Clada Asses in the 1600’s

Down Survey Map

                     Down Survey Map

We don’t mind if we couldn’t spell, or use proper grammar. We could talk. We did talk (in our own language).

And we told tales, and if the townsfolk didn’t like it, so what? We looked after our own; yes, our own asses. I am proud to be a Claddagh Ass. We survived, and we watched them come and go. Where are they now – those that mocked? In the New York smog, or Boston slums; or drinking dewdrops from the mountain, and eating salmon from the Fiddann? We wish them well. They probably wish they never kicked a Claddagh ass.

Older than ye think, are we

Old Clada asses are older than ye think


Déantús an Phoitín

Poítín Recipe


  •  Granulated Sugar – several stones
  • Yeast – a few pounds of the stuff
  • Spring Water – gallons and gallons
  • For a pleasant change, try an alternative malt and barley mixture, plus yeast, in the same secret quantities.

Get an old barrel and make sure that it is washed out properly. Then melt the sugar but don’t let it burn. The sugar semi-liquifies as it begins to melt. Place the yeast in another container or bowl and break it up with your hands.

Heat the barrel with a drop of hot water. When heated, put a fistful of yeast into the barrel and then pour in some lukewarm water on top of it. Add a good dollop of melted sugar. Throw a wet cloth on top of the barrel and let the sugar and yeast dissolve into the water. The cloth helps to keep the smell down, which is very important.

Place the barrel in a secret dry place. Put hay all around it, including under it, and over the top. Leave it like this for three days. When you go back to the secret place after three days, repeat the same procedure over again, in the same way you did it before, with the yeast, sugar and lukewarm water. Keep doing this over and over, over several weeks, until the barrel is almost full. You now have a wash.

Poitin making sketchWhen the mixture is ready, thin it out with water, preferably potato water. For added flavour, put a bit of treacle through it. This crucial preparation stage is now complete, and the mixture is ready to run.

To run it you will need a steel drum with a lid, copper piping plus a basin with a hole in it. The hole must be the exact same diameter as the copper pipe – because the end of the pipe is pushed neatly through the hole. A worm is also needed and placed into the drum. Always ensure that your drum and worm are thoroughly clean.

Heat the drum gently on a turf fire, and watch as the steam turns magically into whiskey, in the form of a totally clear water-like liquid. Continue running your mixture very gently. When the running is near to completion, gather your whiskey from the still and worm, and then put it back into the top drum one more time and run it again.

When cooled, drink in moderation with your appreciative neighbours – but only after treating the fairies. It would be a pity to be cursed for the rest of your life, after all that patience and endeavour.

If you opt for the malt and barely alternative, there is a lot more hard work involved. Say, you had four stones of malt and barley, then you would have to leave it in water for about three weeks until buds appear. Next, you throw the mixture out onto a dry loft and you have to keep tossing it every day. Do this until the bud goes back into the seed. Finally, you crush the seeds and then put them into the wash barrel with some yeast and lukewarm spring water. The extended process is worthwhile. You will be rewarded with a spirit which your neighbours will declare is ‘The Best of Whiskey’.

Quality Control 

To test the success of your distilling skills, light a small piece of paper and put it into a small sample glass of the liquid (whiskey). When it stops burning, the remaining liquid should only be pure water. If there is a good flame burning from the liquid, that suggests that it is a good whiskey, and can be classed as Mountain Dew. Also check that a nob of butter sinks in your filled whiskey glass. If the butter floats on top, then you still have too much water content and you should return to the still and run away.

A surefire way of testing the alcohol strength of your brew is to boil the whiskey and then let it cool off. When the bead on top is not too strong, run it another time and throw some salt into it. If big bubbles appear at the top of the whiskey, it is strong stuff. This spirit is categorized as Mad Man’s Soup; true poítín.

Always, ALWAYS, throw the first drop of poítín to the fairies. Otherwise, supernatural beings will haunt your furtive drinking session. In modern parlance, this is called “hallucination”.

Various Uses for Poítín: 

Never let poítín into the wrong hands. Share discreetly at local weddings or for a wake house or with someone who is sick – but never let it into the wrong hands. Your livestock will appreciate a drop as well. To liven up your cattle, mix it with milk and let them slurp away. Poítín is particularly beneficial for people with Arthritis or Sciatica or pains in their knees. For additional pain relief, use internally and externally. Rub the poítín into the affected area. The first run of whiskey is considered the best for aches and pains, or maybe you just don’t feel anything when you sample the second or third runs.


Distribution of your excess whiskey for commercial gain is fraught with danger. When caught on the road, Master Distillers of old were rarely transported overseas, but the County Court Judge will impose hefty financial penalties in the knowledge that your neighbours and customers will stump up a few quid in order to ensure that the still is removed to an even more secret place. Use vigilance and cunning. Here’s an example from our parish:

In the troubled times of 1921, an old woman used to bring Póítín into Tubbercurry and sell it to the big shots in town. She was a mighty woman. The ruthless Black ‘n’ Tans were around at that time; and they used to hold people up on the road, checking their carts. Our heroic old lady used to transport the poítín in kettles. She would fill the top of the spout and seal the lids on each kettle with buttermilk. The soldiers would ask her what was in these kettles and she would reply, “Can you not see that it is buttermilk which I sell to the poor people at the Tubbercurry market each week.” She was known to have one of the most popular stalls on the market, so the local army sergeant was suspicious.

One time, the soldiers followed her out of her village, on her way to Tubbercurry, intending to conduct a thorough search of her cart, away from the busy main road where rebel youths stoned the Brits if they hassled the old locals too much. Word of the soldiers’ presence in the parish was quickly passed to the farmers up the lanes, and a baying mob attempted to delay the platoon as it marched behind the old lady’s cart, passing through Banada. The commotion allowed just enough time for our heroine to lead her ass to the River Moy bank for a drink, out of sight, below the bridge.

Quick as a flash, she tied together the kettles containing whiskey with a string, and dropped them down into the river below the reed beds. She always had them well-sealed, so the Mountain Dew was safe. When the soldiers eventually caught up with her on the riverbank, the sergeant hinted that he would instruct the Moy to be dredged. Not to be outdone, the brave old lady grabbed her carbolic from the cart and immediately started to strip off her clothes. “Will you give me the courtesy of bathing in private – or do the British men have no scruples at all?” howled the old woman. With her underwear now in full view, the soldiers did not know how to react, but the cursing farmers made a decision for them with their shouts from Banada Bridge. “Let a lady wash in peace! Get back into town or we’ll send word to get your barracks burned down!” The red-faced soldiers beat a hasty retreat just as our dear old poítín pedlar plunged fully naked into the icy waters. She was a hardy woman, LORD HAVE MERCY ON HER, and she was never stopped on the road again.

Hiding places: 

Bogs, drains, hen houses, haystacks and manure heaps are recommended common places to hide poítín. However, having uploaded this info into the public domain, you had better not hide your poítín in bogs, drains, hen houses, haystacks or manure heaps.

Poítín & The Fairies:

If you drink poítín in the company of more than one person, then you must always pour out an extra measure for the fairies. One measure is sufficient because they are very small in stature compared to the human frame. Leave this tot outside of your drinking den, in the open-air. It will always be gone by the time you wake from your poítín-induced coma.

Scientists have discovered that virtually pure alcohol rapidly evaporates when left in an outdoor atmosphere – but what do they know? It’s better to be innocent and safe, than sorry.

This stuff is no good - it's legal

          This stuff is no good – it’s legal

The Fair Day in Aclare

(Recounted by John Sheerin, 25th February 2001)

“On the fair day each townland had its own area where they kept the cattle.  The people from Gurterslin and Drumartin areas always parked near the entrance of the village on the low road. The people from Tourlestrane, Carrane, Tubberoddy and Coolreagh parked from the barracks up the high road.  Carrowloban, Kincullew and that area parked down the main street. The Killassers parked on the bridge.  Each townland had their own place to park.  When the cattle were sold they were put into Leheny’s yard. Then they were loaded on to lorries up the road.  Before my time, the pigs were taken to Sligo. The farmer of that time would bring the pigs by horse and cart to Sligo. They would bring loads of meal and flour back on the return journey. 

There were a lot of pubs in Aclare in those days. Some shops had both groceries and hardware on sale. There was Kathleen Feehely, Loftus’s, Higgins’, Ellen Haran’s (which became Mayes), Bradleys, Flatleys and Quinns. We had the fair winter and summer.  Each farmer herded his animals in a cluster. The villagers from each townland would hold their animals together up against a wall or steer them around the street. Everyone watched their own cattle. 

The sheep were on the backway. They were held with the dogs. They stayed together. When they had walked ten miles they were damn glad to stand for a while. When they were bought they were taken home on carts. 

Aclare market, Co. Sligo

                                     1961 Aclare Fair Day

The country people brought the banabhs in on carts.  They’d sell them in front of Gallaghers. Touhy’s from Ballaghaderreen came with lorries for banabhs, which they kept in crates. 

On the fair day the village was hard to pass through. It was noisy with voices bargaining, donkeys braying, the mooing of cows and baaing of sheep. The smells were strong. The place used to be in an awful mess when the day was over and the animals were taken home. The next day the County Council would come and sweep the streets. There was no water or electricity that time. We didn’t get the electricity until the 50’s. In the late 50’s we got the water on tap. 

Of course there was many a row on a fair day. When the tinkers were around we often had fights with them. Mind you, not on fair days. One day there were only two guards in the barracks and a row got up. The guards came looking for help to put the troublemakers out of the village. Four or five of us tackled them with the guards. We put them out over the bridge and gave them a good hoisting. Nobody got injured and there were no bad feelings. The fair days were great.  I miss them.  They ended sometime in the 60’s.  Then the mart was started in Aclare by Kennedys.  That continued for about ten years. 

The village had a shoe maker called Dinny Walsh. Kate Fahy was another shopowner. She sold sweets. Other owners were Bretts, Sheerins, McAllisters and Evans. Each shop had a hardware section. Charlie Brett was the blacksmith. Years before I remember there were three bakeries in Aclare; Loftus’, Higgins’ and Lundys. There was also a cooper who lived down at the edge of the river where the car park is now. I don’t remember him but he was in it. There was also a butter house down along the river.  

But getting back to the fair day. It was one of the best fairs in Ireland. The jobbers used to come from Sligo, Ballina, Northern Ireland and Roscommon. The fair was held on the last Wednesday of the month. We stayed in the shops and protected the outside by putting barrels and bars on the streets. These stopped the cattle coming up on the footpath and breaking the windows. 

The jobber would come along and ask the farmer the price of the animal. They made the bargain and finished the thing with a slap of the hand. The deal was made. After that they’d go into the pub and have a drink.”

Manners and Customs in Old Kilmactigue

The reverend James Neligan (1752-1833), who was the Rector of Kilmactigue from 1802 until his death, has left us a most interesting insight into the lifestyle of this once densely populated Parish in the south-west of County Sligo. In his dual role as vicar and magistrate, he was well-placed not only to observe but also to comment on the manners and customs of his fellow parishioners, the majority of whom were Roman Catholics. His relationship with his co-religious was such that on occasion he rented the local chapel for the use of his small flock.  In his obituary in ‘Saunders News Letter’ he is referred to as a “scholar, poet and gentleman”.

 “ The parish of Kilmactigue, which has a rectory and vicarage, is situated in the barony of Liney, county of Sligo, and diocese of Achonry.  It is six miles in length by four in breadth; bounded on the east and south by the parish of Achonry; on the north and west by those of Killasser and Attymass.  A long range of mountains passes through it, most of which is pasturable; it also contains large tracts of wet bog. No woods are to be met within the parish; although in former ages a great part of it must have been covered with timber.

The number of families – by a return made last year by the priest – amounts to twelve hundred Roman Catholic families, to which may be added to the ten Protestant families, four of which have come lately to the parish. The number of houses is stated to be eleven hundred and fifty, to which are to be added those of the Protestant part of the population; in many of these there are two families living together.  Many of these families keep a servant boy or girl, and sometimes both, for three, six or nine months in the year, to assist them in their work.  It is computed that there are on average five children in each family, or rather a house, which however must be a rather large a computation, as many are old people, and many newly married.  The proportion of males and females is nearly equal.  They are mostly poor, maintaining themselves on small portions of land, for which they generally pay a very high price.  There are not thirty families in the parish who pay any of the public taxes included under the hearth and window duty, they are notwithstanding, tolerably healthy, though confined to poor diet, such as potatoes, with milk and eggs occasionally. The population, as well as the prices of provisions, must  have increased very much within the last forty years, as that time Archdeacon Hutchinson,  who was the incumbent, could set the thythes (both rectorial and vicorial) for only £85 per annum, which now exceed £400.

Early marriages is perhaps the principle cause of the great increase in the population.  The young women are generally married from the age of fifteen to twenty, and the men from twenty and upwards.  The portion usually given, is from ten pounds to fifty with the girls, and the young man has generally a smallholding of land, with perhaps a few cattle, to begin the world with. A few instances may occur where one hundred pounds may have been given as a portion with a bride, but such may indeed be called a ‘rava avis’. These marriages are contracted in most instances, without any regard to love, affection, or any of the finer feelings, and are concluded between the friends of the young people, without any reference to their choice or judgement; and it frequently happens, that the bride is dragged to the hymeneal altar, bathed in tears, and compelled to take a companion for life, who is chosen by her parents from prudential motives.  The chief time for marriages is from Christmas until Lent, being the season of the year when people have the most leisure for settling such business.

 When the parents of a young man think it is time for him to take a wife, they consider what young woman in the neighbourhood will be likely to answer the purpose, and having determined on one, the party goes to make the match, as they term it, which is done by sitting up the whole night, talking over the terms, drinking whiskey and smoking tobacco.  The match being concluded, the day is appointed for the marriage, at which time the parties assemble at the abode of the woman, where the priest attends and a plentiful dinner or supper is prepared for the occasion, at which a large number of the friends are entertained, and the abundance of whiskey distributed amongst them; perhaps ten gallons, or more, the price of a middling cow; this, with the accompaniment of a piper, enables them to pass the night in the utmost of festivity. Dancing makes a considerable part of the entertainment, and is considered as a necessary accompaniment amongst them; and hundreds who have never learned the alphabet, or spoken a word of English, have regularly attended the dancing schools, and, at no small expense, become adept in that science.  Singing the old Irish songs makes also a principal part of their entertainment, which they execute with great correctness, as many of them have sweet and melodious voices, well adapted to these melancholy and plaintive strains. Things go on very well in the beginning of the night.

 As long as the reverend pastor holds the chair, he keeps them to regularity and good order; but afterwards the scene changes, and exhibits chaos of tumult, vociferation and drunkenness.  Perhaps three musicians may be  found playing to as many as sets of dancers, a dozen men and women singing as many different songs, and other groups employed in altercation and quarreling. Thus two or three days and nights are spent, before the parties disperse’ and it frequently happens that there is as much money lavished on the entertainment as would amount to half the fortune of the bride.  Such however is the custom of the country, and such the pride and spirit of the people, that they would lay out their last shilling to furnish the feast rather that be thought singular or churlish.

It is only on such occasions as weddings and christenings and at Easter and Christmas, that they afford themselves any sort of animal food. Potatoes furnish the standing dish three times a day throughout the year, except that in summer, when they begin to grow scarce, those who can save a part of their oats from the landlord’s rent, make little meal, which they use either for bread or to make gruel, which they make with their potatoes.

 Although almost every family has one cow, and many of them more than one, yet their pasture is so bad, and their winter feeding so scarce and indifferent, that they have very little milk at any time; but for the winter and spring months scarcely any, particularly if their cows are in calf.  Those who have even one cow put by all the sweet milk for the churning, and use none but the buttermilk; by so doing, they make half a hundred weight of butter in the season, and perhaps more, which they will sell at Sligo, where it is brings from £5 10s to £6 10s. per cwt. and which enables them to pay their rent. They have a good many fowl, and plenty of eggs, which the women sell to procure the price of tobacco, (a luxury to which they are immoderately attached), and such is their infatuation, that, notwithstanding their poverty and nakedness, each family will expend from 10d to 1s 8d per week on that abominable weed, where it is used by the man and wife; for although they could buy as many salt herrings for that money, as would afford them nearly every dinner every day along with their potatoes, they prefer eating them dry, to the want of their beloved tobacco.

The understanding of the inhabitants of this parish, though uncultivated, is acute; they are generally hospitable, complaisant and honest.  The Irish language is universally spoken, but few of them can speak English.

A great number of Saint’s days are observed, which, however, are spent in idleness and drinking, to the great injury of the people, both as morals and industry.

The Lady Days are observed with the most scrupulous attention, that is to say, so far as abstaining from all kind of daily labour, or following trade or calling, although their sanctity does not operate on their minds so as to induce them to refrain from sports and pastimes, cursing or swearing, or frequenting tippling houses, and drinking to excess. At the same time it is not unusual to see then actively employed on Sundays at their usual labour, without seeming to think that they are transgressing a positive command of God, or doing an act either sinful or indecent.  With an equal strictness they observe the fast from flesh meat on Fridays, and during Lent; although if an opportunity offers, they would not scruple to get drunk at these times. On making enquiry from some of the more decent of them, why they acted thus and why they transgressed the positive commands of God, with so little feeling, while they obeyed the ordinances of mere men with such exact devotion, the writer was informed, that their church, which taught them to do so, was infallible, and that it was their duty to obey its decrees.

To the fondness they have for observing holidays, may be added another propensity highly injurious, that of attending at the fairs and markets in their neighborhood, although they have no business to transact there.  From these they seldom return without laying out some part of their small means for whiskey, which often produces rioting and fighting; this is followed by a further loss of time, and waste of money, in going to the Magistrates to obtain justice, and from thence to the Sessions to prosecute their suits. Often indeed they settle their disputes at home, by reference or by arbitration, and the same ingredient which originally produced the quarrel, and marked their heads with bleeding scars, becomes the means of adjusting the dispute; for the compromise is never entered upon but where whiskey can be procured, and here the parties are well fined, by paying for the liquor employed in treating the Brehons, (for thus the arbitrators are called in Irish) and the friends and witnesses who attend at the reference. 

Another source of idleness amongst them, is the constant attendance given at the wakes and funerals of their neighbours; the neglect of which would be considered as a crime of the blacked dye, and an offence not to be forgiven.

It is also a custom amongst them, that when any person dies in a village, all work and labour is totally suspended by all those living in the village, or within a short distance of it, until after the interment; the intermediate space is usually employed in visiting the house where the corpse is exposed, smoking tobacco, or entertaining themselves with certain plays or tricks, which are practiced by the young folks, (some of which are particularly expert in performing these) and which enable them to pass away the long night in the greatest mirth and hilarity; so that a person unacquainted with their customs, passing by, or visiting the house, would be led to believe that they were assembled for the purpose of celebrating a marriage, or commemorating some joyful event rather than condoling with the disconsolate friends of the deceased.  Among the more wealthy people, victuals are provided for those who come to the wake from a distance, and also a due proportion of whiskey and abundance of tobacco and pipes; some of which is also brought to the burying place, with which they regale themselves while the ceremony is being preformed.

These several expenses, which are deemed to be indispensable, and highly creditable to the deceased and to their friends, together with the fees to be paid to the priest, amounting to eight shillings for each person, and the Masses read for the soul of the departed, to bring him out of purgatory, amount to a considerable sum.  The burial of a wife with all the necessary appendages, may in many cases, amount to half the portion which the husband, wife, or child is spoken of, the complaint does not seem to turn so much on the loss of the person, as on the money it has cost the money for the interment.

Among the genteel and opulent families, besides the usual Masses celebrated for the souls of the departed, there is another, no less strange, but to which an uncommon degree of merit and virtue is ascribed; this they call ‘A Month’s Mind’.  The ceremony is attended by as much of their clergy as they can procure at the house where the person dies; where the forenoon of a certain number of days is dedicated to Masses and prayers, for the liberation of the soul of the deceased from its intermediate prison and to send it to the abodes of the blessed; whilst the afternoons are spent in conviviality and innocent recreation, for the purpose the best meats and drink which the country can afford are procured.

The surest proof of the goodness of a man’s life seems to be the largeness of his funeral; and therefore great care is taken to have the remains numerously attended; so that the hundreds, and sometimes thousands are seen assembled to commit one poor putrifying body to its kindred earth, whilst the air resounds with the melodious voices of a large assemblage of females, notwithstanding the doleful and melancholy cries uttered by them, are totally unconcerned about the deceased, and never sully their cheeks with a falling tear, to denote their grief.  A priest was stationed here lately, who, if he had continued, seemed likely to remove some of their gross prejudices, and some unreasonable practices.  He began by prohibiting the use of this Irish Cry at funerals, as being in itself useless, and only fit for uncivilised society.  Reason and good sense, aided by the authority which the Catholic clergy possess over the minds of the people, produced the desired effect, and put a stop to that practice so long as he continued on the parish; but on his removal, they fell into their old practice as fully as ever, so difficult is it to eradicate prejudice confirmed by long custom.

Extract from ‘Parish of Kilmactigue’  by Revd. James Neligan,, rector and vicar- as published in Mason’s ‘Parochial survey of Ireland’, Dublin, 1816

 Blimey – nothing’s changed.