Mummering: 'The Idiotic Hero Combat Drama'

The following is a transcript taken from the LIVE Community Chat chat hosted here at on Friday, December 20, 2013.  The focus for the discussion was the tradition of the mummers in Ireland.  We were joined by Jim Ledwith of County Fermanagh.

The Wild Geese:  Céad míle fáilte, a chairde! So glad to see each one of you who have stopped by for this evening’s LIVE Community Chat here in  Our focus this evening is on learning more about the tradition of mummering in Ireland, and its connection with the Christmas season.  We’re being joined tonight by Jim Ledwith who is with the Aughakillymaude Community Mummers Centre in County Fermanagh.  Welcome, Jim!

jim ledwith:  thanks

The Wild Geese:  Jim, please give us just a brief rundown on the basic idea of what mummers do, because we may have some in the chat room this evening who have never even heard the term.

jim ledwith: first time here
its primarily a folk custom
not for indorr stage
but centred on its community at large
ie outdoor and hosue visitation]
centres around the performance of an iditic hero cmbat drama
involving two heroes of renown
2 heroes fight to death

Belinda Evangelista:  What are the Christmas traditions associated with mumming

jim ledwith:  one falls mortally wounded
ritual performance of the hero combat play
is the key
ie the play
the masks
the bring back to life of the fallen hero

The Wild Geese:  I know several were wondering the same thing Belinda asked above there, Jim.

jim ledwith:  in the play
the essence of this play
is centred around the fight
the death
the bringing back to life of the dead hero
symbolizing rebirth
this all performed in the dead of mid winter
all symbolic of the life cycle of nature
life death rebirth

Gerry Regan So the tie-in is more to winter than Christ's birth?

jim ledwith:  ritual

Gerry Regan:  What are its origins, then, Jim?

jim ledwith:  it is no coincidence that the play is performed on the immediate onset of xmas
no one knows exactly
but references to

Gerry Regan:  Tell us more about this, perhaps about what is known, then, please.

jim ledwith:  masked performances at ritual ceremonies back as far as the iron age
ie conor mac nessa
inauguration ceremony of being elected as high king in ulster
first known reference in eire of masked performerrs
it is all to to with ritual
to have ritual to ensure delivery of certainty
ritual of mid winter mumming play
to ensure rebirth of the sun from the mid winter point onwards
everything depends
on the return of the sun

Gerry Regan:  Clearly!

jim ledwith:  this when the sun at its lowest ppoint

Gerry Regan:  What about the word "Mumming"? Is it Irish in origin?

jim ledwith:  need cerainty
no not really

Belinda Evangelista:  Are there customs in Mumming at the local level. ie only performed in the local area or is it universal

jim ledwith:  mumming generally means to mumble
or to mask
yes we do at aughakillymaude

Gerry Regan:  In what language -- Anglo-Saxon, French, any specific origin?

jim ledwith:  we perform the mummers play
in english
although there is the irish transaltion

Gerry Regan:  Jim, where did you first come across the tradition? Where did you grow up?

jim ledwith:  the actual play itself is early medieval as the rhymes suggest
men bursting into the pub with wild entrances
and banging
to silence all about the place
to gain attention for the performers of the play
absolute deadening silence

Gerry Regan:  You were agog at the sight and sounds, then? How old were you?

jim ledwith:  with these men of the night
bursting in
mid twenties
i wa s taken aback

Ryan O'Rourke:  Jim, I've only recently learned that mummering is still alive and well in the eastern-most provinces of Canada. Why do you think it is flourishing (relatively speaking) there?

jim ledwith:  at the un civility of it all
it is claimed the mumming play was transplanted with the waves of emigration

Belinda Evangelista:  Do you make your own masks/costumes?

jim ledwith:  it iis claimed
the mumming also came into ireland with the plantations of the english
that this was supplanted onto the irish traditions of masking rituals at key calendar dates
ie mid summer mid winter
yes we make our own straw get up
we have the straw grown locaLLY ORGANICALLY
cut it with a scythe
or hook
the longer the better

The Wild Geese:  Interesting.

jim ledwith:  fot the plaiting
for length
is golden
represents the harvest
the bounty
the fullsomeness
of the earth

Gerry Regan:  Jim, is Fermanagh one of those Irish counties that has husbanded the tradition through the centuries? Is it one of the few?

jim ledwith:  also straw is cheap

Gerry Regan:  And tell us about Fermanagh? What are its charms, in addition to its mumming tradtions?

jim ledwith:  the more agricutural the more remote
the more chance of the survival of the tradition
its sense of community within
multiple communities
mostly those areas outside the villages

Gerry Regan:  Are small farms still viable then, in Fermanagh, Jim? And is it their owners who uphold the traditions?

jim ledwith:  where people do have TIME FOR EACH OTHER

Belinda Evangelista:  Is it a pure art form or can it be interpreted?

Gerry Regan:  LOL, that's not New York City.

jim ledwith:  small farms totallly un viable
for the ones who do and have been mummers it was a way of life
tradition to get up a mummers troupe
to go out to entertain your neighbours
to wish them good luck by performing the play in the house in return fot food money drink
at the end of the season in misd january
all ends with a mummers ball

Gerry Regan:  The unionist / nationalist divide in NI, is played out in adherence to the mumming traditions, Jim, especially in Fermanagh?

jim ledwith:  held in old houses
where all who gave money in the weeks before are invited free
for free drink and dance
i have to say the tradition with the protestant tradition has
died out in recent years

Gerry Regan:  Is there a bacchanalian aspect to the partying later, remaining part of the tradition?

jim ledwith:  so there isd a real danger that the mummering becomes identified with the nationalist ethnic tradition
what do u mean
in the misery long night s
ther e must be fun
lokking forward to longer days
new year
hope of new beguinnings
i hope u understand
people need re assurance in depths of mid winter
so archaic is the need for re assurance of new life

Gerry Regan:  I remember Friel's play, Lunasa, the wild dancing by the bonfire, the sheer sexual pulse that seemed to charge the scene. Is that kind of energy part of the mumming frolics.

jim ledwith:  and community solidarity by the myummers paly and ball
yes energy abounds
young men
leaping about grabbing young girls

Belinda Evangelista:  bacchanalia =A riotous, boisterous, or drunken festivity; a revel. Had to look that one up

jim ledwith:  with the licnce of being masked]
being disguised with darkened faces
different walk
a mummers ball

Gerry Regan:  Vivid picture you paint, Jim. Bravo!

jim ledwith:  ie is called a spree
from the irish word spraoi
= a blow out
a drinking bout

Gerry Regan:  Shopping sprees are very popular here! ;-)

jim ledwith:  mummer s call their balls a join
a blow out
or a spree

Gerry Regan:  Fascinating that the word has Irish antecedents!

jim ledwith:  very common usuage
its is all about fun
celebrating life itself
that people can mock the trials of life
by poking fun at it
the 2 heroes become friends agian
after the bringing back to life of the dead hero alll celebrate
and dancing

Gerry Regan:  Who's your favorite mummer? Are there some whose work is particularly exhilarating to watch?

jim ledwith:  in the end
enemies become friends
what better message

Gerry Regan:  'Super' mummers so to speak?

jim ledwith:  doctor
the quack doctor
who brings the fallen hero back to life the shaman doctor
essential giver of life itself
his medicine is pure nonsense
can cure all
even cure modern disease like the bird flu
foot and mouth
doctor pokes fun
brings i ntopicalit
to engage the audience

Gerry Regan:  Interesting, Jim. Reminds me of the character, Dr. Purgon, from Moliere's 'The Imaginary Invalid." He was an over-the-top hilarious figure.

jim ledwith:  topicality
so doctor good and sure
has to be an outward

Belinda Evangelista:  laughter the best medecine:)

jim ledwith:  real amusing

The Wild Geese:  We'll go just a few more minutes this evening, folks.\

Gerry Regan:  Doctor as buffoon is a great equalizer, especially with the prices of a visit these days. ;-)

jim ledwith:  but behind his rhymes there are clues to the medieval import of the medicine
yes indeed laughter
hocus pocus
sally campagne
rise up dead man and fight again
i can cure the wee plague the big plague
the plague within and the plague without

Gerry Regan:  Yes, Purgon prescribed laxatives for his benefactor, for many yearss, creating an addiction. When his patient learned he didn't need them, Purgon went ballistic. He'd have been a great Mummer, I sense.

The Wild Geese:  We'll wrap it up there for the official chat this evening. Our thanks to Jim Ledwith for joining us, and to everyone who joined in on the discussion or just listened-in. Of course, anyone is welcome to stick around and continue your conversation here for as long as you wish. :-)

Thanks so much for your time and imparting your knowledge about the mummering tradition, Jim.

Belinda Evangelista:  Thank's Jim

jim ledwith:  its important the the tradition of community entertainment centring on the rural customs can survive\

Gerry Regan:  Jim, go raibh maith agat. A fascinating window into a fascinating tradition! Happy Christmas to you, and to all here! :-)

The Wild Geese:  Oiche mhaith, gach duine!

jim ledwith:  all the best

The Wild Geese:  Nollaig shona daoibh!

Views: 405

Tags: Christmas, Drama, Faith, Folklore, Mummers, Mythology, Preservation

Comment by Sarah Nagle on December 26, 2013 at 7:22pm

Fascinating discussion & an interesting tradition.

Was curious, what, if any, influence did Irish Mumming traditions have on the development of the Mummers' parade of Philadelphia?


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