It's Us They're Talking About: Lily Ivors and Hughie Copen

Margaret Farren

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Next on my hitlist will be some people who live in the opposite direction from my house and who are renowned for their cordiality and hospitality. Lily Ivors and Hughie Copen (Doherty) are full cousins and have lived most of their lives in Urris, an area steeped in tradition and folklore. In contrast to the cold, damp night we landed in on John Barney Toland, the day I set off on my brother's bike to Copen's house, the September sun is beating down and the hills and shoreline around Urris are shining brightly. It's a bright, lively day and the Copens have just had the stations and everyone is still up to high doh. It makes for bright and lively story- telling as well, as if Lily Ivors ever needed an occasion!

Lily begins by telling me about one of the stories she submitted to the commission. It was about the salt pans of Urris which was the area's solution to the scarcity of salt back in 1938. Rather than a snippet of myth or legend, at the time of Lily's writing the story of the salt pans was more a piece of history in the making.

Lily: "You'd have a big cairn of stones, like a big circle and in the middle was a bar. Hung on the bar was a large boiler or container and you took salt water up from the sea and lit the fire in the stones and boiled down the water for the salt. It was a browny yellowish colour and the people were damned glad of it and would be running to take bags of it home. If you had salt, milk and potatoes them days that was your table, you wouldn't go hungry. And it was needed for preserving everything, including the fish. The excess would be shaken on the corn because it would kill the grubs." Self-sufficiency was a priority in Urris and there was little they needed that they didn't know how to find.

Hughie: "There was no money in the houses them days. No pensions, no dole and if you had a big family you just ran the risk of not having enough to eat. But at the same time you were never hungry if you knew where to look for food. There was winkles and barnacles, dulse and sloke, all of which you could take home and boil up. And of course there was the fish."

Lily: "Fish was in great demand in those days. You' d catch them in the wee open boats and the herring would be saved in barrels for your own use."

Hughie: " And there were 'puckas' as well or small pollocks and they would be dried as hard as a rock and hung up in a long line in the house. They'd be eaten by boiling in milk. Another favourite was egg nog. The egg was broke into a bowl and you poured in some boiling water. Then you put in some salt and pepper and you'd have a basket of spuds and you'd put the bowl in the middle of the basket and you could put in some milk as well if you had it and everyone would help themselves with a spoon."

Lily: "Another one was breag/brae[sp?]. There was a pot with a lid put on the open fire and the water was boiled up in it. Oaten meal was stirred in with a potstick and it was stirred up fine and then you cut an onion through and maybe half a cup of milk. It was just like a soup when it was ready and it was beautiful. Bainne gorm was more or less the same, that was another dish we had. And there was dulse, boiled up with salt and potatoes, and that was full of iron, because it grew on the rocks.



McGlinchey Summer School


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