Thursday, January 2, 2003

Athy Ballads and Balladeers (Part One)

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.

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