|Tales From Ballydrum, and Beyond.
By Mattie Lennon
Edward Henry (1904-1986) was a native of Ballydrum, Swinford, Co. Mayo.
He emigrated to the USA in his mid-20s and spent a number of years in Chicago
before returning to Mayo in 1931. When he came back, he married his childhood
sweetheart, Margaret Salmon, and took over the running of his family farm
in Ballydrum. Henry also worked with Mayo County Council as a supervisor
on road and bridge construction for a number of years. The nature of his
work meant that he was often absent from home from Monday morning to Friday
night for weeks on end.
It was during those periods of enforced absence from home and family,
that he gathered much of the stories and anecdotes that would later form
the basis of his folktale collection.
He used to invite older members of the community to chat with him about
the customs and habits of their own times and those of previous generations,
which he felt were in danger of being discarded in the name of progress.
Very few others of his time felt the same desire to record and preserve
for posterity the folk heritage of previous generations, in danger of being
lost forever. But this did not deter him.
John Henry, or "Sean" as he was also known, left a compendium of stories
about everything from "Barnala Wood" to "Bellmen." Whether it's an account
of the "Big Wind" or a Connaught person's take on "Ninety-Eight" the true
storyteller is evident.
When Sean was a young lad, a certain "knight-of-the-road," who was better
dressed and seemed to be on a slightly higher mental plain than the average
tramp, used visit the area.
He was known as "The Toff" and when he told a story young, Henry hung
on every word and would, decades later, commit it to paper
" . . . In my great grandfather's time," said The Toff, "there were
little few glass windows to be found except in the Big Houses, and churches
and with some well-off people here and there. Among the poorer people,
there were various excuses for windows. In some houses, long, narrow openings
in the walls served for windows. It was narrower on the inside than the
outside and a board was fitted on the outside at night or in bad weather.
In some cases, a mare's placenta or a sheepskin with all the wool and fat
removed was stretched across the 'window.'
These allowed a dull light to get through but were far from being as
satisfactory as glass. A good many dwellings then were only 'bohauns' or
mud huts; they had no light except what came in over the half door."
"My great-grandfather was known locally as Mairtín Bradach. (Mischievous
Martin) He went to Sligo on one occasion and brought back a pane of glass.
He was so careful of the glass that he carried it all the way home on his
back in a sack that was well-padded with rags and paper. He never once
sat down on his journey of 22 miles. With the help of a local handyman,
he fitted the glass to a wooden frame and installed it with the proud boast
that it was the first glass window ever to come to the village of Cruck."
The Toff went on to add that his great-grandfather had a well-known
habit of turning things around when he spoke. So, when a neighbor who came
across him while fitting the window, asked him what he was doing, he received
an unexpected answer.
"I'm tying to let out the dark," my great-grandfather is said to have
"Letting out the dark, as Mairtín Bradach said," became a popular
saying in the locality afterwards.
When the window had been fitted, some of the neighbors felt it that
a celebration known as a ball was called for. Accordingly, a small money
collection was held and Mairtín donated the food and the music,
he being a player on the fife or wooden flute. During the ball, Mairtín
saw a neighbor to whom he had not spoken to for some years, peeping in
through the new window. There were two lighted candles, one on each side
of the window, and he had no trouble recognizing the 'gobadán' (curlew)
as this man was known locally. He had a very long nose, which earned him
After making up his mind, Mairtín moved quietly to the back door
and picked up the hardest sod of turf he could find. Moving stealthily,
he waited until he got beside the window. He waited until the gobadán
had his long nose right up to the window. Then he let fly catching his
opponent full on the nose and of course breaking the window in the process.
Sean amassed a considerable pile of wirebound notebooks and jotters
as he went about his labor of love and in later years he used those notes
to write his folktales.
A number of those stories were published in book form by the Mercier
Press (Cork) in the late seventies under the title of "Tales from the
West of Ireland." This book was reissued in 2000 and both editions
were quickly sold out.
He contributed to a number of periodicals and magazines and for a long
number of years he wrote articles on contemporary Irish social and economic
affairs for an American travel company's newsletter.
"Mayo Folktales" is a collection of his stories that have been published
in digital from by his son, Eamonn.
There is a total of 54 articles in this collection and it had been arranged
in two volumes for distribution purposes.
Both volumes are available on CD-ROM as well as in PDF format for direct
downloading from the site www.mayotales.com.
The CD versions are designed to run on all Windows operating systems from
Win 98 SE onwards and as PDF is a cross-platform format, those files are
compatible with all common computer platforms and are not limited to Windows'
Full details may be had from www.mayotales.com
The CDs cost €10 each or €15 for both excluding postage costs.
The PDF documents are priced at €7 each or €12 for both.