What I love about Ireland is the fantastical tales that dwell just beneath everyday life.These strange tales that can be found in the not so distant past and challenge reality. I’ve been inspired by Martin McDonald’s latest film, The Banshee of Inis Inisherin who in my mind has continued a long tradition of weaving magical tales in a similar vain to John Middleton Synge and his work The Playboy of the Western World. This is nothing new, the monks of the early Christian period developed a fantastic pantheon of gods and warriors to inspire us through the centuries.
Life can be stranger than fiction and The Ranties conjure up an extraordinary alternative image of a race of people living on the coast of Ireland up until the mid 19th century.
Who were the Ranties?
The Ranties were a diminutive people who lived by the coast. They were last recorded living in the Glengarriff area of Co. Cork in the mid 1800’s although there were pockets of this tribe of people in counties Cork, Kerry, Clare and Donegal up until the mid 19th century. By all accounts they were four foot tall and the woman had a distinctive way of dress which included a bright red cloak, the dye for which was a closely guarded secret. It was thought to involve the processing of sea shells to atain the dye. They spoken an unintelligible form of Gaelic and by the time they were recorded in the 1800’s they were living in poor conditions in hills around Glengarriff, however they were know to be accomplished mariners who traded in seaweed and sand coral. It is thought that their physical appearance had something to do with the fact that their community intermarried, the diminutive size being a result of interbreeding in an already small community. The Ranties had a reputation for devilment too and were know as thieves in Co. Cork. Imagine, 4ft ladies in red cloaks selling sea coral and seaweed in Bantry!
But where did they come from?
There was a sect antinomian Christians called the Ranters that appeared in England following the Protestant Reformation of the 17th century. A similar group accused of antinomian tendencies at the time were the Quakers.The Ranters apparently took the belief that humans were free from moral law, rejecting the authority of the Bible. They were accused of debauchery, nudism and adultery!
The the intriguing thing, is no one truly knows! The general consensus was they were from the North, the fascinating things is that no one knows how far north. There are theories they were Spanish sailors shipwrecked long ago, others say they were displaced Jews who made their home along the coast of Ireland. Wherever their origin, they remained a community apart until the 1830’s when they were first devastated by the cholera epidemic and then the famine of the 1840’s. It was around this time they began to integrate with the local community. Its a fantastic image of 4ft women in red cloaks scurrying around the hills of Co. Cork. Their one time homeland can be still visited, in the areas of Farkeal, Bocarnagh, Mac Carraugh, Tracashel, Coolereagh, Derreenacarrin, Leakill and Derrylough in Co. Cork with their remains being buried in the parish church of Killeenah.
The True North of a People
How far north is anyones guess, could they be a mythical race of Elves from Scandinavia or perhaps far older still. In The Book of Invasions records that an ancient magical race lived in Ireland called the Tuatha de Deannan, who upon the arrival of a new, bigger, stronger group called the Milesians, were banished beneath the mountains to live for eternity. We will never know their true origin but this is just one if many oddities in Ireland that continue to fascinate, like antiquarians reporting communities speaking Gaelic in Morocco in the 19th century or mythical Islands that appear on maps but no longer exist. We are truly steeped in the Mystical realm here in Ireland!