Fraughan Sunday/ Coonogue Wood Pattern, Blackstairs Mountains

Following on from last weeks post on St. John’s Eve Festival events, today’s post marks the annual June 29th gathering in Coonogue Woods in the Blackstairs Mountains based on an account to the National Folklore Commission in 1942.

Fraughans

Fraughan berries

The pattern held at Coonogue woods took place either on June 29th or the first Sunday after that date. Crowds of young people would gather in the woods in the Scullogue Gap near the Carlow Wexford border. Fraughan’s, more commonly known as bilberry’s, the small black berries of the bilberry shrub, were picked giving the day the name of “Fraughan Sunday”. It was widely renowned for the fine weather which always came with the day. Games such as “Pited and tors” were played. Cans of fraughan’s were carried home for those who could not attend and for the older generations of the household as well as turf for the evening festivities

As night fell, bonfires were lit using the turf collected earlier at crossroads and boreen ends. Many farmers would light their own fires in the farmyards before the cows were brought in for milking. As the cows passed the fires, they were provided with protection from bad luck to themselves or their milk and butter. Dances were held near the communal bonfires by young people, the older generations sitting around the fire looking on. Many took a burnt stick from the fire home for luck. Crowds often walked from one fire to another often engaging in singing or pranks along the way The informant finished the account lamenting the loss of the event due to “The Tan War” (War of Independence).

The Blackstairs Mountains was renowned for its resource of fraughans throughout the 19th-early 20th century the subject of which was exhaustively researched by Michael Conry in his 2011 publication much of which was based on local interviews. Some of the most frequented sites were Coonogue Wood, Brandon Hill, the area south of Blackstairs Mountain, Cloroge, Blackrock Mountain on both sides of the range. People of all ages crossed the mountain range to their favoured picking sites collecting the berries in tins, cans and buckets. Graiguenamanagh became an important hub for the industry, exporting berries along the River Barrow to the fruit markets of London, Manchester and Wales (Conry 2011, 95).

If anyone knows what the game “Pited and Tors” refers to by a different name or how it was played please get in touch.

Sources

Conry, M. 2011 Picking Bilberries, Fraocháns and Whorts in Ireland- The Human Story. Carlow; Chapelstown Press Ltd.

National Folklore Collection, Manuscript Collection 890, p. 428-429. Information collected by Tomás Ó Ríaín, Knockymulgurry, Carlow & Graiguenamanagh, Kilkenny in the Coonogue region, December 1942.

Advertisements

June 1845: Famine strikes the Blackstairs

28th of June 2015.

The 170th anniversary of the date on which the potato blight, which brought about the Great Famine in Ireland, was first noted in the Blackstairs region outside Bunclody. So stated Phelim Kavanagh, Bunclody in 1946, 100 years after the event when providing information to the National Folklore Commission. Most other accounts in the National Folklore Collection refer to the Autumn 1845 although these were collected in the area on either side of the Blackstairs ridge further south. It is the Bunclody accounts on the northeast side of the range which are presented here.

First identified by black spots appearing on the leaves, heavy rain that year was blamed in the region for washing “the black into the spud”. In order to secure seed for the following year, potatoes which appeared to be safe were buried under beds in cabins. Many who opened the store the following spring discovered that these had turned black in the meantime. Blight returned to the crop in subsequent years also. Seeds from new potato varieties were imported from France called “Beldrums” which were similar to the Shamrock variety in the hope that these would be resistant to the disease. One day a man was digging in his field outside Bunclody when a passer-by hailed him asking him if the potatoes were good. The farmer replied;

“They’re small and round,

and scarce in the ground,

And very hard for to find ’em.

And they’re bitter and wet,

and hard to eat,

and the divil himself wouldn’t boil ’em”

The account also describes people dying in the ditches watching the crop fail especially malnourished children. Many of these were buried in graves with no coffins. Another account records the suddenness of the blights arrival; “It all happened in one night, one night the farmers were all laughing and the next day they were sitting in the ditches crying”. Kilmyshall was noted in particular for taking the remains of the dead. One Bunclody man, Martin Murray had the job of carting them for burial. Soup kitchens and yellow meal stations, opened across the country in an attempt to cope with the hungry, were also opened in Bunclody. Porridge made from the yellow meal was known as “Skilly” in the region. During the summer months praiseach (cabbage) and turnips were also added to the mixture. As things grew more and more desperate, people began to raid fields of turnips so large farmers began to set traps in gardens and hired gunmen to protect their fields. When disease struck the population, Dormer’s Mills on Mill Lane in Bunclody was used as a cholera hospital. Emigration to America was a fate for others in the Bunclody region, where ships were taken from New Ross. It was mentioned that some landlords payed the fares however a number of accounts from the south of the range state that this never happened. A Deacon living in Kilbrannish in the uplands to the west of Bunclody gave twenty places on a ship to America to assist the poor in their escape to new lives. Relief schemes on which the poor in the area worked included the construction of Barker’s Bridge, the cutting of Bunker’s Hill for the Chapel Road and the construction of the road to New Ross. Stewards on these schemes were noted as being particularly savage. People were paid 4p a day for their labour on these schemes whether they worked hard or did nothing.

The information here is from just two of numerous accounts of the Famine in the Blackstairs region collected in the early twentieth century by the NFC from the children and grandchildren of those who witnessed the event. These both compliment and contradict one another on a number of issues but the general trend that can be gleaned is that the Famine struck the area with greater impact than is often traditionally perceived for the east and south-east, often overshadowed in the literature by worse conditions in the west.

Sources

National Folklore Collection, Manuscript Collection 1159, p. 216-221. Information collected by Séamus S. De Bhál, Bunclody from Phelim Kavanagh (75), Bunclody (born 1871) in 1946.

National Folklore Collection, Manuscript Collection 1159, p. 221-223. Information collected by Séamus S. De Bhál, Bunclody from Paddy Thorpe (75), Bunclody (born 1871) in 1946.

Bonfires in the Blackstairs

IMG_6541

The summer solstice, the longest day of the year is just behind us. An important festival in the northern-European calendar, it was often overshadowed in Catholic Ireland by the feast of St. John the Baptist. Noted as being born 6 months before Jesus, the date of John’s birth was set as the 24th of June. Bonfires were lit across the country either on the day itself or “St. John’s Eve” (23rd June). Folklore collected by the Irish Folklore Commission refers to a number of gatherings on this night in the Blackstairs region.

Known as “Bonfire Day” in the St. Mullins region, locals young and old would gather on the green on the evening of the 24th of June As night fell, a pre-prepared bonfire was lit by the young people on top of the Norman motte (not advisable for anyone considering resurrecting the festival!) fueled with bushes, branches and in later years, rubber tyres. The origins of the tradition were unclear to the participants although it was noted as having died out by the time of collection (February 1973). No special traditions such as singing or dancing were noted by the informant although they may well have taken place as they are noted at every other festival in the region for which there is information. The tradition was also noted at the northern end of the range in the area around Myshall and Rossard. Burnt sticks were taken from the bonfire the following day and placed in crop fields to “keep away the blast”.

The Blackstairs ridgeline from the summit of Slievebawn

The Blackstairs ridgeline from the summit of Slievebawn

A more detailed account was gathered from the Ballygibbon region in Wexford. Since the potato digging and hay harvest was coming the following month, people were in a celebratory mood making St. John’s Eve and Day the perfect excuse. As well as Ballygibbon, bonfires were lit on St. John’s Eve at the Grange Crossroads, Gurraun, Rathduff, Killanne, Ballybawn, and Monamolin. Walter Furlong was noted as having lit the biggest fire every year on top of a lime kiln in Monamolin.  Inhabitants of the slopes of Blackstairs and White Mountain also lit bonfires beside their own dwellings where they were visible from the surrounding area resulting in contests every year to build the biggest fire. Branches and bushes were burnt just as at St. Mullins as well as tar and oil barrels. John Breen, a timber cutter, was noted as being paid for supplying fuel. The oldest resident of the locality lit the bonfire at 9pm and dancing began with music provided by a fiddler. Around 10pm the older members of the community went home leaving the younger people (who would not leave until the early hours of the morning) to carry on the celebrations. Singing was another custom and as the fire died down, people would jump over the embers. Ashes from the fire were scattered over crops the following day. The custom was noted as dying out in the late 19th/ early 20th Century, first the communal crossroads and village gatherings followed by the longer lasting Blackstairs fires. The custom was also noted as having been carried out in the Bunclody region although no further information was provided.

St. John’s Eve and Day celebrations were not isolated instances as the summer was filled with gatherings and festivals probably helped in part by the increased number of travelling labourers in the region for the harvests as noted in a number of folklore sources. A pattern was held at Kiltennel, Carlow on the second sunday in June and another at Clonygoose on the third Sunday. After St. John’s Festival, June 29th and the following Sunday saw a gathering known as “Fraughan Sunday” in Coonogue Woods, Carlow. A pattern held at St. Mullins on 25th of July was followed by a Lughnasa festival gathering at the Cooliagh Gap on the Blackstairs ridgeline on the last Sunday in July, details of which will follow in future posts.

Sources

Collected by P.T. O’Riain from John Long and his wife of Rossard, Carlow in June 1940. Irish Folklore Commission Main Manuscript Collection 1063, p. 5.

Collected by Cáit Ní Bolgubhair from Mr. Myles Doyle, Ballygibbon, Wexford (85 years old) in August 1943. Irish Folklore Commission Main Manuscript Collection 959, p. 143-149.

Collected by C. Mac Niocláis in the Bunclody, Wexford region in August 1943. Irish Folklore Commission Main Manuscript Collection 959, p. 157.

Collected by John Moriarty, Glynn, St. Mullins, Carlow in the St. Mullins region in February 1973. Irish Folklore Commission Main Manuscript Collection 1855, p. 128.

Collected by Tomas O Riain in the St. Mullins region, Carlow in December 1943. Irish Folklore Commission Main Manuscript Collection 890, p. 413-431.