Drawing from Life – Simon Coleman RHA

The Dúchas Collections (duchas.ie) are an invaluable resource for any of us interested in Ireland’s handed-down culture. Encompassing folklore, traditional ways of life, stories and visual images, the material is readily available on-line, and the archives are substantial and perfectly preserved, hopefully for all time. A recent find, for me, is the work of Simon Coleman, who was commissioned by the Irish Folklore Commission to accompany some of its collectors, and to visually record aspects of their work, in the mid twentieth century.

. . . Coleman was commissioned to travel in the company of full time folklore collectors, and to make drawings of local work practices and associated equipment, the traditionally built environments he encountered, as well as the diverse material culture evident in homes and communities of the day . . .

UCD Digital library, national Folklore Collection

The simple studies by Coleman, above – which portray alternative forms of transporting goods – abundantly describe visually a way of life which is vanished today. The Commission also employed photographers (and the Dúchas collections are also rich in these) but – in my view – there is an immediacy in these drawings which make them completely convincing: we are looking directly into Ireland’s past.

Have you ever heard of “Cad”? I hadn’t, until I looked into the work of Simon Coleman. The word in Irish is Caid, and it refers to a game which was played with sticks. There is a suggestion that it was a precursor to Gaelic football, although I am not convinced about this. In the version that Coleman recorded in 1959 in Inishmaan, Co Galway, the object of play was a short piece of stick, chamfered at both ends. This was hit by one of the players with a large, stout stick, making it fly into the air. As it descended the player gave it a hardy whack into a field, and the aim was to shoot it further than anyone else. Coleman’s drawings are accompanied by his notes:

. . . Sticks Game: the game of ‘cad’, Inish Meadhon. The ‘cad’ (short length of stick: approximately 2 1/2”) lying against a stone in the middle of the road; ‘cad’ is tapped with stick and jumps into the air about 4 or 5 feet thus; before it has time to fall to the roadway again, it is hit full-bloodedly into the adjacent fields. Each player has one try; the distance that the cad is hit is measured by the player with a stick approximately 6ft long . . .

Duchas.ie – Photographic collection

Interestingly, i was speaking to an Irish friend today and I mentioned ‘Cad’. He had heard of it through his family, although was not aware of it being played in his lifetime. The game he described was virtually identical to the notes above.

Coleman’s subjects were always wide-ranging. He was employed by the Folklore Commission in 1949 and again in 1959. We might imagine that he chose his own topics provided he fulfilled the brief of making an active record of what he saw. The top picture, above, shows traditional ‘Sunday Attire’, Inishere, Co Galway, and the interior view with bed and turf fire is from Croaghgorm or Blue Stack Mountains, Co Donegal. Also from Donegal is the simple but effective explanation of how ropes are made, below.

Particularly striking for me is the fact that all these images have been made in my own lifetime: This is an Ireland from not so long ago! There are very many more drawings and paintings by Coleman in this Collection, and I will return to them in future posts. Finally, for today, I can’t resist this spectacular rendering of a cottage interior from Clare, Co Galway.

I gratefully acknowledge and credit the Photographic Collection of Dúchas for all the above images (Cnuasach Bhéaloideas Éireann / National Folklore Collection). The header is a group of cottages at Gortahork, Co Donegal

10 thoughts

  1. Robert,
    “Cad” was played in Skibbereen in the 1950s. As a pre-teen child, living on “Cork Road”, I played it regularly with other children, boys and girls. It was a favourite Summer game and as road traffic was light (and very audible) in those times, there was no difficulty playing the game on the street. Some neighbours and their single-glazed windows were to be feared, though. The closest description to the Skibbereen version that I have found is from County Galway and can be found at Duchas:
    https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4566077/4564969/4574008

    I have seen the Simon Coleman illustrations before. His Innismaan version is a simpler game to that which I remember, but the variation is surely determined by the terrain. And Skibbereen children never used a distance measuring rod. We counted in long jumps instead.

    I read somewhere, last year, that “Cad” was called “Kat” elsewhere and it was speculated that the origin of the nickname “Kilkenny Cats” (for the famous hurling team) lay therein. Who knows? For sure, elements of “Cad” remind one of Gaelic Hurling, English Cricket, American Baseball.

    Britannica records the name “Tip-Cat” for the game in the UK, so how about that for coincidence?
    In the USA, there was a stick street game called “Catty” or “Caddy”. In 1876, the Harrisburg Daily Patriot (PA) wrote about “…the most abominable nuisance to which street pedestrians are subjected is a game of recent invention called Caddy.” Of actual recent invention, it was not.

    Lastly, variations are still played today in Bangladesh, Cambodia and other far-flung places. There are a handful of videos on Youtube. Try this one, showing Indian “Gilli-Danda”:

    All the best,
    Finbarr O’Driscoll.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. As a primary school child in Skibbereen in the 1960’s I remember playing Cad. The “urban” version was somewhat different to that described but essentially the same.

    Liked by 1 person

      • I recall we all carried penknives as children. A stick, about three inched would be sharpened or shaped at either end and rested between two stones and suspended about an inch clear of the ground. This was the caid. Using a longer stick, about 24 inches the player flicked the caid hoping to avoid having it caught on the fly by the opposing players. Success scored. Failure (caught) put the opposition ‘in’.

        This has reminded me of how normal it was to have a penknife in my pocket, even in school. Being a good fighter was respected but to use a weapon of any kind or to kick or hit a downed opponent was shameful. A good loser was second only to a good winner.

        Liked by 2 people

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