American journalist Harry F. Guest of the New York Globe spent January and February 1920 reporting from revolutionary Ireland. Upon his return to America, he wrote two dozen stories based on his interviews and observations, which were syndicated to U.S. and Canadian newspapers through May 1920. See earlier posts in this series and other stories about American reporting of Irish independence at the linked project landing page. Reader input is welcomed, including photos or links to relevant source material. MH
Night With Irish Mummer Who Gives Performances In House Or Barn In Secret1
Guest attended “one of the most popular ways of keeping the torch of liberty lighted and fanning the flames of hatred of England in the south of Ireland … a revival of the ‘mummers‘, roving bands of actors who impersonate the ancient and modern Irish heroes.”
The reporter, guided by an escort on a dark and misty evening, “walked, or rather stumbled” across the fields to a farm house about two miles outside of Glengarriff, in County Cork. Approved by a sentry, the pair entered a barn filled with about 40 people, Guest estimated, “a dozen of whom were women.” Two lanterns dimly illuminated a small platform. He continued:
From somewhere out of the darkness at the side of the stage a bent figure slowly made its way to the center. The face of the man was whitened and drawn as if in pain. ‘It’s Tom Ashe’ my companion whispered, meaning that the ‘mummer’ was impersonating Thomas Ashe, who died in Dublin in 1918, [sic, Sept. 25, 1917] following a hunger strike in prison. The bent figure on the platform straightened up and the lips moved:
My name is Ashe
and like a flash
From Kerry’s hills I came
And on the tree of Liberty
I carved a deathless name.
Guest quoted rhymes from other figures: Easter 1916 martyr Padriag Pearse; President of the Irish Republic Éamon de Valera, then touring America; and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland Sir John French, the government’s chief administrator at Dublin Castle. “Groans and hisses punctuated the [mummer’s] recital” for French, Guest wrote. Other impersonations included Wolfe Tone, Michael Dwyer, Robert Emmet, and Father John Murphy. 2
Guest noted that “if the audience feels secure enough,” a piper or fiddler might accompany the mummer and a dance after the performance. This was not the case at the show he attended. “The lanterns on the platform were put out, leaving the barn almost in darkness. The audience was not permitted to leave all together: they went out at twos and threes at intervals of a few minutes.”
Guest’s escort returned him to Glengarriff by a different route, “shorter, I’m thankful to say, for it was raining hard.”
NEXT: Drastic Gov’t In Ireland Fosters Spirit of Hatred, Leading Churchmen Say
- Akron (Ohio) Evening Times, March 23, 1920.
- Mummer rhymes for Ashe, Pearse, de Valera, and Tone quoted in Bureau of Military History Witness Statement 1495, Martin Walsh, pages 5-6.