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

Margaret Farren

6 of 6


"The old people believed long ago that you got signs. They wouldn't give it a second thought and would just presume that it was the Virgin Mary or her guardian Angel."

There follows a brief discussion of the various signs people had seen in the past which were considered portents of death or serious misfortune, among them being a light descending from the evening sky and seeming to enter a person's house, and yet another white lady which visited one of Lily's sons. All these stories of swirling apparitions of light imbue the countryside as seen from the window with a eerie magic. Perhaps interpreting my silence at this point as in danger of becoming gloomy, Lily starts on the the subject of weddings in her young day, with a view to cheering us up.

Lily: "A wedding was a big event. The man went to her father and asked him and if he agreed the wedding went ahead."

Hughie: "Marriages were all arranged. They used to say you got your bride with a bottle of poitin. They must have been content enough because there were no divorces!"

Lily: "I suppose you were happy to be asked! It was the tradition then that you married within your boundaries and no outsiders were wanted. When the Irish army came in here in 1938, a lot were very jealous of them. The girls got all delighted and carried away by the strange fellas, all geared up with money and could take them places. Davis' Hall was going at the time and it was 2d to get into the dance. We'd all meet up there on a Wednesday and Saturday night and the band would be made up of local musicians. It'd be mostly English dances like the lancers and all that stuff with a wee hit of ceilidh music"

"When you bought shoes long ago the first thing you would do was you would put clips and studs on them to make them last. Well! The smoke they would take out of those dance floors when they would be swinging around! And if you got a bang of that you'd lie! These big fellas of about fourteen or fifteen stone, you’d come home and your legs would be as black as the ace of spades! But you didn’t care, you were glad to get out.

Who asked you to dance was a big thing. It was very much a big thing to be thought a good dancer. The men were all oul'-fashioned too and would only ask out the good dancers. They could be your next door neighbour and you ‘d be left sitting there! [Eyeing the dictaphone] I hope that's not on! [laughs].

"We'd come home about 11:30 or midnight and mother would ask ‘Who danced you the night?' and we'd say ' We got no dances.' and she'd say 'Stand out in front of the crowd the next time and you'll get danced.' And we would and we still wouldn’t get danced. We mustn't have been the best of dancers. The good dancers were Maggie Kelly and Charlie Duffy , among others."

Lily got over her disappointments and was eventually swept off her feet by Bobby Ivors, one of them dashing young Irish soldiers out in Leenan. Without too much injury to her legs we hope!

As I prepare to pack up and go and allow this family to get over the stations, Lily informs me of the area's long standing reputation for hospitality. It was unheard of not to offer a bed to travellers who were looking for shelter for the night, and Lily’s mother was particularly generous in that regard.

"Travellers would knock on your door at about ten o' clock at night and it could be a woman with children or maybe a tinsmith the likes of Paddy McGinley and my mother would make them a bed and they'd be very grateful the next day to have been treated like family. Another one would be Frazer, and my mother would be asked 'Did you keep Frazer?' Or the Angeliners. They used to get a couple of shillings or a dozen of eggs and use that to get some poitin, and they'd drink it by the side of the road, all bundled up in big shawls and rugs, and people'd be feared of them. My mother wasn't a bit feared of them."

Sounds like there was nothing Lily's mother couldn't cope with, and by now I’m ready to leave and no longer abuse her daughter and nephew's hospitality, however legendary it may be. On the road home I scan the countryside nervously for signs of the white lady. Luckily, it's not my day for bad omens.

McGlinchey Summer School

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