It's Us They're Talking About: Lily Ivors and Hughie Copen

Margaret Farren

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"Another thing grew on the rocks at the shore was 'croter'. My mother and oul' Denny Gobbon - an oul' neighbour -would take us down with bags and he showed her where the croter was growing. It's a kind of a grey weed and it's not for eating but for making dye. They would be knitting white jerseys out of sheep's wool and if you didn't like the white, the croter would turn it out a yellowish colour. You'd boil it up and then get your garment and dip it in the croter. You could dip flour bags in it too and make different garments out of it. That croter is still growing there for I brought the grandchildren up to pass it on to them.

"Bogbine is another great thing. It's like the root of a plant, white and solid with broad green leaves something like a palm. You pulled it up and saw its stretchy white stem. So you boiled it and strained it and bottled it and you could keep it in the fridge and every morning before you broke your fast, you would take it by the spoonful and it killed all the harmful bacteria in your blood. People don't know how to identify it any more. The only man could give it to you now is a man up in Dunaff. It's a pity it doesn't come back into circulation."

If there is a lot of wisdom gone by the way, there was none wiser in his day than Lily and Hughie's uncle, Phil Copen, from whom they got most their folklore material. "Phil was often consulted by the teachers and it was said it was a pity that he hadn't stayed on at school. One day the priest stopped by the field where my grandfather and Phil were digging and he asks my grandfather if Phil was after leaving school. 'To hell and to bejasus he did!'was they way my grandfather answered the priest. 'What are you doing there with that spade?' , the priest asked Phil. 'I'm burying my brains,' said Phil. But he could use them at the same time.

"I'll tell you what he was the main man for in Clonmany and this side. Before you had undertakers, a carpenter would make a coffin, and before he would put the breastplate on he would bring it to Uncle Phil and -with a horse shoe nail -he would inscribe the name of the person who died and the date and their age and RIP . His handwriting was that good it could take a trick anywhere. But Phil was a bit of a home bird. What education he had was in the night school and the hedge schools and that was all done through Irish. Uncle Phil and the other old people would all talk Irish if they didn't want the children to know what they were talking about. They'd say 'Gabh amach!' and you'd go, because you did what you were told in them days!

"Phil used to call the old school over here the White Elephant, because he used to say to them that they would be far better off building a factory or a little business to keep the people in the area. Family life was reducing down very much at the time and sure enough that school is now under lock and key ."



McGlinchey Summer School


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