Wednesday, 14 November 2012
A few weeks ago, whilst researching a article on Halloween for my newspaper column. I came across several brief accounts of the 'Christmas Rhymers'. I happened to mention this largely forgotten tradition to a few friends fae tha Ards. The next day I was rewarded with an email from Mr Thompson with an attachment containing several pages from a book entitled 'Six Miles from Bangor' wherein there is a description of the Christmas Rhymers as remembered by the author from his childhood in Donaghadee.
Intrigued I began to research this local tradition and was surprised to find that many texts still exist detailing various versions of the play.
The play was brought to Ireland by English and Scottish settlers in the 1600s (despite what fanciful notions you may read on other websites) and is related to the medieval mystery plays.
The mummers play is an example of the Hero-Combat play, one of the prototypes of English folk drama and deals with the theme of death and revival.
Costumes varied from place to place but were not (contrary to some websites) all straw and wicker work. One character would wear a top hat, another armour, yet another a cardboard nose. Only one was in the full straw regalia and he was called, surprise surprise, 'Jack Straw'.
For more information on Christmas Mummers and Rhymers in Ireland you can click on the link below, where you will find a comprehensive study of the tradition by Alan Gailey
Having stumbled across this important piece of our past I was impressed upon by Mr Anderson to revive this tradition. To this end I have compiled and arranged a Christmas Rhymers play, which Mr Anderson is currently promoting in the Ards.
Please check out Mr Anderson's blog for details of forthcoming performances.