Killer cats, fairy horses and local links with Waltzing Matilda and Muhammad Ali

Author and storyteller Doreen McBride
Author and storyteller Doreen McBride

Wednesday’s page was about Enniskillen’s claim to be the first town in the UK to celebrate the signing of the Armistice and the ending of First World War.

Roamer was born and brought up in the historic little island town, and at the risk of being accused of giving it preferential treatment, today’s page takes us back once again to Lough Erne and Co Fermanagh.

Latest book about Fermanagh

Latest book about Fermanagh

Some of storyteller and author Doreen McBride’s quirky but authoritative books have featured on this page in the past.

Formerly a biology teacher at Wallace and Dromore High Schools, Doreen lives in Banbridge but regularly navigates Ireland’s highways and byways in search of local history, mythology and interesting people with stories, yarns and memories to share.

She has recently compiled a second book about Fermanagh, written in a distinctive, chatty style that disguises the many long hours of investigation and research that Doreen devotes to her enlightening publications.

Entitled ‘The Little Book of Fermanagh’ Doreen reveals that Van Morrison composed his iconic anthem Brown Eyed Girl on a piano in Derrygonnelly.

Fermanagh archaeology: Janus figure on Boa Island

Fermanagh archaeology: Janus figure on Boa Island

She introduces her readers to Paddy Monaghan from Ederney who was known as Paddy-Ali because of his close friendship with the boxing champion Muhammad Ali (who regularly sparred with Paddy’s 16-year-old son).

She tells of the traditional wooden boats on Lough Erne that were sunk annually by their owners – “the only boats in the world to be preserved during the winter by being scuttled.”

And she writes about Father Coyle who held several exorcisms in a haunted house in Coneen.

They didn’t appear to work so the owners emigrated to America in 1913.

Drawn by Doreen - Van the Man

Drawn by Doreen - Van the Man

The Co0neen Ghost turned up on the ship!

When she wrote her first book about Fermanagh in 2015 Doreen stressed “every mountain, tree, lake, stream, rock, stone and character tells a tale. Fermanagh’s culture, heritage, characters and stories,” she added “sets it apart from other places.”

The book included stories about ancient Irish pigs “who understood three languages - Irish, Latin and English”.

Doreen recounted the “monsters that lurk under Lower Lough Erne” and narrated some of the Lake Land’s ubiquitous ghost stories.

Waltzing Matilda's Banjo Patterson had great great grandfather from Pettigo

Waltzing Matilda's Banjo Patterson had great great grandfather from Pettigo

She can’t have spent much time in Banbridge when she was researching her first Fermanagh book because she published another book in 2015, entitled Louth Folk Tales, which took two years to write.

“I have always looked upon Co Louth as simply a place to pass through on the way to Dublin,” she admitted, “how wrong I was. I found it fascinating and full of interesting, amusing, friendly people.”

Her Co Louth meanderings revealed details of Lorcan O’Hanlon’s love for Cathleen ‘the Long Woman’ (she was 7ft tall, only three inches smaller than Lorcan!) and Doreen explained the tradition of dancing on Cauthleen’s grave.

She told how the Hound of Ulster recovered from war wounds on The Death Mound of Du Largy and recounted the doomed love of Lassara and her harpist “who haunt the waters of Carlingford Lough on stormy nights”.

“Unfortunately, storytelling is dying out,” Doreen believes. “Too many people are on their iPods and iPhones and not enough people are talking. I think that the human race is in danger of forgetting how to speak.”

Her books (and her story-telling engagements) more than confirm that Doreen knows all about talking, and has had some intriguing conversations down the years.

She has chatted to Kevin Woods, the so-called Leprechaun Whisperer in Carlingford, who campaigned to get leprechauns recognised as an endangered species by the European Union “on the grounds that the European Union could not prove that leprechauns do not exist.”

She says that she has “encountered a killer cat on the border at Mory Castle, a fairy horse and the Salmon of Knowledge – as well as king Brian Boru’s talkative toes”.

And she tells of a church at Kildemock, near Ardee with a wall that “jumped inside its foundations”!

In her Co Tyrone book published in 2016 Doreen highlighted the amazing feats of Finn McCool, the derring-do of the Red Hand of Ulster and the dramatic story of Half-Hung MacNaughton – an impressive trio in an immensely varied tally of Tyrone tales.

One reviewer has commented: “Doreen’s stories range from fantastical myths, to amusing anecdotes and cautionary tales, a collection of bloodthirsty, funny, passionate and moving stories. She will take you into a remarkable world where you can let your imagination run wild.”

Her latest book, the second one about Fermanagh, is a compendium of fascinating, obscure, strange and entertaining facts.

“You will find out about the county’s industrial past, its proud sporting heritage, its arts and culture and its famous (and occasionally infamous) men and women,” says Doreen.

It’s both a reliable reference book and a quirky guide, with some excellent cartoons and illustrations by the author.

I’ll not give away any secrets about Doreen’s Little Book of Fermanagh – except for her chat with a Derrygonnelly barman about Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl.

“Van was very friendly with a local girl,” the barman told her. “She was a real beauty so she was. He sorted out his song on our piano.”

And a final Fermanagh titbit from the book is about another famous song.

Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Patterson, writer of Waltzing Matilda, was the great great grandson of General Barton from Pettigo.

Doreen McBride’s books are available at www.thehistorypress.ie, Amazon and most bookshops.