Dara Vallely with his comrades Peter J Shortall and Brendan Bailey are founder members of the Armagh Rhymers. They are ballad singers, musicians, dancers, storytellers, mimers and comedians bedecked in bright motley costumes and masks of flax, willow and straw. They act out the old stories legends, customs and habits handed down from the old days.
It is over 60 years since I first saw the Christmas Rhymers and
heard them sing or recite their various parts in their ancient yuletide
play. I still have a wild recollection of that particular evening.
Unfortunately I was too young to retain any clear memory of the
costumes worn. I have only a vaguely remembrance of flowing beards,
fantastic hats, a blackened, painted or masked faces, long coats
and oddly behaved and weirdly dressed women.
For centuries a visit by the Mummers" or the "Christmas
Rhymers" as they were also known was an integral part of Christmas festivities
in Ulster. Groups of young men in the guise of colourful characters such
as 'Beelzebub', 'Jack Straw' and 'Devil Doubt' travelled from house to
house performing their short rhyming play.Other seasonal traditions included
the arrival of the 'Biddy Boys' on St. Bridget's Day and the 'Wren Boys'
who would often appear at festivities such as weddings.
The Armagh Rhymers
This theatre is ideal for all ages and abilities. Wit and humour are the hallmarks of the performances .Laughter combined with the skill of turning the audience into the cast ensures that every Armagh Rhymers performance enchants and engages the participants.
Their repertoire is immense and includes many ancient mummers plays interlaced with music, song, dance and mime. Other plays such as Fionn MacCool and the Navan Dragon, specifically written for younger audiences describe mythic or folkloric events.
In more recent years the Armagh Rhymers have built up an impressive performance poetry element to their work. They specialise in the writings of the Ulster poets, Seamus Heaney, John Montague , W.R. Rodgers and Michael Longley to name but a few.
Rhyming for equality
For 20 years the Rhymers have pranced around, laughed at by some who
have failed to understand their raison d'etre. But the last number of
years have seen their ideas coming to fruition.
Ireland and in the United States, Jewish, Irish, Episcopalian, black,
white, and Spanish together."
The following are just a few places where the Armagh Rhymers have
The Rhymers have been made freemen of New Orleans and their international credibility stretches from the Alaskan Eskimos to Rajasthan in India