Skelligs Lists

By Anthony Greene

The timing of Easter should be a simple matter, or so one would think.

According to the Council of Nicaea, AD325, the formula was:
Easter falls on the first Sunday after the Full Moon date, based on mathematical calculations, that falls on or after March 21. If the Full Moon is on a Sunday, Easter is celebrated on the following Sunday.

Over the centuries since the birth of Christianity, and despite the decrees of the Council, this formula was interpreted differently by the authorities in Rome and the Celtic church. To settle the matter, a major synod at Whitby was called to decide the matter. And, despite the strong objections of the Irish delegates, the Roman system of dating was decided on.

Perhaps somewhat reluctantly, the Irish church accepted this decision. However, on the barren rock of Skellig, the community of monks there insisted on retaining their own interpretation, which meant that Easter and, by extension, the beginning of Lent took place about a week later than the Roman practice.

So in what way is that relevant? Even in ancient Ireland, sex reared its head. And young ladies and young (and not so young) gentlemen will do what they will do, despite rules and regulations. So Holy Mother Church decided that, if these unfortunate activities could not be stopped, at least they could be controlled. Hence the institution of marriage, complete with all the appropriate rites and ceremonies.

And the rules. No sex before marriage. And no marriages during Lent, which is a season of repentance. But sometimes a young gentleman and a young lady simply had to marry, especially if they had a “grave reason”. A problem. Because Lent, ushered in by Shrove Tuesday, a day of Dionysian rejoicing, is fast approaching. Now it is too late to marry, and the window twitchers will have six full weeks to watch and admire the growing evidence of the young lady’s Liaison Dangerouse.

But this is Ireland, and for every Irish problem there is an Irish solution. There was now, let’s say, a window of opportunity for those who needed to take advantage of the bonus days to set their affairs in order.. By going on pilgrimage to the Skelligs, where weddings, wakes and funerals were still available for another week, it would be possible to acquire the necessary licence, as it were. And many took advantage, or so we are told, and wed they were. But to quote my cousin Des Lavelle’s book “Skelligs Island Outpost of Europe”, in many cases just in time, and “The abbot of Skelligs will wed them tonight. A wedding that cannot be white”.

Of course much of the above is folklore. In fact, the Skelligs had been uninhabited, for centuries, and the abbot and his monks long since rested in their shallow graves. But that would not deter local rhymesters, especially in the period 1850 to 1900, and each year a series of “poems” of unerring awfulness appeared just before Shrove Tuesday, listing the various local swains who were to compelled by love, devotion or desperation to take the boat to Skellig. The most unlikely combinations of lovers were suggested, and that was not the only suggestion often included in the epic poems, known as “Skelligs Lists”. Libel did not greatly concern the scribes, hiding behind the cloak of anonymity. As they well needed to be, or the result could be a calling out from an enraged father whose daughter had been subjected to improper suggestions. The letters pages of The Cork Examiner and other newspapers carried heartfelt threats from loving fathers, promising hellfire and legal remedies against any “authors”, but as noted, the authors were anonymous, even if suspicion was often well placed.

So how does this impact of ACR – our beloved parish of Aghabullogue, Coachford and Rylane? In fact we have a copy of a very local poem, and surprisingly it relates to the gentry from the parish and surrounding parishes. The author, as is usual, is anonymous – perhaps as well, for his own safety. About ten years ago Ms. Sally Walker of Dundrum, a granddaughter of Thomas Epinetus Crooke (Tommy Crooke in the verse) gave me a photocopy, with permission to the then Coachford Historical Society to use it. This proved impossible, but it is here offered to ACR Heritage. By studying the names, I reckon this was written some time between 1845 and 1850, as Caroline Fairtlough married an army officer named Philips in April 1850 and others who can be positively identified also married around this time. And Doctor Crooke was indeed successful as he and Elizabeth Lindsay of Peake House married in 1847.

So here, in all its sub Shakespearean verbosity, is

The East Muskerry Skellig List

Fair ladies, I don’t mean t’abuse you
I write this merely to amuse you.

Who has not heard of famed Skelligs shore
Where Ocean rages with tremendous roar
And of the cliffs which rise unto the sky
And seem to bid this lower world “Good Bye”.

Those cliffs which to a keen observer’s sight
Seem lost for ever in the realms of light
And are, although Parnassus like they rise
Unseen by all except by lovers’ eyes.

Can there be one who never yet has heard
Of these famed rocks one solitary word?
If any, speak. What, none! Not one! No. no!
Well ‘tis no matter, there you all must go.

Now may the muse who in the olden time
Taught angry bards to write satiric rhyme.
Now may that muse, what e’er her name may be
Inspire the theme of others, not of me.

Some gentler muse, assist, for not belong
To me the arrows of satiric song.
Now to my theme, the other evening, I
Determined off to Skelligs shore to hie.

And there concealed beneath a rock to lie
And quietly observe the passers by.
Sing now, my muse, of all those who come here
Be they, of old or young, or plain, or fair.

The first I saw approach this place
With downcast eyes and blushing face
In which were love you well might trace
Walked on, but not alone.

For as she passed by me I took
The opportunity to look
Close at her face, then Dr Crooke
Came running eager on.

He was not slow to overtake
That cruel fair, the Maid of Peake;
And this for nothing but to make
Miss Lindsay, Mrs. Crooke.

Ah! Do, Elizabeth be kind
Let Hymen you and Warren bind
That is if the Dr. suits your mind
Now don’t be bashful took.

The next that came, one, if you please was going
In tax cart with Miss Bernard was John Bowen
Who dashed along the moment he did land on
The Skelligs shore, as he used to in Bandon.

Oh! Bandon streets! I pity oft the stones
When bearing a whole coach of Bowens, groans
Not groans unearthly fill the air around
Loud groans which issue from the o’er burdened ground.

          I can’t well remember
              What pair did next pass
          But I think ’twas Miss Gollock
              And Doctor Madras.

A trio next appeared on Skelligs Strand
The three Miss Colthursts walking hand in hand
And though I looked and looked and looked again
To see their beaux could see no beaux with them.
Now why was this? I thought it mightly “quare”
To see these Graces ungallanted there.

The lovely Miss Welland next appeard in sight
I really felt for her that dreary night.
She looked so enchanting and she was so gay
And she was so witty that shortened the way.

Thus an old author wrote whose truths bound, not transgressed
“Comes jucundus pro vehiculo est.”
She got safely o’er the rocks, the de’il take ‘em!
Why not! For she leaned on your arm Jack Wakeham.

The night was cold, to take her there a sin’
No matter young love kept her warm within,
I heard while ago, and ‘twas published for “sartin”
That she went to Skelligs with Dublin Jack Martin.

The report is unfounded, tis false! Tis a lie!
At least be assured “It was all in my eye”
My story’s the true one, I saw them for sartin
And the other’s a fiction, “tis all Betty Martin”

Just now the path so crowded grew
I could distinguish very few
The throne became so dark and dense
I stood amazed, it was immense.

And at this time the silver moon
Became obscured, so that no one
Of all the crowd was clearly seen
And gents were few and far between.

The Misses Nettles passed me by
And Carry Fairtlough too
The two Miss Furlongs also went
And Warrens not a few.

Miss Bowen next, and Tommy Crooke
Did also pass me down
Mary Ann White and William Crooke
Bill Bowen and Fanny Brown.

Eliza Bowen next appeared
Tom Cooper by her side
And close at hand was seem Miss Cross
And many more beside.

Then Johnny Crooke, with him Miss Good
And two Miss Crosses went
John Henry Colthurst and Phil Cross
Young Phil of course I meant.

Miss Armstrong also joined the throng
And pretty Isabella
I did not see who went with her
But he’s a lucky fellow,

Close followed on the beaten track
James Fairtlough and Miss Carey
And as they passed I heard these words
“My own sweet darling Mary”.

And Sally Cooper moved along
Beside her Doctor Lowe
Who asked her if she’d walk with him
She plump refused to go.

At this rebuff he hung his head
I pitied the poor doctor
For she declared she’d have no one
Whose doings had so shocked her.

And now upon James Gollock’s arm
Marcella Thorn leant
Both very quickly passing by
Their course through Skelligs bent.

Now Captain Carey walked between
Miss Vise and Miss Farange
The latter he devoutly swore
Was no less than “une ange”.

Now ladies to the end I’ve got
So I wish in the words of Scott
To all and each a fair “Good Night”
And pleasant dreams and slumbers bright.

          Once more, good Night.

Found amongst some old papers, and copied by J. B. White.
Dec 8, 1911.
Given to me by the late Ms. Sally Walker, a Crooke descendant.