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T


he annual pilgrimage to Mám Éan has been revived in the last 20 years, having been closed down in the early 20th


century because of the heavy drinking, carousing


and occasional fighting that went hand in hand with the day. It has, however, been transformed into a pious, restrained affair, far from its pagan roots. Sir Henry Inglis has left us this account from 1834 of the old form of pilgrimage.


‘Far up the winding way, for miles before us, and for miles behind too, groups were seen moving up the mountainside; the women with their red petticoats, easily distinguishable; some were on foot, some few on horseback and some rode double…Everybody in this part of the country is called Joyce; and the spot where the pattern is held, is claimed by the Joyce to be in Joyce’s country; but this is not admitted by the Connemara boys; and accordingly, two factions, the Joyce’s and their opponents, usually hold patterns near the same ground, though not close together; but yet so near as to make it impossible that the meetings should break up without a scrimmage ….


Tere were a score of tents or more – some open at the sides, and some closed; hundreds in groups were seated on the grass, or on the stones, which lie abundantly there. Some old per-


48


sons were on their knees, beside the holy well; performing their devotions… I was warmly welcomed as a stranger by many who invited me into their tents. Of course I accepted the invitation; and the pure potheen circulated freely.


By and by, however, some boastful expression of a Joyce ap- peared to give offence to several at the far end of the tent. Two or three glasses of potheen were quickly gulped by most of the boys; and the innkeeper … whispered that there would soon be some fighting … Any one to see an Irish fight, for the first time, would conclude that a score or two must inevitably be put hors-de-combat … the shillelaghs no doubt, do sometimes descend upon a head, which is forth- with a broken head; but they oftener descend upon each other: and the fight soon becomes one of personal strength.


On the present occasion, five or six were disabled but there was no homicide, and after a scrimmage, which lasted perhaps ten minutes, the Joyces remained mas- ters of the field … I noticed, after the fight, that some who had been opposed to each other, shook hands and kissed; and appeared as good friends as before.’


mám Éan


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