Tuesday, 5 January 2021

 Tomorrow, the 6th of January, is the feast of 'The Epiphany'. It's better known in Ireland as 'Little Christmas', or 'Nollaig na mBan' - 'Women's Christmas'.



It was a day in the calendar when our women-folk were 'given the day off' in their honour. Such a holiday belongs to another era perhaps, but I think it's just as relevant today, to recognise the unpaid work that so many women did, and do.

So, to honour the day, here's a piece I was inspired to pen five years ago, for the day that's in it.... and all the trouble in the world. Enjoy the English language version, but if you can, read the Gaelic language version, it's beautifully couched in glorious west of Ireland Irish. Try it...read it aloud, to someone, or yourself, there's no wrong pronunciation, nobody will look at you askance, or give out to you...just say the words, and taste the honey and the humanity! Go on... really, it's both a salve, and a prayer, for all of us. It's short, and worth the read, I promise.
'Cuireadh do Mhuire' was composed by Máirtín Ó Direáin (1910 – 1988), the great Irish language poet from the village of Sruthán, on Inis Mór, (Inishmore), the largest of the Aran Islands, in Galway Bay.

Ó Direáin penned this beautiful and delicate verse at Christmas 1942, when the whole world was at war and his little piece of Ireland, perched on the edge of the vast Atlantic, was helpless to influence the world's powers in any way, save to offer hospitality to the displaced, of whom there were millions.

Five years ago when I first posted this, we were witnessing the terrible effects of war and devastation in the Middle East, with emigrants and asylum seekers in their hundreds of thousands risking their lives to reach safety and peace.
Today we again see fear in peoples eyes as they shun strangers and limit personal contact because if the fear of contracting Covid 19.
This poem resonated with me five years ago and still does today when I read it. I hope you like it.

Cuireadh do Mhuire;
'An eol duit, a Mhuire,
Cá rachair i mbliana
Ag iarraidh foscaidh
Dod leanbh Naofa,
Tráth bhfuil gach doras
Dúnta ina éadan
Ag fuath is uabhar
An chine daonna?

Deonaigh glacadh
Le cuireadh uaimse
Go hoileán mara
San iarthar chianda:
Beidh coinnle geala
I ngach fuinneoig lasta
Is tine mhóna
Ar theallach adhanta.'
--------------------------

An Invitation to Mary;
'Do you know, O Mary,
Where you will go this year
To look for shelter
For your Holy Infant,
At a time when every door
Is shut in his face
By the hate and the pride
Of human kind?

Be pleased to accept
An invitation from me
To an island in the sea
Far away in the west:
There will be bright candles
Lighting in every window
And a turf fire
in welcoming hearths.'

Photo of Máirtín Ó Direáin's house at Sruthán, Inis Mór (Inishmore), Aran Islands is © Photo by and with thanks to Bengt Ason Holm.
Idea for this post prompted by 'The Naomh Eanna Trust'.
Happy New Year to you all.
You can find me any day at Galway Walks - Walking Tours of Galway galwaywalks.com, email: galwaywalks@gmail.com
Look me up if you ever visit Galway. Walking Tours of Galway

Tuesday, 27 October 2020

A new story every day for Lockdown. This is Day 4, the letter D.

 I am writing a new story every day for Lockdown. This is Day 4, the letter D.

Moby Dick, filmed on location in 1954 in Youghal, County Cork, directed by John Houston, was released in 1956, the year I was born and as they say in the movies.. 'Tha'r she blows'.... me and the great white whale... so much in common... both 64 years of age this week, one extinct, the other, well, a bit of a relic.




After he had finished making the blockbuster movie, Moby Dick, John Huston came to live in St. Clerans House, a former 'Burkes of Clanricard' dowager house, just three miles from Loughrea, but only a mile and a half from the kennels of The Galway Blazers. He invited many stars of the day to stay with him including Paul Newman and Jean Paul Sartre.



I imagined he had come to Loughrea to keep an eye on my progress, and in his spare time to drink expensive wines and 'cocktails' in Loughrea's unique tavern, Aggie Maddens, which catered for his guests every need., and of course as 'Master of the Hunt', he showed his prowess as a fearless hunter, riding over the stone walls of Galway with the notorious Galway Blazers fox hunt, which role he held from 1960-71
He also sponsored cups and trophies for everything from fishing on the lake to drama festivals in the Temperance Hall. Every town needs a benefactor, and Loughrea and district were truly fortunate to have attracted Huston.
His daughter Anjelica Huston, went to school in the Mercy Convent in Loughrea, an ordinary, unassuming, unpampered child, like any other child in the school, and somewhere along the way, she began hanging out with my older sisters, doing sleep-overs, while keeping an eye on my progress, and giving me acting lessons... well not really, only I wish.
I remember well though, acting with Anjelica in my sisters' staging, in a stable in our back-yard of 'Hansel and Gretel', on an improvised stage, a long pine kitchen table that my father had bought at the auction before the state-inspired dereliction of Dunsandle house, home to the Bowes-Dalys, another Clanricarde connection.
We performed their self-scripted play to a crowd of about thirty kids from the town, who were charged tuppence each for the privilege of watching them, but more importantly, me, on my acting debut in the old stable in our back-yard, with John Huston directing, around 1961.
I wore a yellow chicken suit that John Huston had specially made for me in Hollywood. All the costumes were professionally tailored by movie-studio seamstresses, and flown in for our play by the great director himself.
I played the important supporting role of the bird that ate the bread that Hansel and Gretel laid as a trail in the woods so they could find their way home, but without the bread-trail, they got lost, and called into the witch in the Ginger-bread house, and the rest is, well a rather Grimm fairy tale.
The show was a resounding success and launched Anjelica onto the world stage in roles in Prizzi's Honor, Enemies, A love story, The Grifters, The Witches, The Addams Family, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and of course, The Dead, and many, many more films and TV shows, eventually becoming a successful director in her own right, following in her father’s footsteps.
By the time our run of two shows of Hansel and Gretel was over I reckon I'd eaten a whole sliced pan, and the yellow fluffy suit no longer fitted so good.I don't remember who played which roles, one of my sisters and Anjelica played Hansel and Gretel, but I will always remember that yellow chicken suit, now long gone, having been worn in as dress-up by dozens of kids from the neighborhood, especially at Halloween, and frankly my dear, none of whom filled my chicken feet worth a damn.
Anjelica's mother, Enrica Soma, was tragically killed in a car accident in Dijon, France in 1969. Anjelica was sent off as a boarder to Kylemore Abbey, to be finished off as a young lady, and John sold off the house in 1971, and moved back to the USA.

I felt a void in my life after the Hustons left town ...it wasn't that they didn't care about me any more, just John had more pressing engagements, and divorces, to be getting on with.
In his autobiography he wrote of being married five times, four times to beautiful women and once to an alligator (4 divorces, 1 death, Enrica was not the alligator).
I visited St. Clerans only once, as a young teenager, just before the house was sold in 1971.



A Mrs. Creagh, whom my dad knew through greyhound circles, was Huston's housekeeper, or secretary, I'm not sure what her role was exactly, but for some reason, she showed my dad and I around the palatial 'Big House'.


Barrett Brothers, Painting Contractors from Loughrea, had just finished painting the rooms downstairs and the house was truly stunning. Unlike most houses in Ireland back then, there wasn't a hint of magnolia, nor a roll of wall-paper anywhere, just beautifully painted stuccoed walls, brightly lit by enormous windows that looked out on gloriously manicured grounds. Huston's wife had done a magnificent job in lovingly restoring the old manor house, which had Huston not bought it, would have gone the way of hundreds of Galway's stately houses, being deliberately de-roofed and destroyed by the State through a deadly combination of taxes, greed and revenge.

I was probably 13 years of age, and I was awestruck.

The house was simultaneously alien and stunning. I remember vividly imagining myself lazing in the Japanese sunken bath, surrounded by sliding silken screens. It was at once decadent and delicious, and as big as a swimming pool, I thought.
I immaturely imagined bathing there, but my then uninformed imagination in 1971 was unable to process the rich lifestyle that went along with such trappings.
There were collections of art and antiques all over the house, from Africa, South America, Mexico, Japan and Ireland. John Huston collected art wherever he made a movie.
One decorative display remains with me to this day, two stunningly-beautiful, kingfisher or humming bird, azure-blue Inca/Aztec lifesize feather costumes or capes hung on the walls of the large reception hall. I had never imagined such beauty, from such delicate material. I imagined Montezuma's priests wearing such glorious garb as they cut the hearts out of their sacrificial victims atop their pyramids.
Those feathered costumes were showpieces of Huston's incredible collection of primitive Inca, Aztec and African carvings and figurines which filled the display cases that lined several corridors in the house. It was a museum and an art gallery... and a loving home as well.
Everybody should be exposed to art, certainly that afternoon had a lasting effect on me, book-ending my up to then appreciation of Irish art and treasures which I had seen in the National Museum in Dublin.


St. Cleran's was nothing like our home... it was a palace. Unfortunately after 1971, the house went through a succession of owners who 'lacked the class' for such a gem, one of them even concreted in the sunken bath!
Fortunately, St. Clerans became a palace again when millionaire Merve Griffin bought it as a trophy hotel and made it into a very high class resort. It is a private home now, owned by a Galway entrepreneur, still beautiful, still stately.


My acting career took a nose-dive thereafter.
The last two Irish-made movies with any Huston connection didn't include me, as I was too young to act in them. 'Alfred The Great', and 'The Dead'.
Every man and older boy in Loughrea got a role as an extra in 'Alfred The Great', playing Saxon and Viking warriors in big fight scenes, precursors of similar battlefield scenes in Game of Thrones and Vikings and Saving Private Ryan. I am unsure if there was any Huston involvement in the making of Alfred the Great, but the coincidence of location and timing alone would lead me to think that their choice of Kilchreest, in east Galway for their studio was no coincidence.
Alfred the Great was filmed in a big, purpose built studio, a huge shed beside the ruined Norman castle in Kilchreest, just 3 miles from St. Clerans House. The locals were paid five pounds a day and got to grow the first 'Conor McGregor beards' in Ireland. One enterprising fella even made money selling them big toads from the bog for one of the scenes.
The extras in 'Moby Dick' got thirty shillings a day, (one pound and ten shillings), an unheard of sum in 1954 that made penny millionaires of many of them, y'know Cork people! Not so many Loughrea lads became wealthy working in 'in Alfred the Great'. The seventies had just dawned and they spent all their hard-earned cash on beer and Planxty concerts.
Anjelica Huston starred in 'The Dead', which was directed by her father John Huston, and her older brother Tony Huston, who also lived in St. Clerans and went to school in Loughrea, though I have no memory of him.
'The Dead' is a classic Irish movie with a cameo singing appearance by Frank Patterson, playing an autobiographic role, as the celebrated tenor, Bartell D’Arcy, yes, surely a play on one of the tribes of Galway.

Patterson co-incidentally, lived in Bronxville, NY, when Mary and I lived there in 1989. We met him a few times before he died and he once recounted to me a few anecdotes about making 'The Dead' which is based on the final story in James Joyce's book of short stories, 'Dubliners'.
It recounts the story of a couple, Gabriel and Gretta Conroy, attending a New Year's soiree in Dublin. Gretta, played by Anjelica, is a direct play on Joyce's wife, Nora Barnacle. Her real-life first love, a teenage crush on a young student in Galway, comes to the fore when after listening to Patterson's rendition of 'The Lass of Aughrim' Gretta breaks down crying uncontrollably. Joyce masterfully tracks the tragic, inevitable death of a marriage, metaphorically portrayed by Anjelica's weeping for the loss of her character's first love, Michael Furey, aka the student Michael Bodkin, from Prospect Hill, in Galway, who died of consumption having caught a cold singing to the real life Nora before she left Bowling Green for Dublin and her fateful date with Joyce on the 16th of June, 1904, Bloomsday, which we celebrate annually, to this day.
Huston loved that tale and making that movie was his final directors role. He died as it was being edited. The Huston School of Film at NUIG, endowed by the Huston family, is his living testament to his time spent in Ireland.
Anyway, the great white whale of Melville's imagination, the star-struck box-office acting career of my youthful imagination, and Aggie Madden's pub in Loughrea are all distant memories now. Maybe just as well.

'Call me Ishmael...
"Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen - and regulating the circulation."
-Moby Dick, published October 18th, 1851 by Herman Mellville.

Story; Brian Nolan, Galway Walks, Walking Tours of Galway.
Photos, various, mostly public domain, identified where possible.
A new story a day for Lockdown.
That's the D in today's story. I hope you enjoyed it.
If you did, please share it with your friends during Lockdown.
We will survive to resume normal life again soon, please God.
Stay safe, check in on your neighbors.

Thursday, 8 October 2020

Nothing Rhymed is fifty


Nothing Rhymed is 50!
I'd only heard it once before, on the BBC TV show, Top of the Pops, and like a hunter tracking his prey, I waited in the long grass for it to be played, as it must be I reasoned, on Radio Eireann, our only radio station in Ireland in October 1970. There was no schedule, no guarantee when, or if, it would again be played again, it was after all a new song, by an unknown and very un-1970's performer, wearing a cutesy flat-cap and a grandads waistcoat and braces, with a cutesy Irish-English name, a parody I believed on the 19th century opera composers Gilbert and Sullivan.
Eventually after a few hours waiting, I taped it off the radio, around teatime, at home, in the kitchen, with a tape-recorder and a microphone, with all the kitchen noises in the background, my mum chatting to the girls, my dad giving out about that 'noise' on the radio, no one staying quiet or giving me any professional respect. LOL!
It is such a parlour song, shouldn't have been on my radar at all, but now I wish I still had that bootleg tape, simpler times!
As those who know me will attest, I love to tell a story, and I really enjoy other story-tellers. Gilbert O'Sullivan is a story-teller, all of his songs bring you on a journey, usually a very personal one. He is still hale and hearty and playing. He played Castlebar late last year, I missed it, my own fault. Next time, when this Covid crap is over, hopefully he will come this way again. Meantime, happy 50th birthday to the song that launched his wonderful career.
Nothing Rhymed
If I give up the seat I've been saving
To some elderly lady or man
Am I being a good boy?
Am I your pride and joy?
Mother please, if you please, say I am.
And if while in the course of my duty
I perform an unfortunate take
Would you punish me so
Unbelievably so
Never again will I make that mistake.
This feeling inside me could never deny me
The right to be wrong if I choose
And this pleasure I get
From say winning a bet
Is to lose.
When I'm drinking my Bonaparte Shandy
Eating more than enough apple pies
Will I glance at my screen
And see real human beings
Starve to death right in front of my eye.
Nothing old, nothing new, nothing ventured
Nothing gained, nothing still-born or lost
Nothing further than proof, nothing wilder than youth
Nothing older than time, nothing sweeter than wine
Nothing physically, recklessly, hopelessly blind
Nothing I couldn't say
Nothing why 'cause today
Nothing rhymed
This feeling inside me could never deny me
The right to be wrong if I choose
And this pleasure I get
From say winning a bet
Is to lose.
Nothing good, nothing bad, nothing ventured
Nothing gained, nothing still-born or lost
Nothing further than proof, nothing wilder than youth
Nothing older than time, nothing sweeter than wine
Nothing physically, recklessly, hopelessly blind
Nothing I couldn't say
Nothing why 'cause today
Nothing rhymed.

Wednesday, 7 October 2020

Operation Fanacht

 Operation Fanacht;

The Gardai will be 'manning' (is that even a word any more?) several hundred checkpoints all across the country over the next three weeks, to ensure that we, the Irish people, remain close to home, (we're on an island lads, ffs), during the newly imposed Level 3 Covid19 Lockdown.
Operation Fanacht will hopefully finish on the 27th of October, a couple days before Halloween, when we will not allow our children go 'trick or treating', or apple-dunking, or other spit-swapping activities, for obvious reasons, though mask-wearing will be allowed, even encouraged.
Operation 'Fanacht' is the cutesy code-name for the enforced restricted movement of people around the country and within their own home-districts.


'Fanacht' roughly translated from the gaelic, means 'Wait', or 'Stay', in Irish, so it is an appropriate word for the mobility restrictions inherent in the Level 3 Lockdown, but as a stand-alone word, it is ineffective. 
Perhaps they ought, more properly have called it Operation 'Fanacht sa bhaile' or 'Stay at Home'. giving us clearer instruction?
Pronounced badly, by non-Irish speakers or careless announcers, 'Fanacht' can sound like, and be easily confused with another Irish word, 'Fánach'.
Now in my humble opinion, 'Fánach' would have been a far better code-name for the current restrictions. Fánach means 'wandering, straying, or vagrant'.
Given our history of emigration and our penchant for hopping into our cars, (or these days, mounting our bicycles or electric scooters) for the slightest reason, going to a third-cousins communion, or a distant friend's neighbor's funeral, or a sale in Harvey Normans in any town other than the one we live in, well, 'Fánach' would have been a far more appropriate codeword.
Most of us were first introduced to the word 'Fánach' in the poem we learned in primary school, 'An Spailpín Fánach', a poem that recounted the misery of being a paid labourer on the big farms and how much better life could have been had he not gone off to fight for a foreign army, where he in turn learned that the hills faraway were not as green as he had hoped.
Truth is we are an island nation and our global peregrination defines us far better than we can know.
'Fánach' also means aimless, purposeless, vain, and futile. Curiously that is the mood of many people in Ireland today under lockdown. Many of us have lost our way, lost our can do attitude, our 'joi de vivre', our reasons to be cheerful, part II.
'Fánach' also means random, or haphazard, and surely that is the definition of how we are currently being governed, in an unplanned, knee-jerk manner, with decisions being foisted on un without proper fore-thought, planning or empirical proof.
'Fánach' also means occasional, rare, or seldom, which I believe is the general response to the Covid 19 restrictions imposed on us this past six months, only occasionally, rarely or seldom have we disobeyed the rules, the morally and socially imposed mores of keeping ourselves safe and uninfected by this infectious virus, and signs by, very, very few of us have 'caught' the virus, only 1% or so of our population have been exposed to the disease, despite our 'lax' laws, mostly unarmed police, and happy-go-lucky younger folk, whose lives have been completely overwhelmed by the panic surrounding this pandemic.
'Fánach' also means sparse or little, which sometimes reflects the quality of our leadership these days, with very few people, politicians, business leaders, medics having the courage to stand up and lead by example, and I'm not even going to refer to the infamous game of golf in Connemara.
Finally, 'Fánach' also means trivial, insignificant, words that none of us use when speaking of this killer virus. We all need to work together, doing everything we used to do, but carefully, and in moderation, if we are to successfully emerge from this global pandemic and resurrect our communities, our vibrant towns and cities, protect our older generations while allowing our younger generations to live and thrive, and also, to safely reopen Ireland for tourism and safeguard the jobs and futures of the huge percentage of our population that rely on the hospitality and related industries.
Yes, its a pity they called it 'Operation Fanacht' or 'Operation Stall the ball', when we could have used an Irish word that isn't mono-theistic and could be so much more 'hopeful'!
Stay Safe.
Isn't the Irish language amazing!
Here is the first part of the poem, in the original Irish, then in English (my translation). The poet by the way is not known, or at least as far as I know, he is unknown.
'Go deo seo aris ni rachad go Caiseal.
Ag diol na ag reic mo shlainte
Na ar mhargadh na saoire im shui cois balla
Im’scaoinse ar leataoibh sraide
Bodairi na tire ag tiocht ar a gcapall
Da fhiafrai an bhfuilim hiralta
O! teanam chun siuil, ta an cursa fada
Seo ar siul an Spailpin Fanach.'
Translation
'Never, ever again will I go to Cashel,
Selling life and health for nought,
Nor to the hiring-fair, me sitting by the wall,
nonchalantly lazing by the roadside,
Well-fed country-farmers strutting on their horses,
deigning to ask me if I'd been hired,
"No, c'mon so, let’s go, the road is long"
And off with him, the Spailpín Fánach.'
and finally;
Random photo of Morris Minor at Achill, taken by Sean Calvey, included for no good reason. 
Brian Nolan 7/10/2020

Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Smile for the camera, 1854.


They look what, about ten or eleven year old, survivors of the famine, yet they'd probably lost everything, their families, their home, their hope, abandoned, living now in the workhouse, or just been let out of it, to do day work for a local farmer, back-breaking work, for them, them that were hungry all the time, and had no energy, no advocate, no one to be their protector, advisor, father, or mother. Imagine them, 1854, never having seen a camera, not having any clue what it did, or what a photograph was, never having spoken to a 'toff', a Colonel, looking at his rich clothes, afraid, completely terrified of his authority, of his status, hoping he'd hurry up at whatever it was he was telling them to sit still for so long for, and hoping, praying that he'd be true to his word, and give them a penny each, or tuppence, thinking they should have asked for a shiny tanner each, or even a 'bob', sure weren't they worth a bob? Or had they been told often enough already, they weren't worth a bob! They'd be worth a bob when they took the King's shilling and joined the army, yes, they'd be worth a bob then, little drummer boys, or worse, but anything would be better than their lot right now. Next year, when they are twelve, They'll tell them they are fourteen, next year they will get a uniform like that gentleman. Has he finished yet? What's he doing, he's still under that black cloth behind the camera, maybe they could just leave, what, leave without their tuppence, not a chance, they will wait as long as it takes, however long it takes him to fix whatever he's doing behind that box, they'll wait, like dogs at the back door, they have all day.

(Photo taken in 1854 in Templemore Tipperary, by Alfred Capel-Cure, 1826-1896, then a Brevet Lieutenant Colonel, stationed with his regiment in Tipperary, and a pioneer of early photography).



Gale Days and the Curse of the Púca!

Gale Days and the Curse of the Púca! (And I am not talking about tonight's windy weather).



Michaelmas, or the Feast of 'Michael and All Angels', is celebrated on the 29th of September each year. Michaelmas is associated with the end of the harvest, the beginning of autumn and the shortening of daylight hours as winter approaches and the nights grow longer, darker and colder.
Michaelmas is one of the 'quarter days'.
There were four traditional 'quarter days' in each year, even going back to pre-christian times and they marked out the year for our ancestors. Lady's Day was celebrated on the 25th of March, Midsummer's Day on the 24th of June, Michaelmas Day on the 29th of September and of course Christmas Day on the 25th of December.
It is no coincidence that they coincide roughly with the solstices and equinoxes, which were always celebrated since ancient times, especially by the earliest settlers in Ireland, call them what you like, the Fir Bolgs, Formorians, Milesians, Tuatha De Dannan, whomever, the end and the start of each season, be it Spring or Summer was always marked by them, by fire and by feast.
The 'quarter days' were closely associated with the four Celtic seasons, Imbolc, Bealtaine, Lughnasa and Samhain.
With the arrival of Christianity, they became associated with christian religious feast-days, and with our modern seasons, Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.
More importantly, in the modern era, from the 17th century onwards, ever since the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland, the Down Survey and the forcible confiscation of 95% of land in Ireland from Irish, and Norman Irish families and clans, and transfer of same into English settler hands, the Irish became tenants on lands that we used to own!
Now, by dint of conquest, we were obliged to pay rent to these colonial settlers, to live on our confiscated land!
Those rents came due, usually, twice a year, coincidentally, or perhaps not coincidentally, on two of the 'Quarter days', traditionally, Ladys Day and Michaelmas Day.
Those two days became known as the 'Gale Days', which I believe is an anglicisation of the Irish verb to 'seize or capture or confiscate', 'Gabháil', which to the uneducated English ear, that word 'Gabháil' sounded an awful lot like 'Gale' and by God, it certainly put the wind up us Irish! While the English relished in telling us that 'it's an ill wind that blows no good', we Irish had dozens of words for the wind, many of which augured bad cess! And of course, 'cess' was an old English word for tax! Go figure. No question, 'Gale Days' were the bane of a tenant farmer's life.
If they could pay the rent, then all was fine, but if the growing season had been poor, or wet or stormy, or for whatever other reason, through illness, theft, houghing, disease, laziness, rebellion or just plain bad luck, and the rent was not paid, or only paid in part, then that tenant was on the slippery slope to privation, eviction, starvation or worse.
Gale Days were 'grab' days to the landlord or agent, and 'give' days to the farmer.
Eviction was a constant threat and that memory of eviction has left an indelible mark on our people, even today.
For some farmers, who may have been short of cash on the Gale Day, and time had to be bought to gather the rent, a goose or two would be brought to the 'Big House', as a token, in exchange for a bit of 'give', a little leeway on the debt to be paid, for a consideration, an obligation, and to beg or gain, just a few more weeks to allow the tenant farmer to raise the monies for the rental payment, to sell the pig, or the turf or potatoes, their cap in hand, tugging their forelock, begging, on their calloused knees, for just a bit of a break! Sometimes their pleas fell on deaf ears, and the battering ram and the Peelers were sent on their merry work, throwing down the walls of the pitiful cabins, throwing the families and their meagre possessions onto th side of the road, at the mercy of the dreaded Workhouse, or if they were lucky, onto the deck of an over-crowded 'Famine ship'!
Sometimes, it was a case of waiting for the 'money from America' from a son or daughter who had emigrated from the farm, and on whose remittances the farm, and the future of his or her family now depended.
If that cheque was late, well, your goose was cooked!
Michaelmas was therefore a kind of settlement day, a sigh of relief, or a cause of great anxiety, an end to one season and perhaps, hopefully, the beginning of another.
Michaelmas was also the traditional day to begin a new lease, or tenancy agreement, and also the day to start an apprenticeship, or a position as a farm-hand or servant, and also, though not farming related, the day for electing magistrates and the beginning day of legal and university terms.
In that sense, Michaelmas was not the farmer's friend, though Saint Michael, The Archangel, was in fact the Christian God of the Harvest, the God of Plenty, the fearless God who gave succour during the Winter months, giving the farmer protection and strength to see his family through the harsh Winter, to combat want and disease and disaster, until the following Spring, from darkness into light. He was 'the man'!
In Christian terms though, Saint Michael had also usurped the ancient Celtic folklore surrounding the harvest. He it was, apparently, that threw the Devil out of Heaven and consigned him to Hell, though not before the Devil managed, as he fell to his fiery lair, to grab onto an Irish blackberry bush, and ripped and torn by thorns, spat and crapped on the blackberries, cursing them, and making them rotten, inedible.
That fallen angel, the devil, took the place of the ancient evil Irish fairy, the 'Púca', the mischief-maker, the crop-ruiner, the milk-spoiler, the hunger-monger! He was a bad egg!
The folk-memory of the malevolent Púca is still observed today, though we'd never acknowledge the pagan origin of this belief.
Truth is, no one I know would dream of eating a Blackberry after the 29th of September, ever! You'd never eat a blackberry that had been pissed on by the Púca!


It sounds far worse in Irish.
'Lá 'le Michíl a chacann an púca ar na sméara. Ní lubhálfadh máithreacha dos na leanaí aon tsméar ná mogall a phriocadh ó Lá le Michíl amach mar bhíodh na sméara go léir sailithe age an bpúca.'
Folklore Collection Máire Ruiséal, Dún Chaoin (CBÉ, 469:151)
***
And so, as Michaelmas ends, and the modern season of Autumn begins, we might all say a prayer to Saint Michael, the Archangel, the conqueror of the Devil, to give us the strength to weather the coming Winter, and to survive, and to beat the Covid19 pandemic, the modern day equivalent of the 'Curse of the Púca'!
Brian Nolan 29/9/2020