Mrs. Kelly’s Slough
Mrs. Kelly – The housewife – in the kitchen.
Mrs. Cojeen – A woman with a very sharp tongue.
Margit – Mrs. Cojeen’s daughter.
Mrs. Curlett – A “skeety” woman with glasses and an umbrella.
Mrs. Kelly (alone in the kitchen): Well bless me heart now where hev I put yandher can of water at all? I’m batin all today – puttin things urrov me han and cant for the life of me put me han on them again – (hunts around and picks up empty can from beside the bithag crock) Well I navar! If I heven gone an’ put the water in the bithag crock! Really since I got the that latther from “Ostrillier” tellin’ me that oul Billy Quilliam hed died and lef me all his money I hardly know if its on me head or me heels I’m stanin. I suppose Cojeen’s wife and Kirrie Curlett will be in any minute to get the newses – They’ll be as excited over the money as if it hed been lef’ to themselves – and they wunt res’ till they find out how much I’ve got. Deed but they wunt get to know thaw – They’ll get nawthin out of me – Is that somebody comin now I wondher? Aw sure enough – Cojeen’s wife and Margit.
Mrs. Cojeen (at the door shouts): Is there anybody in?
Mrs. Kelly: Aw yis! come in wuman (Enter Mrs. Cojeen & Margit)
Mrs. Cojeen (shakes hands): The compliments of the season to yer (Collapses into a chair ) Aw! its a res’ to get sittin’ – me feet is that sore – an’ I’m as dry as a cendher. Give us a drink good sowl will yer?
Mrs. Kelly: Aw yis, What’ll ye hev?
Mrs. Cojeen: Aw whatever you’ve got – is there a drop of buttermilk at yer?
Mrs. Kelly: Yes – unless you’d like a drop of something hot?
Mrs. Cojeen: No, no, buttermilk will do bravely.
(Exit Mrs. Kelly to get buttermilk)
Margit: There’s a terrible good smell Maa. She mus’ be roastin’ something.
Mrs. Cojeen: Hev a lil’ sight in the oven to see before she comes back. Aisy now! dunt let her hear yer at all.
Mrs. Kelly ( Comes back with basin of buttermilk & catches Margit stooping down by the fire): Is it up the chimney you’re goin’ Margit?
Margit: No! No! But I was jus’ starved comin’ down in the cart an’ Maa was stannin to talk to everybody that was passin.
Mrs. Cojeen (takes big sups of the buttermilk and hands the basin back to Mrs. Kelly): Thank yer Ma’am.
(Exit Mrs. Kelly with basin.)
Margit: I wondher now wud she be roastin’ a fowl for tay – she wud be expectin us I suppose?
Mrs. Cojeen: Deed I’ve seen the day when she wudden hev kilt a fowl for the guvnor! but there’ll be lashins of them goin’ now its lek quen she hev gorra birrov a slough lef’ to her – They’ll be getten glisther and no mistake.
Mrs. Kelly (comes back): Are yer smellin anything?
(Margit & Mrs. Cojeen both sniff)
Mrs. Cojeen: Well now that you’ve mentioned it I believe I can smell something – good it is too!
Margit: Its makin a body hungry.
Mrs. Kelly: Deed but its northin to ate thaw – its some fat I’ve been rendherin’. We kilt the big sow las’ week.
(Mrs. Cojeen & Margit exchange glances & look drooped on)
Mrs. Kelly: An how hev yer been keepin’ Mistress Cojeen?
Mrs. Cojeen: Aw well not sobad only for these rhumatics. They’re a clane pes’, but they’ll be with me while I’m in I suppose – how are yer yerself?
Mrs. Kelly: Aw middlin’. I’ve hed a bad coul on me chiss – but I’ve been rubbin’ it with a birrov goose grease an’ its gettin’ batthar nice – Whass amiss with Margit at all? She’s as yaller as a duck’s fut – puttin me in min’ of a body with the jandhers!
Margit (indignantly): There’s northin the matter with me, its only a bit of a coul I’ve got.
Mrs. Kelly: There’s no wondher for thee to hev couls ither – for there’s not half clothes on thee – pride is keepin yer warm I suppose. Betsy used to be the same, but she hev tuk sense since she’s married.
Mrs. Cojeen: Aw well! thass the way with these young ones – they think they’re too clavar to do as they’re toul! Deed an’ theres changes since we were here las’ too!
Mrs. Kelly (who sees that Mrs.Cojeen is trying to lead up to the question of the Slough): Yis, I’ve hed the kitchen papered!
Mrs. Cojeen: Ay, its a nice plane paper too, but wunt it be bad for takin’ the smook? But theres bigger changes than the paperin’.
Mrs. Kelly: Yis, Poor Johnny Cunney’s wife is gone the sowl.
Mrs. Cojeen: Ay, The crayther! missed she’ll be too – a decent body very. An’ a relation of thee own gone too! Oul Billy Quilliam in – Ostrillier – is it? An’ lef all his money to thee! Aw well wonders never cease. Hed’n he any childher of his own at all?
Mrs. Kelly: No! nor a wife ither – he was livin’ alone by himself out there lek a nun.
Margit: He mus’ hev been a quare oul stick.
Mrs. Cojeen: An’ was it to thee or to Thom he was related. I min’ the time he went away, a fine fresh young fella he was too.
Mrs. Kelly: It was to me he was related? His father’s mather an’ my mother’s aunt was sisters.
Mrs. Cojeen: Were they? I navar knew that before now an’ I knew the Kewley gels well too’. Nice lookin’ gels they were.
(A loud knock is heard on the door)
Mrs. Cojeen: Who’s that at all?
Mrs. Kelly: I believe it’s Kirrie Curlett thass in. I asked her too give a sight down the fuss of the week.
Mrs. Cojeen: After newses she is I’ll bet yer – there’s not a thing happenin’ in the three Parishes unknown to her.
Mrs. Curlett (at the door): Is there anybody in at all? There’s terrible cughty steps at yer. I was jus gone on me length. There’s tremenjus nise at yer (Aside) I might hev knew it was Cojeen’s wife that’s in — there’s a voice at her that’s puttin’ me in min’ of owl Jemmy Billy’s dunkey.
Mrs. Kelly: Come in – come in woman.
Mrs. Curlett: Is it yerself thass in Mrs. Cojeen? (shakes hands) It’s a wonder to see yer. But I’m hearin’ yer passin in the cart sometimes – How are yer Margit?
Margit: Well, thank yer, but what’s amiss with yer bonnet? It’s all slieu whiff.
Mrs. Curlett: No wonder for it. I was stannin at Clucash’s corner talkin’ to Bobby Watterson’s wife – she was tellin’ me who the flash was that passed us – and a big puff of win’ came and blew me bonnet up on one of Clucash’s stacks, an’ I hed to give one of the childher a hapenny to go up after it, for I cud never hev got up meself at all.
Mrs. Kelly: Dare me, an’ there’s straw on it yet too – I thought really it was some new fashioned trimmin’ that was at yer. Take it off for all woman.
Mrs. Curlett (taking off bonnet): Well now is’n that provokin’! I wudden hev hed that for anything – It’s the nicest fittin’ bonnet I aver hed. The feather is clane broke and I thought it wud hev done in many a hat yet.
Mrs. Cojeen: Well if thou’ll hev every bonnet as long as you’ve had that one it’s not many more you’ll be wantin’.
Mrs. Kelly: An’ how long hev yer got it? I’m not such for takin’ notice of peoples clothes.
Mrs. Cojeen: Deed she hev got it six years if she hev got it a day. – Was’n that the one yer got when Katty was married?
Mrs. Curlett: Howl thee nise wumman! Do ye think ye cud put a stitch in it for me Margit?
Margit: Let’s see it an’ I’ll thry anyway.
Mrs. Curlett: Thank yer chree.
Mrs. Kelly: Here’s Nancy Mylchrane comin’ on the street, whass she after today at all?
Margit: Aw it’s easy known. Juan Comaish is down the harbour today – she’ll be on the look out for him, but she’ll get lave.
Mrs. Curlett: An dare me I hear they’re terrible “Cum-cushag” an’ goin’ to be married very shortly.
Mrs. Cojeen: Lies! I’ll navar believe it till I see them at the altar! An’ was’n he up at our place las’ night?
Mrs. Curlett: What! after Margit?
Mrs. Cojeen: Well he was’n after me at all!
Mrs. Kelly: Deed I wudden think worth heven the lek of yandher bough meself – He dunt know his own min’ – He hev got a rag on every bush.
(Nancy knocks at the door – enters and shakes hands with everybody)
Mrs. Kelly: How’s thee mother Nancy. Hev she got done with that ugly cough yet?
Nancy: No not very claver at all. We hed the doctor las’ week, an’ he sed she hed “Brownkatis.”
All together: “Brown Katis”?
Mrs. Cojeen: Laws bless me! Thass a dirty thing to hev.
Mrs. Curlett: An’ where hev she gorrit?
Nancy: On her chiss.
Mrs. Kelly: Aw, the sowl, she cuddin hev it in a wass place.
Margit: It’s a wondher yer wud lave yer mother to come trapesin’ down here when she’s so bad.
Nancy: Deed it was herself that sent me. She was wantin’ to know if yer could give her a sittin of eggs to put under the big black hen – she’s gone clucky!
Mrs. Kelly: She’s arley! – Aw I think I can give her the eggs right enough. I’ll do me bes’ anyway. But I cant give yer them today at all.
Nancy: Aw no matter. I’ll cum down again the fuss of the week.
Mrs. Curlett: The walk wunt do yer any harm – yer a bit “thrieh” lookin. The weather’ll soon be gettin warmer now thaw and there’ll be a nice birrov spring in the ground shortly.
Mrs. Kelly: There was a nice mild spring las’ year. I’m afraid it wunt be so arly this year at all.
Mrs. Curlett: I min’ hearin’ the cuckoo up at us las’ year as arly as the fuss of May.
Mrs. Cojeen: Deed but he was cookin up at our place weeks before that.
Mrs. Kelly: You’re arly up there thaw! It’s nice and sheltry in the bres’ of the hill. I’m feelin the cowl bad. Come in from the door Nancy gel.
Nancy: What are yer doin’ Margit? Sawin? Yer havin takin to wearin’ bonnets yet hev yer?
Margit: Aw, well, mivve I’d look as well in it as you do in that one.
Nancy: Yer needin’ be so snappy. I navar meant northin. I wondher if Comaish’s cart is down today?
Margit: Mivve it is an’ mivve it is’n. Is it owl Mr. Comaish yer were wantin’ to see?
Nancy: No I was wantin’ to give this handkerchief to Juan. He lef it on the parlour sofa on Sunday night. He’s that absent minded.
Margit: I suppose his thoughts was somewhere else!
Mrs. Cojeen: Now Childher, none of thee gratchin!
Mrs.Kelly: Dare me how stright like thee Margit’s gettin’ Mrs.Cojeen.
Mrs. Cojeen: Mivve she’s like me in looks, but I dunt know where she hev got that dirty tung from at all.
Mrs. Curlett: It’s not hard to tell that. Daa the sowl wudden hev hurted a fly.
Mrs. Kelly: Hurry the kettle Margit. Cum gels an help me to get the tay fixed. You’ll be feelin’ the want of a cup of tay.
Mrs. Cojeen: Well I was middlin dry cummin in but I got a brave sup of buttermilk from Mistress Kelly, for we hed a stock fish dinner. Deed an’ I hed a cup of tay before cummin down too to put a birrov heart in me to wash meself.
Mrs. Curlett: A body needs it too.
Mrs. Kelly (They sit round the teatable and have tea etc.): Well I’m feelin’ the couth goin’ through me, and I didin get half sleep on Christmas Eve an’ I havin’ got over it yet.
Mrs. Cojeen: Deed it’s few that got res’ to sleep that night I’m thinkin’. The nise them singers hed was scandalous. There’s carvels and carvels. But the lek of yandher I navar heard. They tuk all to themselves up at our place with their laffin and capers.
Mrs. Curlett: They should her some owl body with them to keep them in order.
Mrs. Kelly: And wassen the English Praecher with them?
Mrs. Cojeen: An mivve he wudden be no bather till themselves.
Mrs. Curlett: Deed it dunt seem so long since I was singin saccons in the kire meself.
Mrs. Cojeen: Well I cud hear Margit Ann Cubbin singin saccons las night two fields off.
Mrs. Kelly: An’ there was some fella singin high, sweeky tanner I thought really it was the cat that was shut in the back kitchen. An’ I believe me heart thass how I got the cowl – goin’ down on the cowl flags to see.
Mrs. Curlett: What sort of a falla is the new Doctor, Nancy. There’s a terrible flash wife at him.
Nancy: Aw he’s terrible nice, jus’ like one of ourselves comin’ in the house. He gives daa some nice accented tobarker yesterday – but he was’n able to chew it at all, it was all stringy stuff.
Mrs. Cojeen: Give him tobarkar did he? Thass a wondher too – for some of the docthors is sayin’ is no batter till pizen. Many is the time we hev laughed about the time that Daa was tuk bad before now, an we sent for owl Dr. Collister – an’ he cum an’ examined Daa an’ ses he – “You’re smookin’ far too much Mister Cojeen, put the pipe away for a month or so” he ses, “An ye’ll be a different man”. An’ daa bust out laffin’ for he navar hed a pipe in his mouth.
Mrs. Kelly: Well, wall, what baughned they’ve got. It was Dr. Collister that was attendin’ Chelse too when he was bad, an’ he gave him some scanlous ugly medicine an’ toul me to give it him in a recumbent position – but I hed’n such a thing in the house, so I jus give to him in a tumbler. I was wondherin at the time thaw if yer could hev lent me one Mrs. Cojeen.
Mrs. Cojeen (Not willing to appear ignorant): Deed but I believe ours was broke many a long year ago. If it was now yer cud afford to buy one.
Mrs. Curlett: It’s a blessin’ when a body is not short. I cant bring to min’ this Billy Quilliam at all. It mus’ be a flock o’ years since he went away.
Mrs. Kelly: Aw well, he wudden be cummin much in your way ither. It’s close on 50 years since he lef’ the Island, I was a lump of a gel at the time.
Mrs. Curlett: An’ what was he doin’ in Ostrillier at all?
Mrs. Kelly: Farmin’ lek his father before him. We warn hearin’ from him much. The only time he was writin’ was when he was gettin’ somebody else to do it for him.
Mrs. Cojeen: He done well anyway, I suppose now there wud be about a hundred saved at him?
Mrs. Kelly: Well mivve there was –
Mrs. Cojeen: Or two hundred mivve –
Mrs. Kelly: Well I wudden deny it!
Mrs. Curlett: Aw Mrs. Kaymad over in Arbory that was lef’ well off indeed! Did’n she get £300 from an oul uncle up in the North that she hed navar clapt eyes on?
Mrs. Cojeen: Three hundred? An’ thass a fortune! She’ll betther off till any woman in the Parish I suppose.
Mrs. Kelly: Deed she is not for I got five hundred!
Mrs. Cojeen: Well done yorself! Chalse will be plaised anyway I suppose, for is lek he’ll be givin’ up the fishin’ now an’ stayin at home takin’ his aise?
Mrs. Kelly: An’ No! lerrim go while he can, I navar expected it anyway. He was jus’ forgot at me, though there’s a likeness of him in the house, an’ its stright enough lek him too.
Margit: Aw we wud lek to see that Mrs. Kelly. Willyer show it to us?
Nancy: Was he good lookin’?
Mrs. Kelly: It depends on what yer call good lookin’. If yer think Juan Comaish is good lookin’ he was’n.
(Mrs. Kelly goes out for Album)
Mrs. Cojeen, (To Mrs. Curlett): An’ to think I might hev had Billy Quilliam meself! He hed a terrible notion of me one time.
Mrs. Curlett: Navar!
Mrs. Cojeen: An’ not a hippeth else sent him away ither, but that I wudden hev him. An’ he navar married ither. It went middlin’ deep now. I might hev done batther if I hed tuk him, a body navar knows what to do for the bas’.
Mrs. Curlett: Deed yer hed a good man in Daa. He hed a good word for everybody.
(Mrs. Kelly returns with the old fashioned photo album and puts it on the table and all gather round)
(They all make remarks shout various photographs – one fellow might be favourin’ the Jem Dicks and another the Tom Dicky Bobs – until they come to Billy Quilliam and they all agree he has a “nice open face” etc.)
Mrs. Cojeen: I’m not able to see very well without me glasses. – But my gracious look at the clock, an’ us wantin’ to get home before dark. Come on Margit.
Mrs. Kelly: An’ what hurry in there on yer? The night is only young yit.
Mrs. Curlett: Deed an I mus’ be makin a move too. Are yer goin up my way Nancy? We best go together.
Nancy: Well I was thinkin’ of goin’ down to the harbour to see if I can see Betsy Cannell or —
Margit: Juan Comaish? I wudden wase me time if I was you. Cum on mother.
(Mrs. Cojeen & Margit shake hands and go out)
Mrs. Kelly: Come again soon Mrs. Cojeen – An’ are you off too misthress Curlett? Well, min’ the steps now, its makin a body stupid goin’ out of the light into the dark street. Dunt forget your umbrella! Oie vie, Oie vie Nancy!
Well they’ve gone – an’ I went and blathered about Billy’s Money afther all! I was that wile when it was out at me that I cud hev bit me tung. Well its no use cryin’ over spilt milk – an’ its northin’ to be ashamed of anyway – But I cudden hev toul it to two wass ones than Cojeen’s wife and Kirrie Curlett, for it’ll be all over the Parish in the mornin’. I might as well hev put it in the “Guardian”. Aw well! I’d batther go me ways out and feed the craythers. This cooth is Pitiful. It’s goin to me very bones.
Discovered only in 2015, almost 100 years after its first performance, this short play by the Island’s foremost playwright, Christopher Shimmin, contains some of the funniest moments in all of his work.
Through its all-female cast, Mrs. Kelly’s Slough tells the story of Mrs. Kelly’s neighbours trying to get from her how much money she has inherited from a relative in Australia. With some of the parish’s most nosey neighbours pitted against a kind-hearted but simple woman, it is only a matter of time before the truth comes out…
First produced on 10th February 1921 at the Public Hall on Michael Street, Peel, the play was performed a number of times until even after Shimmin’s death in 1933. However, after its last recorded performance, in 1938 in Ramsey, the play disappeared from view. Unmentioned in any of Shimmin’s obituary notices, unrecorded in Cubbon’s seminal Bibliography, not present in the Manx Museum Library, Mrs. Kelly’s Slough had effectively become forgotten and lost. But in 2015, during research on the Kathleen Faragher oral history project, a suitcase in the Leece Museum was opened up for the first real time. Once belonging to the great Peel dialect performer, Gladys Cowell, the case contained three copies of a typewritten version of Shimmin’s play, one of which was digitised and appears here for the first time.
In its traditional Manx setting, language and cast, and with its moments of laugh-out-loud humour, Mrs. Kelly’s Slough makes it easy to see why Shimmin was once regarded as the Island’s greatest playwright.
Christopher Shimmin lived from 1870 until 1933 and was at various times a sailmaker, a sanitary inspector, a monumental mason, a Manx Labour Party founder, a Union leader, a tea-totaller, and a politician. But one thing he remained throughout all of his life was a strong believer in all things Manx. These factors coloured his writing of plays and short stories which would cause others to regard him as the Isle of Man’s greatest playwright.