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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Mummer's the word as Ulster dancers perform in Bulgaria

Just like the dancers from the Loreena McKennitt song "The Mummer's Dance", the Belfast Telegraph is reporting that straw-clad mummers from both sides of the Irish border have performed with 5,000 of their devil-masked counterparts in Eastern Europe's biggest masquerade festival.

Mummers from Belcoo and Aughakillymaude in Co Fermanagh and the Ards Rhymers in Co Down joined a troupe from Sligo and Wrenboys from Co Leitrim to showcase their medieval hero combat drama in front of thousands in the city of Pernik in Bulgaria.

The Belcoo troupe demonstrated clap, set, brush, traditional and sean-nos dance routines in front of fascinated Eastern European crowds, as well as staging a fight to the death of two heroes, followed by the resurrection of the fallen warrior with the aid of arcane remedies.

The fight and resurrection dates back to pagan traditions and symbolises the cycle of life, death and rebirth, as well as winter and the return of spring.

The White Horse, an Irish mumming fertility icon, and cross dresser Biddy Funny terrorised audiences, particularly picking on young women.

For three days, up to 800 troupes of masked performers paraded through Pernik's city-centre to a backdrop of clanging cowbells, horns and cannonfire designed to scare off the evil spirits and diseases of mid winter.

Mumming groups gathered from all over Bulgaria, performing alongside troupes from the Czech Republic, Macedonia and Sardinia.

The Mummers Foundation, which has just been set up in Co Fermanagh, announced that Bulgarian kukeri (mummers) may be returning the favour by joining Dublin's St Patrick's Day parade in 2007.

A team of Bulgarian kukeri travelled to Fermanagh in December and will soon be returning, international programmes manager Jim Ledwith said.

"On Saturday evening, an opportunity was also afforded to travel to a remote Bulgaria village to witness the sinister dark Sardinian mummers from the mountainous village of Mamoiada performing round a bonfire," he added.

"The north Sardinian village is where more Fermanagh mummers are destined to appear this summer because of its Mummers Museum project and its associated village industry of craftwork masks."

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