Edwina Guckian

Img 4847 2

The Story of Jack Lattin

When Alan Woods and Liam O’ Connor at ITMA asked me to be part of this wonderful project, my biggest challenge was deciding on which topic to focus on Drawing from the Well. 

Liam brought to my attention an interesting piece of research written by Seán Donnelly 'Ecstasy in eighteenth-century Kildare?: the strange fate of John Lattin of Morristown Lattin (1731)'. On reading the line within it “I’ll make you dance Jack Lattin” a memory was resurrected from 2005 when I was studying English in St. Patrick’s College. After much rooting through my parents' attic, I found my old journals from that time and located my notes on Joyce’s Ulysses from which the line is taken. 

I had written:  

I’ll make you dance Jack Lattin ... What does this mean?... Who was Jack Lattin?… investigate later! And so, 15 years later, I said I better do what my 18-year-old self had told me to do back then.
Edwina Guckian, September 2020
Eg Feet Tombstone
In St. David's Churchyard, Naas, Co. Kildare, on a well-preserved tombstone you’ll find:

Here lyeth the body of JOHN LATTIN

who Departed this life the Seventh day of July 1731 in the 21st year of his Age

Death at such a young age in these times was not unusual but the demise of Jack Lattin was far from it and the story of his death lived on in local and family tradition for nearly two centuries. 

Jack was the eldest son of Patrick Lattin and Jane Alcock and heir to the 600 acre, Morristown Lattin estate in County Kildare. Settled in the same place for over 500 years, the Lattins were an Old English, Roman Catholic family who retained their lands throughout the upheavals of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Image 9 Morristown Lattin House Lake Sepia
Morristown Lattin, Co. Kildare

Between 1695 and 1728 a series of acts were passed under the Penal Law which forbade Irish Catholics from practicing their faith and the vast majority of wealthy Catholics were stripped of their wealth, their positions, their estates and their homes, leaving them virtually paupers. The penal acts prevented Catholics from bearing arms and owning horses worth more than £5. They restricted their rights to education, stopped them from buying land, and on death, Catholic property had to be divided among all sons. The Lattin family somehow managed to avoid much of this. 

By the age of 21, Jack was already a well accomplished and much sought after dancer and fiddle player who frequently played with piper, Laurence Grogan of Johnstown Castle, Wexford who was admitted Attorney of the Court of Exchequer in Dublin in May 1726. 

Writer Thomas Amory recalls a music session at The Conniving House on Sandymount Strand, Dublin and the company he had enjoyed there, during the first half of the 1720s:

“The Conniving House, ... was a little public house, kept by Jack Macklean, about a quarter of a mile beyond Rings-end, on the top of the beach, within a few yards of the sea. ... . Many a delightful evening have I passed in this pretty thatched house with the famous Larry Grogan, who played on the pipes extremely well; dear Jack Lattin, matchless on the fiddle, and the most agreeable of companions.” 

There are a few versions with varying details of Jack’s feat but the version from the Mansfield tradition is the most likely: 

Jack Lattin dressed in satin Broke his heart of dancing He danced from Castle Browne To Morristown.
Maud Mansfield – Great grand niece of Jack Lattin

A few days prior to his death Jack Lattin was said to be visiting Castle Browne, roughly eight miles from his home. Castle Browne, a 15th century Eustace Castle was built to defend The Pale; a double ditch separating English settled land from Gaelic Ireland. The Brownes, like the Lattins, were Roman Catholics of Old English descent, and the two families would have socialised together. 

Image 7 Castle Browne House Sepia
Castle Browne, Co. Kildare (now Clongowes Wood College)

Perhaps in the course of a night's dining and drinking, one of the Brownes challenged Jack to dance home from Castle Browne to Morristown. 

And so he did! He danced his way along the eight miles with accounts claiming he was escorted on the journey by friends, backers and a musician, while in another account he accompanied himself on fiddle, dancing and playing simultaneously. He changed his step every furlong (1/8 of a mile) and there were “heavy wagering on both sides”. He reached his home and won the bet. But, whether from exhaustion or a weakened body that then caught a disease, Jack passed away a few days later at Morristown Lattin on the 7th July 1731. 

“I'll make you dance Jack Lattin” became used as a threat in Kildare and like I had mentioned above, James Joyce (1882—1941), quoted it in Ulysses when Leopold Bloom is about to be punished by a number of elegantly-dressed Dublin society ladies for sending them anonymous obscene postcards. Castle Browne, the starting point of Jack’s dancing wager, is now known as Clongowes Wood College, a Jesuit boarding school for boys. James Joyce boarded at this college between 1888 and 1891 and it is quite possible that it was here he heard the story of Jack Lattin. 

Less than two years after his death, a tune called ‘Jack Lattin’ began to appear in publications, the earliest mention occurring in Faulkner's Dublin Journal, 2-5 June 1733:

At Madame Violante's Booth in George's-Lane, on Wednesday next, being the 6th of June, 1733, for the benefit of Mr. Walsh and Mr. Cummins, Dancing-masters, will be performed a Grotesque Opera, call'd Harlequin Triumphant; or the Father deceiv'd; a new Entertainment call'd the Tavern Bilkers; with the humourous Farce of Scapin; with Variety of Dancing and Musick, particularly several Concerto's on the Harp, and Jack-Latin on the Pipes, by two of the best Masters in this Kingdom.  

'Jack Lattin' appears to have had become enormously popular within a very short time. In 1734, Dublin music collector, John Neal published his 3rd collection of country dances that were popular in Ireland at the time. This list of 56 dances were mainly of Scotch country dances, however, it included three Irish tunes: The ‘Humours of Trim’, ‘Larry Grogan’ both double jigs and ‘Jack Lattin’ a three-part reel.

Transcript of Jack Latin [sic], from John Neal's third collection of country dances - exact title unknown (Dublin, 1734) p. 15

From: 'Ecstasy in eighteenth-century Kildare?: the strange fate of John Lattin of Morristown Lattin (1731) Courtesy of Seán Donnelly 

Jack Lattin / Cathal Ó Curráin, fiddle

Jacky Lattin, air ; Máire Bheag Ní Ghibhearlan, air / Jimmy O'Brien Moran, uilleann pipes

An 1807 account of Jack Lattin claimed that he not only composed the tune named after him, but also danced to it on his journey from Castle Browne to Morristown. How true this is or who was the original composer, we’ll never know. However, we can assume it was almost certainly a fiddler who knew Jack was an accomplished dancer of reels. 

Solo dancing from this time was percussive, improvised and appeared as stage dances. In June 1736 it was danced in Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin, the first time solo by a man and the second time by a couple, while there are also accounts from 1786 of it being played for the Rince Fada which would suggest it was a well-known tune amongst the musicians of Ireland at the time. In 1804 the famous Tipperary piper O'Farrell, published his tutor and collection of music 'for the Irish or Union Pipes', and included 'Jack Latten with Variations'.

The tune, with variations, was still in circulation in the late 19th century in South Leitrim,  as collected by Stephen Grier (1880’s).

Jack Latin [sic] from the Grier Manuscripts Online at ITMA. Book 2: IE ITMA 255804
Dftw Jack Lattin Grier Ms Itma

Transcript courtesy of Fr John Quinn

The tune took on many variations both in notation and name particularly when it travelled to Scotland. 'Jake Lattine', 'Jackie Latten', 'Jack o' Latain', 'Jacky Layton' and 'Jenny Latin' are some of the few while all adding further variations and parts to the original three-part reel. While 'Jack Lattin' had faded in popularity in Ireland, there are a number of related tunes to be found with the same strains such as 'Jenny Rock the Cradle', 'Jackson's Reel', 'The Glen Road to Carrick' and 'The Pinch of Snuff'. 

I was interested in tracing the Lattin family tree to see if I could find any descendants of Jack Lattin. The Morristown Lattin Estate passed to Jack’s grand niece, Pauline Lattin, who married Alexander Mansfield of Yeomanstown and the estate stayed in the ownership of the Mansfields until the 1960’s. Following that Lattin/Mansfield pedigree, to my disbelief, I found Jack’s relative Peter Sweetman; a man whom in recent years I have greatly admired and dealt with on a few occasions. While he is not a dancer, he most certainly can dance rings around a court room when it comes to environmental issues. 

I wondered what kind of character Jack Lattin was and how he felt along his journey. I envisaged a roguish, 21 year old, heir to his family’s estate, a confident dancer, matchless on the fiddle, possibly stubborn yet full of fun and mischief. I imagined he undertook this challenge with much the same traits; his charming character drawing huge support both in the wager and from the spectators along the roads he danced. 

Having spent Autumn 2020 researching Jack Lattin, I thought it would be fitting to conclude the project with a dance in honour of him, to the tune named after him, on the very roads he danced that July 1731.
Edwina Guckian

In October, I travelled to Clane, Co. Kildare to retrace Jack’s dance path. Using the Taylor and Skinner’s Road Map of Ireland from 1777, I started at Clongowes Wood College (Castle Browne) and walked the 8 mile or so to Morristown Lattin. Jack was said to have changed his step every furlong (1/8th of a mile) and it’s little wonder his body may have died from exhaustion. I, having considered this as an option but not wanting to die at the end of it, decided to change my step every half a mile and I marked out 8 locations to commemorate them. These 8 locations I chose specifically as places that were present in Jack’s time and he would have danced past them on his final journey on those Kildare roads.

Dftw 3 Edwina Guckian Map In Car Resized
Following in Jack Lattin's dance steps Taylor and Skinner’s Road Map of Ireland (1777)

Walking this historical path, in October’s lockdown silence, gave me a great sense of the world Jack Lattin lived in during the 1700s. A land saturated in history, surrounded by huge estates with houses I could only ever dream of for my dolls as a child. Ladytown, Sherlockstown, Strawberry Lodge, Blackhall; home to Theobald Wolfe Tone, Jiggingstown, Oberstown, Milicent House; home to Richard Griffith, famous for his Geological Map of Ireland, Irishtown, Gammonstown Fitzgerald Estate, Morristown... Even the road itself held its own stories.  

It was the road from Naas to the Hill of Tara; the “Road of Kings”. I thought to myself, if only this road could talk.
Edwina Guckian, October 2020
Image 6 Dftw 3 Edwina Map At River
Driving in Jack Lattin's dance steps

Donegal fiddle player, Cathal Ó Curráin, recorded the original 3 part Jack Lattin reel for me and listening to it as I retraced his footsteps, I tried to imagine how Jack himself would dance to this tune. A line in Sean Donnelly’s research also caught my attention and played a role in the creation of my dance for Jack. It was a remark by Queen Victoria while being entertained by an Irish step dancer during a visit the Duke of Leinster’s house at Carton in the early 1800s. She commented 

‘the steps are very droll.'  

droll: humorousespecially in an unusual way 

This really made me laugh! I imagined Jack dancing the roads with great energy and devilment, teasing those who bet against him with his effortless and witty steps. I also thought Jack would appreciate it more that I focus on his great feat (and great feet!) rather than the tragedy that befell him. 

Drawing inspiration from this along with the tune, my surroundings and the historical sites, I formed the bones of a dance for Jack, partially structured but with much space for spontaneity and craic on the day.

Image 4 Dftw3 Edwina Guckian At Gates
Edwina Guckian, Morristown, November 2020
On the 6th of November 2020 I returned to Kildare in the company of Cathal Ó Curráin, and in memory of Jack Lattin I danced “From Castle Browne to Morristown” and lived to tell the tale.
Edwina Guckian, November 2020

Míle Buíochas 

Alan Woods, Liam O'Connor & Grace Toland at ITMA

Seán Donnelly - researcher

Micheál Ó Ruairc - camera

Victor Tzelepis - camera & drone

Cathal Ó Curráin - fiddle

Kevin Murphy - Local history section Kildare County Council

Fr. Michael Sheils and the staff at Clongowes Wood College

Constance & Pamela Cassidy and Edward Walsh at Morristown Lattin

Seamus Cullen - researcher

Fr. John Quinn – collector & researcher

Emmett Gill – Na Píobairí Uilleann

Dftw 3 Sean Donnelly Mick O Connor
Researcher Seán Donnelly, author of 'Ecstasy in eighteenth-century Kildare?: the strange fate of John Lattin of Morristown Lattin (1731)'. Image: courtesy Mick O'Connor