Smells like ‘Screen Spirit’ - poitin, pubs and poetry in Ballinascreen

Screen Spirit
Screen Spirit

Tales of poitin, pubs and poetry all come together in a new book from the Ballinascreen Historical Society, aptly titled ‘Screen Spirit’.

The Society’s latest publication, its 38th, takes a slightly different direction – a clever mix of fact, fiction, poetry and humour.

The title page sets the humorous tone attributing the contents to “the bar-owners, barmaids, barkeeps, barmen, barflies, barred and bards of Ballinascreen” while the book’s dedication is to “all Ballinascreen publicans, poitin-makers and poets of the past, present and future”.

Frank Kelly, in a trans-Atlantic letter from Canada in March 2002, mentioned an idea which won’t go away. Why not a book on The Bars of Ballinascreen? History, anecdotes, poems, songs, photos, drawings, etc.

His inspiration had come from “Johnny Paul” Kelly’s poem entitled “Paul Johnnie” which had appeared in Ballinascreen Historical Society’s first publication – “The Wee Black Tin” – in 1980. Frank had just completed what he describes as a “self-published family-history project” and, having quoted Johnny Paul’s verses, wondered was this the only poem celebrating the pubs of Ballinascreen.

In the intervening years Frank produced two very attractive, short-run, draft editions of “Screen Spirit” for private circulation amongst family and friends. As historical details of long-gone public houses accumulated and Frank’s talent as a story-teller, poet and general word-smith seemed to grow exponentially, the committee of Ballinascreen Historical Society felt it would be a major coup if this long-time Straw exile would give permission for his work to be published. T

he request was positively received and now this very fine cocktail of fact and fiction, so liberally sprinkled with humour and clever innuendo, is in general circulation.

Frank’s literary output now follows in the long Ballinascreen bardic tradition stretching, in more modern times, from David Hepburn of Drumard to John “Paul” Kelly of Doon and Geordie Barnett of Owenreagh, together with many other unpublished scribes.

The Society is deeply, deeply grateful to him for generously shaping and honing this literary work and presenting it ready for publication.

Two dozen licensed premises from within the parish are featured. Many of these are long-since gone and a few have recently disappeared. Photographs abound, including one venue in Draperstown which is shown four times, displaying four different names, within the last decade! “Cu Chulainn’s Crawl” is a lengthy mythical poem, composed by Frank, which visits every corner of the parish and, in the traditional way, deals with the landscape, legends, language and characters of all the townlands. The exploits of Cu Chulainn are generously interspersed with evocative photographs of landscapes and cloud formations.

The reader is encouraged to wallow in nostalgia for people and places long since gone and to take each verse of “Cu Chulainn’s Crawl” slowly, analysing the clever references and appreciating the sharp humour which gleams here and there.

Books are available for sale in all the usual Draperstown outlets, the shops at Straw and Moneyneena and “The Shepherd’s Rest” at Sixtowns. They are priced at £7.50 and are available by post from Ballinascreen Historical Society, c/o 5 Tobermore Rd.,

Draperstown BT45 7AG for £9.50 post inclusive.