County Monaghan Rhymes and Sayings

John Johnson Marshall
Chapter VIII

In the County of Monaghan “The Green Woods of Truagh,” now alas, no more, gave their name to an Irish air: there is also the saying—“The whole world and the half of Truagh,” which is a localised form of the Gaelic saying “Munster a province and the half of Ireland.” Alluding to the division of Ireland into two halves between Conn of the Hundred Battles and Eoghan Mor, alias Mogha Nuadhat, the northern half being called “Conn’s half,” and Southern portion “Leath Mogha,” or “Mogha’s half.”

Another saying is “Amackalinn where the stirabout’s thin, and Tireran for the hairy butter,” These are two townlands in the barony of Truagh. A rhyme already given in connection with several other counties has its counterpart in:—

“Ballybay for drinking tea,

Monaghan for brandy,

Clownish beats them all

For eating sugar candy.”

Clownish is the old way of pronouncing Clones by the peasantry, and is really the retention of the old Gaelic form Cluain Eois.

Castleblayney is always associated with besoms, there being an Irish air named “Castleblayney Besoms,” in connection with which there are a couple of lines of an old song, probably the remains of the original words belonging to the air:—

“Castleblayney besoms, sold in Mullacrew,

If I can get them two a penny what is that to you?”

It was through Emyvale, a Monaghan village near the Tyrone border, that a beggarman passed from one end to the other without receiving any alms, upon which he turned and apostrophised the place in lines that have stuck ever since.

“Emyvale, oh Emyvale,

If you were as free from sin as you are from male (meal)

You would be the happy Emyvale.”

There is a little town in Co. Monaghan called Tydavnet, and in bygone days ere the advent of Poor Law Unions and Workhouses, when an inhabitant fell upon evil days and was forced to beg for a subsistence, if asked what part he came from he would reply “Tydavnet, God help me.” There is a kindred saying in the North of England. A Tickhill man when asked where he comes from says “Tickhill, God help me.” The same saying is used in several other districts of England for which various reasons are given. I am tempted to add the instance of “Kyme, God knows,” well known to all explorers of the Lincolnshire Fens.

“Its Kyme, God knows,

Where no corn grows,

And very little hay;

And if there come a wet time,

It washes it all away.”

A climatic condition of which we have frequent experience in Ireland. In the neighbouring County we have “Cavan bucks” and also the saying “cute as Gallogly.” Gallogly was the Governor or Keeper of the County jail, and once under his care there was no such thing as escaping or outwitting him. This is equivalent of the Tyrone saying regarding anyone who is particularly cute and knowing:—“They could keep Omagh jail.”

Near the Meath border there is a long strip of a village so proverbial for its little housekeeping eccentricities that it was a saying of Mullagh that “the goats were living in the bedrooms and the pigs looking out of the parlour windows.”

In the midlands anything extraordinary or out of the common “Beats Banagher,” and is as well known “Banagher beats the devil.” Some people say “bangs” instead of “beats,” but it amounts to the same thing in the original Greek.

According to one explanation Banagher in King’s County, situated on the river Shannon, was, in former times, a pocket borough, sending two members to Parliament. When a member spoke of a family borough where every voter was in the employ of the lord of the soil, the reply would be “That beats Banagher.” However, Co. Kerry is also a claimant for the honour. The chief of clan Carthy, who was lord over numerous other septs of his tribe such as the Sullivans, Donoghues and Macawleys, was elected at the fort of Lisbanagher in Kerry; and possibly the pomp exhibited on the occasion was so splendid to the Irish eye as to have given rise to the proverbial sayings to the difficulty of surpassing Banagher.