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  • A Forgotten (Fairy?) People: the Ranties February 16, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback


    Early medieval historians estimate that there were perhaps two hundred separate tribes or kingdoms in Ireland c. 500 but that these tribes were slowly subsumed or at least yoked to the growing Irish monarchy (and foreign successors) that reached an apogy under Brian Boru in the eleventh century. However, long after those times, the memory of clan affiliations remained and  as late as the nineteenth century there were small communities that stood apart even aloof from Irish neighbours. Welcome to the world of the Ranties (sing Ranty? adj Ranty?). The Ranties were a ‘tribe’ that, still in the 1800s, lived in the Glengarriff Hills (Co. Cork) on eight ploughlands (3400 acres): Farkeal, Bocarnagh, Mac Carraugh, Tracashel, Coolereagh, Derreenacarrin, Leakill (Leahill on the map above) and Derrylough. To this day the area is informally called the Ranties.

    Eight things marked them apart.

    (i) They were physically small, the word ‘diminutive’ often appears in descriptions.

    (ii) They intermarried in what was already a tiny community: when neighbours were asked why they claimed that the Ranties were too busy to court and so married women close at hand.

    (iii) They were reckoned poor, in a part of the country where poverty was the norm.

    (iv) They spoke an unintelligible version of Irish.

    (v) They were fine seamen: and sold coral sand and seaweed to Bantry (see map).

    (vi) They were buried in the churchyard at Killeenah.

    (vii) They had a reputation for criminality: one story describes a Ranty raid which ended in the deaths of the raiders and a neighbouring housewife and her child.

    And (viii) their women wore dyed red coats; one charming story has it that when the French tried to land at Bantry Bay in the late nineteenth century they were scared off by the sight of red-coated British ‘soldiers’ (actually Ranty women) on Sugarloaf Mountain.

    It is not much to go on, but there is not much information out there. There are a few comments in Notes and Queries, a short article in the Kerry Archaeological Magazine and a couple of newspaper articles. And, in any case, this information arrived too late as the Ranties were pumelled first by Cholera in 1832 and then by the Famine. After 1850, they started to marry outside their own circles and then they gradually merged with the surrounding townlands until they had all but vanished by the First World War: I wonder when the last red cloak was worn? It is striking that on the internet today there are but a few crumbs of information about them: if anyone can correct this, drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com Are there any modern Ranties?

    The biggest question is, understandably enough, where did they come from?  Here there are various legends. Some locals claimed that the Ranties had arrived from Ulster in the sixteenth century: this would explain the alien Irish. One Dr Richard Caulfied in the late nineteenth century implied Jewish origins! A modern reference talks of shipwrecked Spanish sailors. A newspaper article in 1876 claims that a Monsieur Ranty (from France, of course) settled here in the distant past with some comrades: ‘half fisherman, half smuggler’. (Another shipwreck?) Ulster sounds the least incredible of these and a curious thing for a nineteenth-century Cork peasant to invent, whereas shipwrecked Spanish and French sailors were always being trotted out. This blogger, with his curious interests, can’t help noting that little people with red coats sound worryingly like fairies and calls to mind all those Victorian theories about vanished but physical races. The word ‘ranties’ has also given rise to various etymologies, all of which sound like desperate guesses: Irish ‘land’, Manx ‘rogue’ or (from Germanic languages?) ‘rowers’.

    16 Feb 2014: KR writes ‘Ranty (the surname): Three came to the US. Two from France, one from Ireland. (So maybe the tale of French fishermen is not so far-fetched?) Maybe you can join ancestry.com and get in touch with one of this name, perhaps one with with Irish ancestry?  You’ll have to figure out how to delicately put the questions regarding stature, and whether or not a fairy, though.  😉 Thanks KR!

    28 Feb 2014: ANL makes a point about language. How do we know that it was Irish if it was unintelligible? Even today Irish breaks down into three dialects and up until the advent of Gaelic radio and TV different Gaelic speakers would understand that another dialect speaker was speaking ”Irish” but not necessarily what they were saying. I imagine the circumstances were like this!

    30 April 2014: Benny writes: I just read your interesting article about Ranties, thanks to my friend Paul posting a link to it on FB.   I’ve never heard of them before but immediately wondered if they could be connected to the word “rant” – which can be used to mean both meaningless language and wild behaviour.   The O.E.D. has this:  Rant (noun) [a. obs. Du. randten, ranten (also randen: see rand v.) to talk foolishly, to rave; cf. G. ranzen to frolic, spring about, etc.]   2.2 intr. (†or with it). To be jovial, boisterous, uproariously gay or merry; to lead a gay or dissolute life; also, to sing loudly.   rant, n. 3.3 (north. dial. and Sc.) A boisterous, riotous frolic or merry-making; a spree. Also transf.   4.4 (Chiefly Sc.) A lively, noisy, or irregular tune or song.   1725 Ramsay Gentle Sheph. i. i, How heartsome is’tTo hear the birds chirm o’er their pleasing rants! 1830 Sir J. Barrington Pers. Sk. Own Times (ed. 2) II. 166, I think our rants and planxties would have answered just as well without either symphonies or chromatics. 1898 Munro John Splendid xi. 112 A tune they call ‘The Galley of the Waves,’ a Stewart rant.   The online etymological dictionary has this: [http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=rant]  rant (n.)  “boisterous, empty declamation; fierce or high-sounding language without much meaning or dignity of thought; bombast; a ranting speech,” 1640s, from rant (v.)  rant (v.)  c.1600, “to be jovial and boisterous,” also “to talk bombastically,” from Dutch randten (earlier ranten) “talk foolishly, rave,” of unknown origin (compare German rantzen “to frolic, spring about”). Related: Ranted; ranting. Ranters “antinomian sect which arose in England c.1645” is attested from 1651; applied 1823 to early Methodists. A 1700 slang dictionary has rantipole “a rude wild Boy or Girl” (also as a verb and adjective); to ride rantipole meant “The woman uppermost in the amorous congress” [Grose].    What do you think?’ Thanks, Benny: any opinions?