Before the advent of Television or cosy Lounge Bars, the
Ceilidhe House was the only meeting place for the locals
to meet on a cold winters night. Every townland could
boast of at least two good houses where people would gather
and pass away a few hours either in conversation or by entertainment.
Many a good ghost story or fairy tale was related on these
occasions which have since been handed down through the
generations and recorded in some of our archives for posterity.
Unfortunately, some of those stories have been lost by the
wayside or might even lose the true gist by
being told by someone who had not the right flow of words
and failed to add the extra trimmings which helped to convince
an audience that the tale was honest truth no matter how
incredible it might sound.
Even in those years a good seanchai was a rare
thing and was always in demand at wakes or weddings. He
could hold command of his audience until they were almost
spellbound. I can still remember, as a child, sitting on
the long stool in the corner of the big open hearth, too
terrified to even turn around or look towards the window,
because in those days we had no Venetian or Holland blinds
to cover the windows. Some were lucky enough to have the
wooden shutters to close over, while others had the previous
weeks issue of The Anglo Celt held in
position with four drawing pins to ward off any peeping
Toms who might be in the vicinity.
A Ceilidhe house for conversing only was an education in
itself to hear all those old and not so old men get through
the days or weeks events, especially after a
fair or market day. Prices were compared and valued, sometimes
finishing up in a heated argument as to the age or price
of some neighbours beast, the crops, or the yield of a certain
field of oats after the threshing mill had left the townland
was always a good topic for conversation.
Many a time I heard my father relate the story of a certain
Ceildhe house which they used to frequent around 1910 when
Halleys Comet last circled the earth. It seemed the
prophesy was that each time the Comet comes around, it would
come lower and lower until eventually it would touch the
earth and burn it.
Old Dan wasnt exactly a man with green fingers, and
the weeds in the garden were almost growing across the wall,
he would just let the ass and one or two goats graze on
it, he always had a good excuse for not tilling the half
acre. So, in the Spring of that year, when someone asked
Dan if he was going to plant anything in the garden, he
quickly remarked. Do you think Im mad to plant
potatoes and have Halleys Comet come and burn it up.
There was always the Ceilidhe house where the card games
were played on the long winters night, oddly enough
the cards never were played in a house where there was a
cradle in use. Im not sure if it was a superstition
or the fact that a small baby might be kept awake by the
noisy excitement of the players. The Tailors Cottage
was a very popular card house, where many a game of 45
and 25 was played especially before Christmas time
when turkeys and geese were played for and many a family
were sure of a good Christmas dinner by the good luck of
their father in one of these card games. The cosy kitchen
behind Mary Annes little shop was also a great card-playing
centre, as the men gathered for their regular game they
could buy their packet of Woodbines or the half quarter
of Mick McQuaid plug tobacco on their way in and relax for
the night with a good hand of cards and a good smoke. I
was always fascinated by little Tommy who visited his brother-in-law
about three nights a week. As soon as he came into the kitchen,
he drew up a chair to the table, took the pack of cards
from the dresser and started to play Patience. He just sat
there all night, turning over card after card, now and then
joining in the conversation of the other ceilidhers, at
11 oclock he would gather up his cards, replace them
on the shelf of the dresser and head for home again.
The most popular Ceilidhe house for the younger folk was
the musical one, we all looked forward to these, especially
in our teenage years when we hardly knew our right foot
from our left! I remember one particular house where they
had a new gramophone and some modern records brought home
from England by their daughters who were nursing there.
Every Wednesday night we met there and picked up the steps
for the quick-step and the slow fox trot from the local
lads, some of whom fancied themselves as a Victor Sylvestor.
By the time we had spent a winter at these sessions, we
were ready for the Ballroom of Romance in the local Parochial
Hall on a Sunday night.
The older folk had their own regular dancing house where
another gramophone with traditional type records provided
the music for the half sets, four hand reel, stack-o-barley
or the old-time waltz. Many a night I listened to John McCormack
singing his Irish melodies or the McNulty family sing the
Irish ballads. When the gramophone spring would snap, an
empty cotton spool would be fixed underneath the winding
handle to hold it in position and finish off the music for
the set dancers. Many a time the sparks flew from the cement
floor as the steel tips from the heels of mens boots
came down in full force in the big swing as they danced
to round the floor and mind the Dresser. The
older womens long skirts created such a whirlwind
that I often thought the fire would be swept up the open
As I travel pass some of those houses nowadays all I can
hear is a stereo blaring out the top of the pops at a volume
fit to burst, any human eardrums, a complete contrast to
Moores Melodies or The Geese in the Bog.
Gone are the old doors with the latch which we just opened
and walked in, they are all mahogany or aluminium with press
button bells and fancy knockers and one has to wait to be
invited in to the home.
I wonder is there friendship or understanding behind those
fancy doors and windows. Somehow I cant imagine the
chairs and tables being pushed aside to make room for the
The Ceilidhe house is a thing of the past, everyone has
their own form of entertainment now produced by the television
in the corner of the room. The art of conversation has also
gone for us although I am glad to see it being revived through
the debating societies.
I know there are so many types of social functions to choose
from these days, discos, dances, dinner dances, tea parties
and all sorts of outings but for me there is nothing can
compare with a good old Ceilidhe house where neighbours
were neighbourly and kind to one another even if some of
them would try to pull the wool over the other ones
eyes. It was all done in good clean harmless fun.
Taken from Breffni Blue