealand.

I am not sure how useful this information may be to you - nor am I too sure of its accuracy. My mother and aunt used to recite pieces of a mummers' play that they received from their father. He died in about 1924 and had migrated to New Zealand from Kendal in Westmoreland - probably born about 1880. I picked up some of the verses and hand them on for what they are worth - on the strength of a reasonably good memory - now not as good as it might have been.

There was a figure called Malley Masket. I have not seen her about in any of the collected texts.

Here come I old Mally Masket
In my hand I carry my basket
In my purse I carry my cash
And i think myself a jolly fine lass.

St George

I am St George from old England sprung
My famous name throughout the world is sung
Twas I who fought the firey dragon
And brought him down to slaughter
For that I won ten thousand pounds
And the king of Egypt's daughter.

(I used to love these lines - "ten thousand pounds and the king of England's daughter..." )

The black prince or paradise - or maybe he was slasher - the two were linked in my mind

"Slasher is my name -
Hit him! Inch him!
Beat him! Mince him!
Cut him up as small as flies
And send him to Jamaica
To make mince pies!
Mince pies hot.
Or mince pies cold.
We'll send you to Old Harry
E'er he's(?) three days old."

And there was the doctor - for whom I remember only fragments

He had travelled "from the Ip Tip Top of the I-talian ocean ten degrees below the 'potenuse"

And - more usual - he had cures for

"The itch the stitch the palsy and the gout
The pain within and the pain with out
Coughs colds itchy holes
And pimples on the pole"

(I suspect the last two lines my have been interpolations of my grandfather who someone once described as a "roisterer") I was reminded of this because I recently sighted a 19th century advertisement for a cure-all that sounded quite similar.

The doctor also had "poltices for footsore caterpillars and saddles for broken backed mice" - I may have mixed this.

I believe that this rhyme was used as the opener.

A room A room
Brave brothers all
Room to stand and room to fall.
Here I come I old hind to fore
I comes fust to open the door
I comes fust to kick up a dust
I comes fust to sweep up your dust.*

My aunt also linked this to pace egging - and also to the "Christmas is coming the geese are getting fat" nursery rhyme/song.

I'm not able to link any of this to anything from Westmorland!

* I cannot be sure that this was one of the pieces from his repetoire. I love the sense of making a place to perform in this - and perhaps sweeping away the dust of the dead old year and clearing the space for the arrival of the new.

I hope this is of interest to you. I am a writer of film scripts and I am using a mummers play to begin a new film.

I have enjoyed the site - and will return.

Graeme Tetley
New Zealand

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