Cavan childrens games and rhymes of the 1940s


Most of the games children play and rhymes they sing are inherited from previous generations of children. Parents probably played the same games and sung the same songs when they were young, but the process of time gradually steals them from their adult minds. The repertoire of games and rhymes of each new generation increases or decreases with the circumstances of the time, whether dire, economic or emergency. Most of the games and rhymes contrived by children imitate activities of adults fashioned by the vivid imagination of youngsters themselves, writes Brendan Murray.

Observe the marching and drilling of our brave defenders A particular time when young boys invented a game was the Emergency period of the 1940s. Young lads discerningly watched the initial drilling and marching of local brigades of the LDF, LSF and Red Cross, all neatly clad in immaculate new uniforms and shiny boots. The loud synchronised sound of marching feet and the instant obeying of orders snapped out by drill sergeants fascinated youngsters.

On the first important occasion when the proud marching tread of the combined brigades came up to the town’s main street and the orders, “eyes right; sálute” were yelled out to honour an important platform party (local dignitaries and army officers seated on the back of a lorry), the whole procedure was noted by youngsters as was the acknowledgement of the platform party standing stiffly to attention, and the army officers holding their return salute for three or four minutes until the brigade(s) had passed. Eventually, when the action ended and onlookers were dispersing, word was passed around the boys present to assemble later that day at the town pump for drilling and marching practice and to bring along as many recruits as could be mustered and to wear appropriate uniform items, such as caps and boots.

Fall in and follow us.
We assembled at 3pm. Older boys had recruited their smaller brothers, and like everyone else, their borrowed boots and symbolic headgear indicated their ardent desire to be part and parcel of this important assemblage. Most lads had discreetly borrowed their mothers’ business envelope shaped caps. These caps, in assorted colours, were the height of ladies fashion and coincidently were exactly the same shape as the headgear worn by the L.S.F. and army privates. Some lads had the caps balanced on a shoulder as they awaited the order to ‘fall in’ ; they had seen some L.S.F. men do this while relaxing before drilling. A few of the bigger boys were self appointed officers as signified by their Sam Brown belts hastily made from a combination of assorted belts and ropes and arm stripes (pieces of borrowed red ribbon). Orders were given to “fall in” “form a straight line,” and “form twos”.

Imitating the men of the F.C.A. and L.S.F., we obeyed one way or another. Our self appointed sergeant major yelled out “quick march” and out the main road we proudly strode, officers and taller lads in the van, small lads trudging along at the rear. The order “change step” was shouted at those out of step; they quickly did little skips to get in step with the majority; the small lads of the “rear guard” did little skips whether or not they were out of step. As we marched close to the hedge of a field with a long road frontage, one of our multi stripped “officers” slipped through a hole in the hedge; a few months later, as we approached the gate to the field about 50yds ahead, the orders “eyes right, salute” were given, and as we obeyed we saw him, in all his glory, standing stiffly to attention in the middle of the gateway, cane (stick) under his left armpit, holding his returning salute until our proud brigade had marched past and the order “eyes straight ahead” was given.

We were knackered that evening when we returned to our assembly point. Before “falling out” we were ordered to assemble again on the following Sunday for more Drilling. As we plodded homeward we observed a group of young girls marching on the pavement, all carrying white shoeboxes marked with big red crosses. “That’s the Red Cross,” said out smallest lad. “We know” remarked his big brother, “they might be handy if any of us men get injured.”
Games of Marbles
The jargon and gamesmanship peculiar to the game of marbles, shouted by county Cavan boys playing the game in the 1940s were -
“Heights and everything.”
“Nuckledown, barr anything.”
“I said it first.”
“You did not; lets start the game again then.”
“Not fair, I was going down 9 and you were only coming up 6.”
“You were flinching; okay, we’ll start again and no flinching this time, right?”
“Right, I’ll go first.”
“You will not, we’ll toss for who goes first.”
“Okay, we’ll toss; have you a penny?”
“No, I haven’t; have you?”
“No, I haven’t; we can’t toss so.”
“Best of two games then; I’ll go first in the first game; you go first in the second?”

The game was played by two players, each flicking with his thumb his own marble in turn at three small holes (dug out of the tarmacadam) about three yards apart. Starting at the first hole, a player had to flick his marble into each hole in turn. The location of the holes was always close to the edge of a pavement - an appropriate location out of the holes was always close to the edge of a pavement - an appropriate location out of the way of passers bye. Also, the pavement edge served as a convenient seat for pals observing a game and waiting their turn to challenge the winner. If a player’s marble ended up a few inches from a hole, his opponent could strike it with his marble and knock it yards away depending on the force of the strike and the weight of the marbles. The marbles were usually made of glass; a steel ball bearing (difficult to acquire) was quite acceptable and was a great advantage when striking a glass marble. Players using them usually produced them dramatically from their pockets at the last second before a game commenced, like fast gunmen of the Wild West.

Paper Ball
On quiet Sunday evenings when few adults were ambulating on the streets and sidewalks, a game of ball, was frequently played by young boys, the field of battle being an area of pavement not often frequented by adult strollers; the ball was usually made on the spot from old newspapers tied with string. Two older boys from those present selected the opposing sides; a coin was tossed for “fist pick; “ subsequently choices alternating between each selector. It was very disappointing for a lad to be selected last as it indicated he was bottom in the skills hierarchy of those present. Only hand passing of the ball was allowed, no kicking and no goalies. Two coats at opposite ends of the pavement served as goalposts. The first team to score an agreed number of goals were the winners. A few games would be played depending on time; teams selected as before, the caption of the losing team in the previous game having first choice. A lad selected last for a prior game, and who scored or played well in that game, moved up the selection ladder for the next game, his pride and self esteem fully restored.

The Gospel according to Luke 16: 19-31
The following are some verses from the Rich man/Poor man Gospel story converted by Cavan children into digestible verse and sung by the children of the 1940’s to an air, best described as a cross between plain chant and a jig. You will recall that the poor man begged for scraps from the rich man’s table and was carried by angels up to heaven when he died while the rich man was sent down below.

Rodger Rum
(Parable of the rich man, poor man)
There once was a poor man; he lived in Jerusalem
Glória Allelúia, old Rodger Rum,
Old Rodger Rum, old Rodger Rum
Skiddle-me-inky doodle-um
Glória Allelúia, old Rodger Rum.

The poor man died, he went up straight to heaven-ium
Glória Allelúia, old Rodger Rum,
Went for a booze with the angles at half past eleven-ium
Glória Allelúia, old Rodger Rum.

The rich man died, he went straight down to hell-ium
Glória Allelúia, old Rodger Rum
Old Rodger Rum, old Rodger Rum
Skiddle-me-inky doodle-um
Glória Allelúia, old Rodger Rum.

The rich man called for a whiskey and sod-ium,
Glória Allelúia, old Rodger Rum
But the devil bawled out, shovel on the coal-ium

Glória Allelúia, old Rodger Rum. Edmund, a small boy, much to the embarrassment of our teacher, sang this particular song, in all its glory, for the Bishop one day he called to our school and asked for a volunteer to sing a hymn for him. The Bishop was delighted and asked for an encore but the young lad replied that it was the only song he knew and that he sang it every Christmas Eve for Santa when he called.

Sadly, the young lad died before the following Christmas and Santa called no more; he just left the presents for the lad’s younger brothers when they were asleep. One day, these small brothers asked their mother why Santa didn’t visit them any more before they went to bed on Christmas Eve and she explained that Santa was too sad to call because Edmund wasn’t there any more to sing “Rodger Rum.”

Taken from Breffni Blue
April 2004