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.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.
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.