“In a small townland like Lurgan, everyone knew each other very well and we visited one another’s houses regularly. I spent a lot of my life in the house of the Conways and also with the Stone family. When my brother and I were small children our Dad went to work in Dublin and our Mother would sometimes go and stay with him. During this time we stayed with the Stone family.”
“Another thing I enjoyed was, they nearly always had a pet pig and I always made sure to be there in the evening while it was small to feed it with a bottle and then sit with it on my lap for ages.”
“Mrs Stone had three daughters and two of them, Kitty and Liz went to work in Dublin. It seemed a long way away at that time. Liz only got home every summer for two weeks holidays and I looked forward to that time so much. Liz was such a lovely girl. I then remember Kitty got married to Eddie in Dublin and when they came back from their honeymoon, there was a big dance as I remember in their barn in Lurgan. It was such an exciting thing for me as a small child. There was music, dancing, singing and I remember doing Irish dancing, though it was simple as I was very young. Everyone went across the yard to the house for the tea.”
Carrie’s wonderful recollection of live music in the farmhouses of rural Ireland are both reminiscent and captivating. Whilst many of us today are familiar with the musicians who entertain us in bars and clubs, the idea that this tradition was preceded by musicians performing in the humble parlors and barns of people’s rural homes is evocative of days-gone-by. Carrie has also educated me for one on the Irish tradition of lilting through her real-life memory of one of its greatest exponents, Bobby (aka Robbie) McMahon.I have often heard the expression ‘the lilt of the Irish’ which refers to the characteristic rising and falling of the voice when speaking, the pleasant and gentle accent of many parts of Ireland. It is also used to describe the good humor of Irish people, or a certain cheery outlook I am certain we are all familiar with. But I had never heard of the traditional singing form of lilting, apparently most common in the Gaelic speaking areas of both Ireland and Scotland.
Lilting is music made by the human voice which creates the rhythm and tone of musical instruments with much diddling and jigging - if lyrics exist they are often nonsensical. Lilting may have originated in tough times when musical instruments were not available – though many dispute this theory because it did not develop in other peasant cultures under similar constraints. Whatever its origins, the energetic and compelling rhythms of lilting, accompanied by hand clapping, foot stomping and drumming of the table made it ideal for Irish dancing.
Robbie McMahon lived all of his life at Spancil Hill where he continued to farm and also continued to entertain in pubs, bars and, yes, rural cottages right up until his sad death in 2012. A film was made about his life called Last night As I Lay Dreaming.