The Stars of Ballymenone

The Stars of Ballymenone

The Stars of Ballymenone

The Stars of Ballymenone


In the time of the Troubles, when there were bombs in the night and soldiers on the road, Henry Glassie journeyed to the Irish borderland to learn how country people endure. He settled into the farming community of Ballymenone, beside Lough Erne in the County Fermanagh. He asked questions, and he listened. For a decade he heard and recorded the stories and songs in which they outlined their culture, recounted their history, and pictured their world--a world which, in their view, was one of love and defeat and uncertainty, demanding faith, bravery, and wit.

In his award-winning Passing the Time in Ballymenone, Henry Glassie set out to write a comprehensive ethnography of the community. Now, after decades of work in Asia, in Turkey and Bangladesh, in India and Japan, Glassie has returned to Ireland, using his skills as an observer, a listener, a writer, in an effort to understand how poor people in rural places suffer and laugh and carry on while history happens. Glassie's task in The Stars of Ballymenone is to set the scene, to sketch the backdrop and clear the stage, so that Hugh Nolan and Michael Boyle, Peter Flanagan, Ellen Cutler, and their neighbors can tell their own tale.

The Stars of Ballymenone is an integrated analysis of the complete repertory of verbal art from a community where storytelling and singing of quality remained a part of daily life. The book includes a CD so the voices of Ballymenone can be heard at last.


Hugh nolan, my star of the Irish twilight, died on November 14, 1981. a curt note from a nurse at the Erne Hospital told me. She had no one else to write to, and I stood, the paper in my hands, while my mind gathered around the fact. He was an old man, and old men die. That is how it is, people come and go. Then, slowly, like fog in the night, understanding came over me, and I broke down and wept. No death has hit me harder. I knew what the world lost in his passing.

I had come to his place, Ballymenone, in the County Fermanagh, at the southwestern edge of Northern Ireland, to learn how country people endure in violent times. It was 1972, the bloodiest year of the Troubles. Every day, I walked out of the lovely town of Enniskillen, stepping to the hedge when armored cars hurtled past, turning in along familiar lanes to wander the low hills that pitch and drift beside the Arney River. Walking, I got to know every dog, bog, and pass, every farm, every house, every person who lived there, and, a practiced hand at agricultural labor, I worked with them, clamping turf and rooking hay. When questions built up, I took the old cart track over Drumbargy Brae, whistling reels, swinging my sack from shoulder to shoulder without breaking stride, and, happy with anticipation, came down to Hugh Nolan’s house by the roadside.

His grandfather built it, a small brick house, whitewashed without, smoked inside to every shade of black. Mr. Nolan lived in one of its two dark rooms. By day he sat at the corner of the wide hearth, tending the fire beside him, feeding it new turf and splashes of oil from an old tin can. An iron crane reached over . . .

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