Saturday, 22 June 2013

The Games People Played Locally in Bygone Days

In the pre-television age local people learned how to amuse themselves with games and pastimes which gave them endless hours of innocent fun at little or no cost. Football, hurling, boxing, swimming and handball were amongst the most popular games. 

There was room in other games for everyone to participate as the activities encouraged plenty of involvement and did not always depend on physical strength or skill. Some games were more seasonal in nature such as playing conkers, sleighing, playing marbles and games played at school or around the house. Today’s blog looks at a few games that are largely forgotten today.
  • Sleighing

In the winter time if there was a period of frost and snow then those fortunate to have a sleigh became the objects of interest and admiration. These sleigh owners were the heroes of the day as they could offer a world of excitement and danger to family, friends and neighbours. Some of the principal sleigh runs in the area were the Main Street, Erne Street, Finner Hill and Darcy’s Bray at Higginstown above the GNR bridge. Christy's Bray was a gentler slope for beginners on West Port at the back of the Erne Cinema.The most exciting sleigh run by far was down the Main Street gathering speed as the sleigh swept past the Diamond and, if navigation was successful, crossing the bridge and finishing in the East Port. Cars were not very plentiful at the time and especially during the Emergency (1939-1945) when there was petrol rationing and so the journey could be completed reasonably safely. However an eagle eye had to be kept for an approaching bus as the bus station was located beside the bridge. 

There was great spectator sport as people gathered on the Diamond to view the approaching sleigh, gathering speed down the Main Street and not always safely negotiating the journey to the East Port. The long haul of the sleigh back up the Main Street had many willing helpers anxious to get a run on the sleigh on the next occasion. Another source of fun during the frosty periods was sleighing on a slippery slide which could often be improved if water was spread on the slide overnight! The mandatory requirement for this form of sliding was hob nailed boots which gave added grip. On odd occasions of extreme frost when lakes were frozen over adventurous skaters took to the ice.
  •  Conkers

Autumn was the season for chestnuts and the season for getting conkers to play a totally inexpensive game.The first task was to get the chestnuts down from the trees  at places like Danby corner and this involved a range of activities such as climbing the trees or firing objects to dislodge the chestnuts. After a period of wind nature often did its job and lots of chestnuts could be gathered from the ground. The next task was to peel the prickly chestnut and then allow it to dry for a number of days until the outer core was toughened. The conker as it was called had to be pierced through the centre by a nail to allow string to be passed through it. The string was knotted a number of times to provide a base for the conker. A lengthy piece of string was used and this was wrapped around the hand prior to battle commencing. The rules of engagement were that only two people were involved and took alternate turns at inflicting damage to their opponent’s conker. The conker was held away from the body and allowed to swing freely at the end of the string. The purpose of the game was to cut the opponents conker which often required a number of strikes. The skill of hand-eye co-ordination was used successfully by the victor.

  • Popular School Games 


This game is still familiar to young people and the players had their own rhymes eighty years ago, like the following:

Little men selling cattle
How does your money rattle?
One, two, sky blue
All out but you

One child counted first and the last one out was the tigger. The tigger ran after the other players until she tigged one of them and then the process began again. Similar type games were High Windows and Round the Green Gravel.

The Hound and the Hare

This game was similar to Hide and Seek with the hare hiding and the hound trying to find him. When he was found he takes to his heels and a chase takes place.

Round the Green Gravel

Children formed a ring and ran around singing:

Round the green gravel the grass grows green
Many a lady is fit to be seen
Dressed in silk and washed in milk
The last pops down

All make a run to be the first sitting down and whoever is last sitting down is the next tigger.

Cat and Mouse

One child stood in the middle and two other children caught each of his hands. Then they swung around with one called the cat and the other the mouse. The cat tried to catch the mouse. When the cat caught the mouse the cat was the mouse the next time.

 Hiding the Button

All stood around in a row and one child pretended to be putting a button or a coin into each child’s hand. Each child kept their two hands closed tightly. Every child tried to guess who had the button. If he guessed wrong he had to pay a forfeit.

The Game of Duck

A large flat stone was placed on the road or field. a smaller stone is placed on top. This is called the duck. A stand is made a certain distance away at which the throwers must stand. Each child then threw a stone to see who could hit and knock off the duck the greatest number of times.

  • Playing Marbles.

In the Spring time a very popular pastime was playing marbles which was played in all parts of the area and which continued until fairly modern times. The advent of television and computer games has limited the number of outdoor games in recent years. The original marbles were clay-fired and were quite fragile and were replaced by colourful glass marbles called ‘glassies’. A much larger glass marble was called the ‘taw’ which had the power to blast ‘glassies’ out of the way and indeed chip them. Steel ball bearings later had the power to smash all opposition. Countless hours were spent in playing marbles which required good hand-eye co-ordination to be successful.

Lots Happening for Ballyshannon 400 Gathering Events

Check a recent blog in May to read about  what happened in Ballyshannon  400 years ago. Ballyshannon will have lots of interesting events to commemorate this event and it would be an ideal time for our diaspora to be here for some or all of Ballyshannon 400 from 5th-11th August when there will be daily events of a historic, cultural, fun and community nature. 

Ballyshannon 400 features on a new DVD which can also be located on the Internet  by googling Ballyshannon Television- You Tube. The DVD showcases the scenery, history, events and heritage of the locality and is well worth a viewing. Congrats. to Mary Daly, Town Clerk, her team at Backing Ballyshannon, the Town Council, Shane Wallace of Wallace Media and  a number of helpers for making this possible. Have a look online and relive memories past and present.

In the lead up to Ballyshannon 400 visitors will be in town for the Ballyshannon Folk Festival which takes place from the 1st to the 4th August also for a Dedication Service and weekend events to commemorate the Erne Fishery Case  on 3rd and 4th of August. A future blog will discuss the victory in 1933 won by the people in what has become known as The Erne  Fishery Case or The Kildoney Fishermens' Case.

Upcoming Blogs June/July

29th June “Romance and Murder among the Gaelic Chieftains at Ballyshannon”
6th July “The Banks of Culmore” (Coolmore)
13th July “The Kildoney Fishermen’s Case”
20th July “Local Customs for Special Days”
27th July Blog on “A Famine Walk from the Paupers’ Graveyard to the Workhouse in Ballyshannon on 5th August 2013 conducted by Anthony Begley.”

A New Local History Book suitable for those at Home and Away

A new book entitled: "Ballyshannon. Genealogy and History"  reveals newly researched history and genealogy of the town, extending as far as the Rossnowlagh, Cashelard, Corlea, Clyhore, Higginstown and Finner areas. Includes the parishes of Kilbarron and Magh Ene.

The genealogy material provides detailed guidelines for anyone tracing their roots in the area or anywhere in County Donegal or Ireland. 

The book contains 500 pages and is richly illustrated with stunning colour, aerial photography, original illustrations and rare photographs of the area not seen before.

Topics include: How to go about Tracing your Roots/The first settlers in the area/ Newly researched history of the town of Ballyshannon and the townlands in Kilbarron and Mágh Éne parishes/ Records of the first travellers and tourists to Ballyshannon, Bundoran, Belleek, Rossnowlagh and Ballintra/An aerial guide to place names along the Erne from Ballyshannon to the Bar/Flora and Fauna of the area/ A history of buildings and housing estates in the locality/Graveyard Inscriptions from the Abbey graveyard, St. Joseph’s and St. Anne’s /Rolling back the years with many memories of the Great Famine, Independence struggle, hydro-electric scheme, Gaelic games, boxing, handball, Boy Scouts, soccer, mummers, characters, organisations, folklore and lots more.

Book Available from Anthony Begley West Rock Ballyshannon.  Enquiries welcome for postal and other details. Also available at The Novel Idea Bookshop Ballyshannon, Ballyshannon and District Museum, Ballyshannon Tourist Office, The Four Masters Bookshop Donegal Town.

The blogs are original and are not taken from the book above.

Ballyshannon Musings:  Good to hear that people from the Ballyshannon area are enjoying the blog worldwide and the site has received thousands of hits. Please let people with an interest in Ballyshannon and surrounding areas know about this site, particularly people who are not living locally and those who are abroad. The site is called Ballyshannon Musings and there are a number of back issues available on the internet. Copy this link and it can be googled at The site can be located on the internet (or by connecting to my Facebook page). New items will be posted every week on Ballyshannon Musings during 2013the year of “The Gathering”. 

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