Childhood Games

Vol. 7 No. 1 - 2007

My childhood games

by Betty Malcolmson

I was born in my grandma’s house in Lurgan’s George Street in December 1932. From I was three years old we lived in two different houses in Queen Street. In January or February 1939 we moved to the Lough Road, to the last house in the row past Garland Avenue, somewhat grandly labelled ‘Brownlow’s Derry Terrace’. Across the road, among trees, was ‘Derry Lodge’. I had just turned six. So my childhood memories are mainly of that area.

I attended Lurgan Model School. We played games in the playground there, but for this article I am remembering the street games we played on long sunny evenings in Garland Avenue. To me as a child there seemed to be hordes of children, but I suppose it was more like twelve to twenty!

Lurgan Model School
Early photograph of Lurgan Model School

A favourite game was ‘Bar the Door’. One child standing in the middle of the road (!) named a colour, while the rest of us were lined up along one side. Those lucky enough to be wearing that colour had a free pass across, the rest made a dash for it. If caught you joined the catcher. In later years I encountered this game as ‘You cannot cross the Red Sea without wearing red’.

Granny Greybeard

Another game beloved by the younger children was ‘Granny Greybeard’. One child stood facing the wall, eyes tightly shut, while the rest of us crept forward towards her chanting

Granny, Granny Greybeard, let me out to PLAY!
I’ll not go near the WA-ter, to chase the ducks a-WAY!

If Granny turned quickly and caught you moving, you had to go back and start again. If you managed to touch the wall, you became Granny. Again, this game re-emerged as ‘One, two , three, Red Light!’ We had no traffic lights as children.

If we were lucky enough to have an old tennis ball, we could play ’Halio’. One child stood, back to the rest, and threw the ball back over her head. If it was caught she had to do it again. If not we scrambled for it and all of us, including the child who had it, hid our hands behind our backs and showed them alternately, while chanting

Halio. Halio. Who’s got the ball?
I haven’t got it
In my pocket.
Halio. Halio. Who’s got the ball?

If she guessed right, that person took over. If she was wrong, she had to do it again.

I cannot remember what we called the next game. One child threw a ball straight up in the air, calling out a name. That person tried to catch it. If she did, it went back to the first one. If not, she scrambled for it and tried to hit someone with it. That person then was ’on it’.


We played ‘Tig’ of course, and what we called ‘Hiding-go-seek‘, when we learned to count in fives to 100, then, ‘Here I come, hid or not!’

There were two versions of ‘Hopscotch’. The first was played on the footpath. If anyone was lucky enough to have chalk we marked the paving stones 1; then 2,3; 4 ; 5,6; 7; 8,9. Failing chalk, a piece of slate, or even a flat stone, was used. This was then thrown on to each square in numerical order, and each time we hopped and jumped up the sequence of squares and back again. If we touched a line (with stone or foot) or overbalanced, we were ‘out’.

The second version was played in the roadway (!) A large spiral was drawn and numbered off in foot-sized squares from ‘START’ on the outside, to ’HOME’ in the middle. If we managed to hop all the way without touching a line we could rest with both feet on the HOME square If we could get back as successfully, we could put our initials on a square which became a ’rest’ square for us, but our opponents had to hop over it! This was better played in the school playground!


We were quite seasonal in our habits. There came a day when it was the time for skipping in bright Spring weather, and my mother brought home a length of new rope from George McKerr’s, then in High Street. Probably most of the girls were better at individual skipping skills, but I enjoyed it when we skipped in a long rope. We invariably started with

All in together girls, this fine weather girls,
I spy a lark, sitting (singing?) in the dark.
L, O, L, O, G, O go
No leaving this rope empty
Un - til I count twenty
Five, ten, fifteen, twenty.

Individually we skipped, at the appropriate points touching the ground, as we sang

Early in the morning before six o’clock
I can hear the postman’s knock.
Postman, postman drop your letter
Lady, lady pick it up.

Some girls were really adept at skipping at speed. The pace got faster and faster as we rhymed ‘Salt, Mustard, Carrying Pepper.’ At least, that’s what I sang, never having heard of cayenne pepper! I did not know who was doing the carrying - it didn’t make sense to me, but was just one of the vagaries of my childhood!

Then there were games that allowed you to know the initial of your future husband:

Apple jelly, blackcurrent jam,
Tell me the name of your young man.


Apple jelly, jam tart,
Tell me the name of your sweetheart.

And as you skipped through the alphabet your friends turning the rope made sure you tripped on an appropriate letter! Another similar rhyme was repeated:

Soldier, sailor, tinker, tailor,
Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief,
Lawyer, doctor, minister, priest.

And of course the one you tripped on was the profession of your future husband!

Also vastly popular were singing games. We sang

Gather in! Gather in! For a big, big, ring.
If you don’t come now you’ll not get in!


Who’ll ` wants a wife.

The wife then chose a nurse, the nurse a dog , the dog a bone, and the bone “stood alone” while we sang “Ha, ha, look at the bone” and his shame was turned to triumph as he then became the farmer!

We sang

Down on the carpet we shall meet
Where the grass grows round your feet,
Stand up straight upon your feet,
And choose the one you love so sweet!
Now we’re married life’s a joy,
First a girl and second a boy,
Seven years after, seven years to come
Oh Geordie, Geordie, kiss and run!

And, in a circle slowly turning round ‘Sally’ hunkering in the centre:

Here I sit a-sewing, in my little housey,
No one comes to see me, except my little mousey.
Rise, Sally, rise! Close both your eyes.
Point to the east. Point to the west!
Point to the very one that you love best!

And of course ‘that one’ became ‘Sally’.

Ring a ring o’roses

I have heard that there was a sinister background to some of the singing games - even the one greatly loved by toddlers:

Ring a ring o’roses, a pocket full of posies
Atishoo, atishoo, we all fall down

We were totally unaware of reference to disease or plague; and although it did not make sense to me in places, I was quite happy to sing

Green gravel, green gravel, the grass is so green,
The fairest young lady that ever was seen.
I washed her, I dried her, I rolled her in silk,
I wrote down her name with a glass pen and ink.
Dear Mary, dear Mary, your true lover’s dead,
I send you a letter to turn round your head.

This went on until everyone in the circle was facing outwards, or more often until we tired of it!

These were some of the games I remember playing in those far-off days.

There were others we played at church socials, and others in parties at home - remember, we had no T.V.! Looking back, I can never remember being bored - I doubt if any of us even knew the word, let alone the meaning. And I do not think it is a case of rose-tinted spectacles!

Photograph courtesy of Old Lurgan Photos