from T. G. Patterson, Harvest Home: The Last Sheaf (Dundalgan Press, 1975). pp. 197-201.

The investigation of types of "Harvest Knots" led to the examination of other harvest customs, such as the cutting of the Calliagh, the Churn and Harvest Home. Methods and descriptions were taken down in detail and published with townland locations in the Ulster Journal of Archeology. [1] The search showed that the ritual of cutting the Calliagh varied somewhat, even in adjoining townlands. That, however, was to be expected in an area like Armagh containing large numbers of English and Scotch settlers. The following account, taken down in the parish of Ballymore, illustrates the general procedure in County Armagh:

I made no attempt to classify under nationalities the accounts noted down throughout the county as I fear that the custom as now practised bears English and Scotch imprints, but though the collected versions varied in detail they tallied closely in the main points. The information obtained may be briefly summarized as under:

In certain districts where the population is largely of English and Scotch descent I found some decorated plaits called "Dressed Calliaghs," a type that sometimes hnds a place in harvest decorations at the annual Church Festival following the gathering in of the crops. Miniature corn ricks are another feature of the same festival and they are indeed works of art, the building of them requiring deft fingers and an eye for proportion, besides patience in shaping and thatching. Usually they are from two to two and a half feet high and beautifully proportioned.

The cutting of the Calliagh is still carried out on many farms and I saw numbers of specimens in houses in all parts of the county during my enquiries. Those that I saw had, of course, been plaited before being snigged by the scythe.

In the earlier stages of the war, when tillage had but slightly increased, there was still a little leisure in country districts for cults of the past, but now that every farmer has more land under cultivation than he can properly cope with, there is less time for remembrance of old customs. The cutting of the Calliagh is undoubtedly passing and, of course, with it the Calliagh Feast. The cult of the harvest knot is also decaying. The young people like to sport it but few are skilled in the making of it. This is specially noticeable amongst the boys and may be due not so much to lack of interest as to the fact that the older people and girls are willing to fashion knots for them.

Armagh is a county of surprise and contrast. In some of the more hilly districts primitive methods of agriculture remain. Potatoes may still be seen under "lazy-bed" cultivation and when seed-grass and oats are ready for threshing it is the old beating-stick and flail that come into use. In other parts tractors are quietly superseding horses in ploughing and preparing land for cropping and in the harvest season mechanical reapers and binders are plentiful. In such districts the old-fashioned horsedriven farm threshing machine has given way to the steam or other mechanized type of thresher, just as it, itself, drove the flail out of action. And yet the flail-threshed oats and wheat were much superior to steam-threshed. Twelve stones of such seed was ample to sow an acre but steam-threshed grain is so bruised and damaged that eighteen stones are required for the same purpose. That, with much other agricultural information, came to light during investigations. Such facts, however, have no bearing on harvest customs so cannot be dealt with here.

In conclusion, I should like to record that in 1944 Professor Evans and I saw harvest knots worn at the Lammas Fair in Ballycastle in July, and in November I noticed examples being sported in the fairs of Ballygawley and Enniskillen. I also saw specimens being displayed in the cities of Derry and Belfast and in certain districts in Down and Tyrone. The area covered by the above observations shows that the custom prevails to some extent in every county in Northern Ireland. I should also like to mention a practice that prevailed on the Armagh-Down border until quite recently—the making of representations of human figures in oat and wheat straw. Some were actually life-size and there are people living today in the neighbourhood of Poyntzpass who well remember a pair of such figures, male and female, in a house near the village. I first learned of their existence in 1940 and immediately visited the locality. Unfortunately the house in which they were preserved had passed into new ownership since my informant had seen them and they had been destroyed. The inhabitants of the adjoining farm-houses could advance no reason as to their original purpose, though quite familiar with the figures. They were not fragments of straw head-dresses and cloaks of the type known to have been worn in the county at certain festivals or ceIebrations [2] but complete straw-clothed human-shaped figures with masks. No details are available as to whether they were actual effigies, or costumes with masks and head-dresses capable of having been vvorn over ordinary clothing. Could the so-called figures possibly be a survival of the custom noted on the Armagh-Louth border by John Donaldson [3] circa 1838 in which a man and woman fantastically dressed with straw, danced around a female figure displayed on a pole. Donaldson describes the ceremony in detail and ascribes to it a "fecundity" cult. Were the Poyntzpass figures survivals of a similar practice discontinued at some date beyond the ken of the people now living in that locality? Could the figures have been a pair of such straw costumes with masks, retained originally because of pride in workmanship, and later for sentimental reasons preserved by a generation that had quite forgotten their purpose, or perchance had never learned it?


1. Vol. 5 (1942), pp. 2-7 and Vol. 7 (1944), pp. 108-116.
2. Jack Straw, a character in the Christmas Rhymers, was usually so attired.
3 Historical and Statistical Account of the Barony of Upper Fews in the County of Armagh, 1838. Tempest, Dundalk, 1923.