Thursday, December 19, 2002

Christmas Shopping in Athy - 1900

Nowadays we expect to be entertained rather than entertain ourselves. In that regard, we are so different from our parents in whose time entertainment was of the home made kind but no less enjoyable for all that. Now we can turn to the television or the radio at any time of the day or night and if dissatisfied with what we find there, put on a compact disc or a video tape. Wherever we look or listen while being entertained, invariably we take in the words and music of other people. Seldom if ever do we take the opportunity to create our own amusement unlike the folk of years gone by.

I was minded of this when I came across a file of papers I had been collecting for some years under the heading “Athy Ballads”. Leafing through its contents made me realise what an important role the local balladeer of bygone days played in the local community. He recorded the key events of the time as well as honouring or sometimes lampooning local characters. The ballads of the days were seldom if ever recorded in print and those which have survived are but a fraction of the many hundreds which were once sung or recited in the hostelries and homes of Athy.

One of the Athy balladeers of the 1930’s and 1940’s was Barney Davis of St. Joseph’s Terrace. His image is captured in some of the photographs of the musical shows which were held in the Town Hall before World War Two. Barney’s best known ballad which perhaps is more correctly described as a recitation piece was called “Doctor Don Roderick de Vere”. It ran to fourteen verses of which the opening lines were

“He searched up and down,
For a house in the town
This darkie secured one quite near
So resolved to win fame
That he hung up the name
Of Doctor Don Roderick de Vere”.

With the arrival of the fourth verse, we knew how and why he was called Doctor de Vere.
“For the weed he searched round
And began to compound
Medicines to him were so dear
Consultations were free
When you called in to see
This Doctor Don Roderick de Vere.

On some shelves he had laid
Many bottles he made
The cure for all your ailments was here
Rodine, Brilliantine, Iodine, Quinnine
Had Doctor Don Roderick de Vere.

Some people who went
for to try his treatment
Spread the news out to folk far and near
That they knew he could tell
If you’d die or get well
This Doctor Don Roderick de Vere.

All stood still and gazed
Every one was amazed
They called him a prophet or seer
On the lips of the rich
And the tramp in the ditch
Was Doctor Don Roderick de Vere”.

Doctor Don Roderick de Vere came to an unfortunate end but he is still recalled by the older generation of Athy people as the man who had the cures for many ailments.

“He has made the dumb talk
And the cripples to walk
He will cure the nose, throat or the ear
He has taken his place
With great men of our race
This Doctor Don Roderick de Vere.

De Vere died in tragic circumstances not long after his release from prison where he had been detained following a conviction for procuring an illegal abortion.

Barney Davis also wrote another, perhaps less well known ballad which he called “The Girls who pick the Peas”.

“You’ve heard about the factory,
You’ve heard about the peas
If you want to know the ins and outs
I’ll put your mind at ease
About the girls who work there
I’ll have you all to know
For I hear them and I see them
As they daily come and go.

The hours for starting work
Is timed from nine to ten
Some are no sooner on the job
When their coming out again
Its a bally good job I’m big and strong
And fed on “Erinox”.
For some faces that I see
Would drive a badger from its box,

The faces that they re-create
Is enough to make me faint
For some are out to advertise
For “Robiallac” paint
The finest bunch of glamour girls
That I have ever seen
Its a pity there’s no hanging
For the wearing of the green.

To see those “Garbos” passing by
You’d be thinking just like me
To a fancy dress ball they’re going
And not to a factory
You’ll meet the Queen of Sheba
With the Princess Ballyroe
The Duchess of Ballylinan
And the Countess Timahoe.

I have heard the thunders roaring
And the clouds burst in the skies
The L.D.F. in training
They’re not bad at making noise
I’ve heard a haggard of sparrows
And a swarm of bumble bees
But theres none can hold a candle
To the girls who pick the peas.

It was in sympathy with the women
That made Bell invent the phone
They were Edison’s inspiration
When he made the gramophone
A talking machine that science failed
To give a constant run
For women hold the secret of
Perpetual motion of their tongue”.

I’d wager that particular ballad did not get too many airings around Athy. I’ll have more local ballads next week. In the meantime, if you can add to the collection, let me know.

Happy Christmas to everyone.