Traditional Drama Forum - No.5 ISSN 1743-3789 July 2002


News View alone
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Conference Announcement: Mumming Traditions in Cross-Border and Cross-Community Contexts

An international conference focussing on mumming traditions in cross-border and cross-community contexts will be held at the Academy for Irish Cultural Heritages, University of Ulster, Londonderry, from 9-14 June 2003. [Please note that this is a change of date from previous announcements/]

The Conference is being organised in cooperation with Room to Rhyme, a collaborative mumming project undertaken by University College Dublin (Department of Irish Folklore), University of Ulster (Academy for Irish Cultural Heritages), and the University of Turku (Finland).

A panel of specially invited speakers from Europe and North America will address issues relating to mumming in a variety of cross-border and cross-community contexts. Additional elements of the programme will also be held in Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh and Letterkenny, Co. Donegal.

Details of the conference programme can be accessed at or by contacting Críostóir Mac Cárthaigh, Department of Irish Folklore, University College, Belfield, Dublin 4, Email: Telephone: +353.1.716 8216, Fax: +353.1.7161144.

Saint George and Saint Patrick, taken from a woodcut in J.Nicholson's chapbook "The New Christmas Rhyme-Book", Belfast, 1890s "Room to Rhyme" - Irish Mumming Research Project

[Further information has been obtained regarding the Irish research project first announced in Traditional Drama Forum No.2, April 2001.]

In December 2000, the Department of Irish Folklore (University College Dublin), in partnership with the University of Ulster and the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum, initiated a collaborative project on mumming, entitled ‘Room to Rhyme’.

The goal of the project, which is ongoing, is to document the nature and extent of mumming, particularly in north Connacht and west Ulster where there is a long-standing and vibrant tradition of mumming. Room to Rhyme is supported by the: Department of Foreign Affairs, Foras na Gaeilge, Údarás na Gaeltachta, and the Ulster Scots Agency.

Críostóir Mac Cárthaigh

Aughakillymaude Community Mummers Visit Cheshire View full size
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The Aughakillymaude Community Mummers from County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland visited Cheshire from Friday 28th June to Tuesday 2nd July 2002, for a weekend of Traditional Dance & Drama. This was only the second time Aughakillymaude have been to England and the first to the North West in what proved to be a full and varied weekend involving a mix of public performances and workshops for local schoolchildren.

Aughakillymaude Community Mummers: Left to right: Miss Funny - Jack Straw - Big Head and Little Wit - Jenny Wren - Captain Mummer - White Ned - St Patrick Aughakillymaude Community Mummers: Left to right: Miss Funny - Doctor Good and Sure - Big Head and Little Wit (hat only) - Auld Dolan - White Ned - Jack Straw - St Patrick. - On the floor: The Bold Slasher

Many of the Mummers wear the straw costumes and high conical straw hats that are such a feature of mumming from Fermanagh. Their performance involves a Hero Combat Play interspersed with singing, dancing and music.

Aughakillymaude Community Mummers: Jack Straw, with (in background, left to right): Miss Funny - Big Head and Little Wit - Auld Dolan Aughakillymaude Community Mummers: Hats off for dancing. Left to right: Big Head and Little Wit with Beelzebub - Jack Straw with Mrs Dane - Miss Funny with Jenny Wren - Irish Calin with Doctor Good and Sure. Aughakillymaude Community Mummers: Dancing, Big Head and Little Wit (without hat) with Beelzebub.

They were guests of Adlington Morris Men, the event was funded by a grant from the 'National Lottery Awards for All' programme.

Duncan Broomhead

[See also Duncan's account of the Aughakillymaude Community Mummers at the Enniskillen Mumming Festival in 2000, in Traditional Drama Forum No.2.]

Pace Egging & Mumming in Rochdale, Lancashire View alone
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The following brief note has been sent in by Francis Doherty of New Zealand. It is a nice reminder that in England, not all "Mummers" performed folk plays - the Pace Egg plays in Rochdale being performed by a separate groups.

"I am an ex Rochdalian living in New Zealand. I am 65 years old and in conversation recently the subject of old customs and 'festivals' arose. I said that I remembered during the war in the early forties, as children we would do the pace egg play with prompting on the dialogue from our parents, and at nights we would go Mumming, all dressed in black with faces blacked with soot, knock on doors and go inside pretending to clean. We were not allowed to speak or answer anyone in the house who spoke to us, if we did we did not get any contributions."

Fay & Francis Doherty

Book Reviews View alone
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Room, Room, Ladies and Gentlemen: an introduction to the English mummers' play
by Eddie Cass and Steve Roud (edited by Doc Rowe and Malcolm Taylor)
London, English Folk Dance & Song Society, 2002, ISBN 0-85418-185, 120pp, £12.95 (plus p&p)

It is long time since the EFDSS published a book on folk plays. In many ways, this is meant to be a successor to Alex Helm’s Five Mumming Plays for Schools, which has been out of date and out of print for quite some time. As the sub-title states, this book is intended to be an introduction to English mummers’ plays - and they definitely mean English. Scottish and Irish plays are not covered, but then the publishers are the English Folk Dance and Song Society.

As an introduction for general consumption, this book is clearly not meant to be academic. Even so, it does give a good overview of current academic opinion, particularly on origins. The descriptions are comprehensive, readable, well-structured, and with a digestable level of detail. They cover more than just the types of play, the texts, the characters and the costumes. There are plenty of background facts on the people who traditionally performed the plays (nearly always men or boys), their venues, and the attitudes and motives of both the actors and the audience - not to mention their wives and mothers. This is supported by numerous original quotations from participants and witnesses of the plays.

Photographs feature prominently, starting with the impressive front cover, thanks to the involvement of Doc Rowe. They date from the 19th century up to the present day, and some are in colour. There is an average of one photograph every third page, with multiple images of some groups. Costumes of the ribbon and paper streamer type predominate. While these are of course particularly impressive, I would have liked to have seen more pictures of groups that dress in part to give a more balanced view of real practice.

A lot of dubious things have been said about folk plays over the years, so the authors have felt obliged to say what they are not in addition to describing what they actually are. It is a good portent that the foreword, by Phil Wilson, starts by describing a non-play Mummers’ house visiting custom, thus making it clear that not all Mummers performed plays. This nicely sets the scene for one of the more interesting sections in the book - the one on the origins of the plays.

Old ideas that the plays originated in some pre-Christian fertility ritual could only have been true if the plays had a very long and continuous recorded history. However, as the authors note, the earliest concrete evidence only dates from the second half of the 18th century. No earlier references have been found, despite diligent searching. This contrasts with other customs such as Morris dancing, Maypoles, etc, where plenty of much earlier references have been found. While the point of origin has yet to be identified, it is likely to be the in early 18th century or possibly the late 17th century. Therefore the pre-Christian theories are no longer regarded as valid.

The guide to performing the plays is specifically aimed at schools, although it will also be of benefit to adult enthusiasts. It starts with advice on finding information (which seems to overlap the later section on Sources of Information), and then goes into choosing a text, casting, costume, props, and performance. Folk plays are an excellent school activity (after all that is where I first came across them). The book may also increase students’ word power, since the odd erudite word creeps in here and there, and they may find it useful to keep a good dictionary on hand!

The Sources of Information Section summarises the types of resource where information may be found on the plays, and gives details of English institutions that hold extensive collections, complete with web addresses. For some totally inexplicable reason, the Traditional Drama Research Group, and this website, are mentioned last! A page of references would have been useful, although there are some full references in the body of the text. Serious readers really need to buy the companion bibliography, which is reviewed separately below.

The book gives nine full play texts, plus a Pace-Egging song, although they are not listed in the contents page. For the record they are:

Peter Millington

[See Musical Traditions for an alternative review.]

The English Mumming Play: An introductory bibliography
by Eddie Cass, Michael J.Preston and Paul Smith
London, FLS Books, 2000, ISBN 0-903515-21-0, 40pp.

This is comprehensive bibliography of literature on British mumming plays. It is clearly intended for research use, which it serves admirably. It does not, however, cover the modern folk play revival movement, or material giving performance advice. There are 280 individual entries, which give author, title and publication details. There are no individual abstracts or summaries, but each section commences with a summary of the key issues and key publications relevant to its subject. The sections are:

There is an author index, and to help people obtain copies of the items, there are descriptions of the archives of the Folklore Society, the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, and the Morris Ring Archive

Peter Millington

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