There are a number of descriptions of the old custom as it was before it was banned in 1837. The links below, will take you to them. They are transcribed in full insofar as they relate to The Hunting of the Earl of Rone.
Illustrated London News Jan 1856
North Devon Journal Jan 1856 (1)
North Devon Journal Jan 1856 (2)
The North Devon Scenery Book.  Rev.G.Tugwell. 1863
The Coasts of Devon and Lundy Island. J.L.W. Page. 1895
Pixy‑led in North Devon. Z.E.A.Wade.  1895
Notes on Combe Martin. Kathleen M. Thoms. 1906
Transaction of the Devonshire Association. vol.49. 1917
North Devon Journal May 1934
Devonshire Calendar Customs. R.P.Chope. 1938
Old Devon Customs. J,R,W,Coxhead. 1957
 

 

 

 

 

The North Devon Scenery Book.  Rev.G.Tugwell. 1863
"Rone?”said I: "is that a Devonshire name?  I don't remember to have heard of it before in my travels."  I believe, continued the Captain in effect, that the name is properly "Tyrone", and that the Earl of Tyrone, or a political refugee supposed in Combmartin to be such a personage, was captured by a detachment of soldiers in Lady's Wood, near this village, during the times of the Irish Rebellion.  The legend goes that he had been wandering in the neighbourhood for some time before his capture, and had lived on a string of sea-biscuits which he had hung round his neck, and which he had procured from the little vessel which landed him on the North Devon coast. 
 
I am not, however, going to tell you the story of his wanderings in the woods, or of his capture, but of the strange annual commemoration thereof which the Combmartin people instituted, and which they kept up with great regularity till the year 1837, when the ceremonial was finally abolished.  The 'show' took place yearly on Ascension Day, and the characters or mummers who played in it were the following.  The Earl of Rone: wearing a grotesque mask, a smock-frock stuffed or padded with straw, and a string of twelve hard sea-biscuits round his neck.  The Hobby-Horse: masked and covered with gaily painted trappings, and armed with an instrument called a "mapper", which was shaped to represent the mouth of a horse, and was furnished with rude teeth and the means of rapidly opening and closing its formidable jaws.  The Fool: also masked and gaudily dressed.  A (real) Donkey: decorated with flowers and a necklace of twelve sea-biscuits.  A troop of Grenadiers, armed with guns, and wearing tall caps of coloured paper profusely adorned with bunches of ribands.
 
During the fortnight which preceded Ascension Day the Hobby-Horse and the Fool, in full dress, paraded the parish and levied contributions to defray the cost of the dresses and the other expenses of the show.  On the morning of the day itself great numbers of people thronged in from the surrounding parishes, and the whole village turned out in its Sunday garments and put on its liveliest aspect.  At three o'clock in the afternoon the Grenadiers marched with all due pomp and circumstance of war to the neighbouring plantation called Lady's Wood, and after much parade of search, discover the fugitive Earl of Rone ineffectually hidden in the low brushwood.  They immediately fire a volley, lay hold of their prisoner, set him on the Donkey with his face towards the animal's tail, and thus conduct him in triumph to the village.  Here the Hobby-Horse and the Fool, and great numbers of the inhabitants, join in the procession.
 
At certain stations in the village the Grenadiers fire a volley, when the Earl falls from his Donkey apparently mortally wounded.  Hereupon there is great exultation on the part of the soldiers, and excessive lamentation on the part of the Hobby-Horse and the Fool.  After great exertion the latter invariably succeeds in healing the Earl of his wounds, and then the procession re-forms and marches onward once more.  At every public-house there is also a stoppage for purposes of refreshment, and as there are many such houses in Combmartin the progress of the mummers is necessarily slow.  Moreover there are further innumerable delays, caused by the perpetual efforts of the performers to levy additional contributions from the visitors who throng the street.  As a general rule small sums are given readily, for in case of refusal the Fool dips the besom which he carries in the nearest gutter and plentifully besprinkles the rash recusant, and should not this hint be promptly taken the Hobby-Horse proceeds to lay hold of the victim's clothes with his 'mapper', and this detains his prisoner till the required blackmail is forthcoming.  About night-fall the procession reaches the sea.    BACK TO TOP

 

 

 

 

ILLUSTRATED LONDON NEWS Jan 1856

A DEVONSHIRE CUSTOM. – Can any of your readers give the historical origin of the following custom? At Combmartin, on the north coast of Devon, it was customary, a few years ago, for a large party of the townspeople to proceed, one day in the summer to a certain spot in a wood above the town, to search for the Earl of Tyrconnell. He, being discovered (in the form of one of the inhabitants who has purposely conveyed himself thither), was seated on a donkey, and brought in (drunken) triumph to the old market-house, where certain Bacchanalian ceremonies concluded the evening. The custom was abolished a few years ago, in consequence of the melancholy death of the then (assumed) Earl, who, having partaken too largely of the refreshment supplied him, rolled over some stone steps and lost his life. – Your obedient servant, H.S.P.    BACK TO TOP

 

 

 

 

 

 

NORTH DEVON JOURNAL Jan 1856 (1)

Some curious contributor to the ‘Illustrated News’ has been lately asking if anyone can explain the meaning of a custom once observed at Combmartin, in which, he tells us, “A large party of the townspeople used to proceed one day in the summer to a certain spot in a wood above the town to look for the Earl of Tyrconnel; that, having found him in one of their drunken companions, they seated him on a donkey and carried him to the old market place, where certain Bacchanalian ceremonies concluded the evening.
 
The custom was abolished,” he goes on to say, “a few years ago in consequence of the melancholy death of the assumed Earl, who, having partaken too largely of the refreshment supplied him, rolled over some stone steps and lost his life.” There are several persons belonging to this town who have witnessed and taken part in this ceremony. In Combmartin it is not the “Earl of Tyrconnel” but Tyrone, or as they have dubbed him, the Earl of Trone,” they go to seek. The ceremony is, or rather was, performed on Holy Thursday, and the mock Earl has a string of biscuits hung around his neck. On these occasions a sort of blackmail was levied upon the inhabitants, all of whom were bound to contribute something to the revellers, which was spent, as all such money generally is, in drink.
 
A fortnight after the insertion of the query, another correspondent offered a rather far-fetched though somewhat ingenious solution. He says that, “about four miles and-a-half from Combmartin (or rather we should say about half-a-mile from Ilfracombe) there is a cove called Raparree Cove (which word he explains to mean ‘Irish Rebel.’) Against the cliff at the north-east angle of this cove, just out of reach of the flood tides, and scarcely below the surface of the earth, are an immense numbers of human bones, the bodies appearing to have been thrown there indiscriminately – not buried.” The respondent asks, “Is it possible that when O’Donnell the Red, chief of Tyrconnel, and son-in-law of the rebel Earl Tyrone, fled from Ireland (1602) he, or some of his followers, instead of reaching Spain, landed at this cove? And that many of them being here killed, other concealed themselves and were hunted by the country people in the woods between Berrynarbor and Combmartin?”
 
There is a considerable ingenuity in this conjecture, but there occurred an event, which is, we believe, within the recollection of the oldest inhabitant, that will give it quite  different cast. Somewhere about the close of the last century, a very disasterous shipwreck took place at this spot, when the whole of the persons on board the ship were drowned. The dead bodies, from some cause or other in those less civilised times, instead of being taken to consecrated ground, were buried at the spot spoken of, just above high-water mark. The vessel was from the tropics – the coast of Africa it is popularly believed – and many, if not all who perished were blacks. If we are not mistaken, there is this fact which will prove fatal to the conjecture, the skulls which have been found there are of the negro type, and therefore could not have been from the heads of the men of Tyrone.
 
The writer very candidly observes that, if such an event as he refers to with respect to Tyrconnel or the men of Tyrone had really happened “it must have been in the time of the Devon historians, Pole, Risdon, and Westcote – the last of whom possessed, by marriage, property in Combmartin and Berrynarbor. They do not, however, mention the custom spoken of by S.T.P.” – (the correspondent proposing the query), nor, is it to be inferred, do they mention ought about the landing on this coast of the Earl of Tyrone or any of his “Rapparees.” Those ingenious peoplsons may yet be able to throw some light on the subject.
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NORTH DEVON JOURNAL Jan 1856 (2)

“SEEKING THE EARL OF TYRONE.” – The ancient observances at Combmartin on Holy Thursday, bearing the above title, which was referred to last week, as having been recently discussed in the ‘London Illustrated News,’ has attracted the attention of an old and valued correspondent who was born and reared in that out-of-the-world valley. He furnishes the following edition of the foolish, and as yet, unintelligible custom. – About two o’clock on the day named, the characters who were to figure in the pageant and the crowds that were to follow, assembled to form the procession.
 
The leading performers were designated, the “Hobby-horse,” the “Fool,” and the “Grenadiers” – there was another animal (and the only one among them not a fool) namely a jack-ass. Hobby-horse and fool were dressed in indescribable masquerade costume, the former having on a grotesque covering of canvas reaching from his head to his heels and there expanded to a large size by a hoop. Holes were made for the eyes and mouth, the object being to render incog. the individual underneath. The “Fool,” like other motleys, wore a close fitting dress in which red prevailed as a colour, on his head he had a sort of mask ornamented round about with ribbon. These characters exercised themselves among their neighbours for a week previous to the procession, pouncing upon them in their houses in the evenings to the great terror of the children – a reason why some Combmartin people of the past generation used to stare so.
 
Hobby-horse carried in one hand, what was called a “mapper,” an instrument which opened a pair of jaws at will, which which Hobby-horse could seize the passers by, and hold them on until they forked out some sort of donation, and therefore more properly called a “snapper. The “Grenadiers” were twelve men who wore their ordinary clothing except the head dress which consisted of a high paper cap, gilt and bedizened with ribbon. – These were armed with firelocks. The procession being formed of these fools and their followers, the fgreater number of the inhabitants of the village, and many more form neighbouring parishes – they set forward to “seek the Earl of Tyrone” in the Lady’s Wood, at a short distance from the place.
 
A fellow to represent the Earl, dressed like a Guy Fawkes, and stuffed about with straw had been previously sent to the wood, and while the procession is on its march a scout returning from the search announces that he has discovered the Earl, when the Hobby-horse rushed in and fetches out the fugitive from his hiding place enveloped in his rags and straw. With a string of biscuits round his neck, he is now placed upon the donkey gaily caparisoned for the purpose, and the grenadiers prepare to shoot the unhappy culprit. They fire and the poor Earl falls from the jack-ass apparently dead; the Hobby-horse and Fool rush in help turn him over, and breathe into him to inflate his lungs and bye and bye he revives and they place him upon the beast again. The shooting ceremony is performed at different points on the route, when “Hobby-horse” is busy with his “mapper” levying what dues he can from the people, and sundry jorums of drink are swallowed as they proceed. Having passed in this fashion through the village the pageant disappears, and the people disperse.
 
The drunkenness, by those who have witnessed it, is said, not have been as great as represented in the ’Illustrated,’ and that it was discontinued, in consequence of some one having lost his life at one of the exhibitions, is regarded as a fable. There is a glimmering tradition that the Earl of Tyrone was some rebel chief that had taken refuge in this wood some when, but it gives no clue which may lead with certainty to the point of history to which it may refer. Whatever it may have originated from, the foolish affair ceased to be perpetrated about twenty or thirty years ago.     BACK TO TOP

 

 

 

 

 
The Coasts of Devon and Lundy Island. J.L.W. Page. 1895
Until quite modern days Combe Martin was known for the celebration of a curious pseudo-historical festival or revel," known as the "Hunting of the Earl of Rone." Two hundred and fifty years ago the hills and valleys at the back of the Hangman were far more inaccessible than they are to-day, and became an asylum for refugees who had got into trouble over the Irish Rebellion. One of these outlaws, calling himself the Earl of Tyrone, was captured in a wood near the village, and the Combe Martin folk, grateful for the removal of so dangerous a character from their midst, commemorated the .event in the following manner : A week before Ascension Day the Earl of Rone, as he was called - an extraordinary figure made out of a smock frock stuffed with straw, a string of biscuits round his neck, and, for face, a mask - was led through the village and neighbourhood in company with a hobby-horse and a donkey adorned with flowers.
 
Everyone was expected to contribute a coin or two to the " soldiers" who escorted this extraordinary trio, and if anyone declined he was sprinkled with mud from a broom carried by a " fool," or maltreated more or less by the hobby horse. On Ascension Day the Earl was taken to the wood where the real outlaw had been arrested and concealed among the bushes. Then the " soldiers" were supposed to discover him ; he was dragged forth, placed on the donkey with his face to the tail, and conducted back to the village. Now and then the " soldiers" fired a volley, when the Earl would fall from his steed, the mob would cheer, and the hobby-horse and fool utter dismal cries. This sort of thing went on till evening, when the affair wound up on the beach. If the actors in this grotesque pageant had comported themselves with decency, the "Hunting of the Earl of Rone " might, perhaps, still be seen at Combe Martin, as the hobby-horse is at Minehead. But the rowdiness and drunkenness inseparable from such a function became unbearable. So the day came when the Earl was hunted for the last time, and in 1837 the show was suppressed.
 
But suppressed not altogether to the satisfaction of the inhabitants. One old lady told me with what an awful joy she would give her halfpenny to escape the jaws of the “mapper," a terrific wooden affair worked by the hobbyhorse, and which laid hold of any non-paying delinquent. She was really quite enthusiastic about this by-gone revel, and I shall never forget the unction with which the old creature finished her narration by exclaiming, in good old-fashioned Devonshire, "My dear soul, I should like to have 'un again !"    BACK TO TOP

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pixy‑led in North Devon. Z.E.A.Wade.  1895
The earl of Rone wore a mask, a smock frock padded with straw, and a chain of ship biscuits hung round his neck. The "horse" was covered with painted trappings; and armed with an instrument called a mapper (is this a clerical error for snapper?), shaped to represent the mouth of a horse, furnished with teeth and jaws capable of rapid opening and closing.  A donkey also, decorated with flowers and a necklace of threaded ship bread, took part in the procession: and so did a group of grotesquely dressed grenadiers.  For a week before the show day the procession paraded the parish, and naturally collected many spectators from surrounding places.  All appeared in holiday attire on the Feast Day preceding that of Whitsuntide.  There was some thought of the procession into Jerusalem, on Maundy Thursday, underlying the performance; though all such meaning had evaporated by modern times.
 
At three o'clock in the afternoon the grenadiers filed to the wood, where the earl was hidden in a bush, and they immediately fired a volley.  This wounded the refugee, who was then seized, set on the donkey, with his face to the tail of his steed, and thus led in triumph through the long village.  He, the hobby, and the fool, joined in procession, and at certain resting places - a memory of the Stations of the Cross ‑ the soldiers fired and the earl fell from the donkey, seemingly wounded, to the great exultation of the soldiers and the lamentation of the hobby‑horse and fool.  The latter replaced the earl of 'Rone on the animal and again the progress went on.  This amusement lasted for some hours.  The actors stopped here and there to levy contributions from the spectators, and to spend these wherever they could find a place of refreshment.  Should any refuse to give, the fool dipped a besom in the gutter, which followed the course of the street, and besprinkled the unwise individual, and if this treatment did not produce the required coin the hobby‑horse seized the unfortunate bystander with his mapper, and detained him until blackmail was forthcoming.  BACK TO TOP
Notes on Combe Martin. Kathleen M. Thoms. 1906
Until the year 1837, when it was suppressed, Combe Martin was the scene of a quaint custom, which took place upon Ascension day.  It was called the Hunting of the Earl of 'Rone, and was supposed to be a commemoration of the hunting of an Irish outlaw, (Hugh O'Neill, the Earl of Tyrone), during the Irish rebellion in the latter days of Elizabeth. 
A troop of village men dressed as grenadiers assembled in the street on Ascension day.  They formed a procession having with them an extraordinary figure representing the Earl of 'Rone.  This person was attired in a smock frock padded with straw, a string of biscuits hung round his neck, and he wore a mask. A "hobby horse", with gay trappings pranced about, bearing an instrument called a mapper.  This consisted of two wooden jaws, furnished with formidable teeth, wherewith the hobby horse laid hold of those who did not contribute a coin to the exhibition.  There was a donkey, also decorated with biscuits and flowers, and a fool bearing a besom, wherewith, after dipping it in the gutter, he bespattered the niggardly.   At three o'clock on Ascension day the Earl would take refuge in Lady's wood, and soon afterwards, a mock discovery and capture would be enacted.  The party then paraded the village, the Earl riding the donkey with his face to the tail.  At intervals they pulled up, the grenadiers fired a mock volley and the Earl fell from his steed.  Hereupon the grenadiers would rejoice, and the hobby‑horse and fool would pick him up and replace him with cries of compassion and lamentation.  A large company of holiday makers would come from all the country round to see this play, and contribute a little welcome coin to the actors.  At every public house (and there were more even in those days than there are now), the party would stop for refreshment.  It may be imagined therefore that the journey down the street occupied some time, and that when the sea was reached, the procession had waxed somewhat disorderly.  This eventually led to its suppression.  It has been suggested that this ceremony was a survival of the old miracle or morality plays, which were probably sometimes acted at the four days Whitsun fair.  These plays written, and often acted by the clergy, usually took place during the great Church Festivals, and were general throughout England.  BACK

 

 

 

 

 
 

Transaction of the Devonshire Association. vol.49. 1917

The last observance of this old festival was on Ascension Day, 1837.  I had this on the authority of the late rector and three very old men now living in the village (the year 1917) - George Dendle, aged 95; Ezekiel Lovering, aged 86; William Chugg, aged 85.  The three latter actually took part in the last festival ever held - this would have been in the year of Queen Victoria's accession.
 
From conversations I have had with these three old men from time to time, I learn that this strange old local festival - altogether unlike any other in the whole of North Devon - during the last few years of its existence was gradually losing much of the historical importance it may have possessed, owing to the introduction of a good deal of rough horse-play and drinking habits.  There were at that time nine public-houses, and it is said that a rather prolonged halt for "refreshments" was made at each.
 
On the last occasion upon which it was held (1837) it would appear from my informants that there was so much mirth and wild conviviality during the strange procession from "Lady's Wood" at the very head of the town to the seaside (1½ miles nearly) that most of the principal "actors"  were pretty well "done for"  by the time they had left the third public-house downwards; also, that there were hundreds of people, not only from this place, but also from surrounding parishes, all dressed in gay holiday attire, following the noisy procession... BACK TO TOP

 

 

 

 

 

NORTH DEVON JOURNAL 24/5/1934
Combe Martin’s Forgotten Festival.
In olden days Ascension Day was the occasion for strange happenings at Combe Martin. This annual spectacle was known as a “Gaudy[i],” and had its inception in an authentic historical incident.
 
In 1863[?] the rebellious Earl of Tyrone escaped from his native Ireland, and sought refuge in the West of England. It is said that he was finally captured in the glades of Lady Wood, Combe Martin, and it was in the hunting of this noble refugee that the Ascentiontide Festival originated; into this was also absorbed the beating of the bounds and the procession formerly held on Maundy Thursday.
 
The “earl” wore a mask and a smock frock padded with straw, while for (?) about his neck was hung a necklace made of ship’s biscuits. Another important figure in the show was the hobby-horse, which was decked with gay trappings, and was provided with an instrument known as a “mapper.” This formidable invention was shaped like the mouth of a horse, with realistically moving jaws and teeth. There was also a donkey decorated with garlands of flowers and chains of biscuits, while a party of grenadiers, in their picturesque uniforms, had an important part to play in the proceedings.
 
At three o’clock in the afternoon the latter, having taken up their position opposite the bush where the “earl” lay concealed, fired a volley. The wounded nobleman was taken prisoner and set ingloriously on the donkey’s back, his face turned to the animal’s tail. In this manner the procession passed through the village in the company of the hobby-horse and a fool carrying a besom. The fool was supposed to be on the side of the “earl,” and expressed his grief at the indignities suffered by his master. At various points on the route (by some though to represent the Stations of the Cross in a more pious[?] age) the soldiers stopped and fired a volley. The “earl,” again wounded, erratically fell off the donkey, amid the rejoicing of the onlookers and the laments of the fool. His place in the procession was now taken by the hobby-horse, who demanded gifts on money from the crowd in order to purchase refreshments for himself and the other actors. If anyone refused the fool dipped the besom he carried in the water running along the gutter, and administered a liberal sprinkling. Should this prove of no avail as an incentive to generosity, the unfortunate person was seized by the hobby-horse, and doubtless had to submit to the unwelcome attentions of the “mapper.”
 
A consideration of the features of this quaint Ascentiontide “Gaudy” shows that it may have had some connection with other religious traditional processions, and it is also reminiscent in some ways of the more widely-known ceremonies and gaiety associated with Guy Fawkes’ Day.   N. M. G.       BACK TO TOP
[i] gaud·y 2 (gôd)n.  Chiefly British.  A feast, especially an annual university dinner. [Middle English gaudi, gaud, prank, trick, possibly from Old French gaudie, merriment (from gaudir, to enjoy, make merry, from Latin gaudre, to rejoice) and from Latin gaudium, enjoyment, merry-making (from gaudre, to rejoice; see gu- in Indo-European roots).]

 

 

 

 

Devonshire Calendar Customs. R.P.Chope. 1938

Obsolete from 1837. - The 'show' took place yearly on Ascension Day, and the characters or mummers were the following:- The Earl of Rone: wearing a grotesque mask, a smock-frock stuffed or padded with straw, and a string of twelve hard sea-biscuits round his neck. The Hobby-Horse: masked and covered in gaily painted trappings, and armed with an instrument called a 'mapper', which was shaped to represent the the mouth of a horse, and was furnished with rude teeth and the means of rapidly opening and closing its formidable jaws. The Fool: also masked and gaudily dressed. A (real) donkey: decorated with flowers and a necklace of twelve sea-biscuits. A troop of Grenadiers, armed with guns, and wearing tall caps of coloured paper profusely adorned with bunches of riband.

During the fortnight which preceded Ascension Day the Hobby-Horse and the Fool, in full dress, paraded the parish and levied contributions to defray the cost of the dresses and other expenses of the show.  On the morning of the day itself great numbers of people thronged in from the surrounding parishes, and the whole village turned out in its Sunday garments and put on its liveliest aspect.  At three o'clock in the afternoon the Grenadiers marched with all due pomp and circumstance of war to the neighbouring plantation called Lady's Wood, and after much parade of search, discover the fugitive Earl ineffectually hidden in the low brushwood.  They immediately fire a volley, lay hold of their prisoner, set him on a donkey with his face towards the animal's tail, and thus conduct him in triumph to the village.

Here the Hobby-Horse and the Fool, and great numbers of the inhabitants join in the procession.  At certain stations in the village the Grenadiers fire a volley, when the Earl falls from his donkey apparently mortally wounded.  Hereupon there is great exultation on the part of the soldiers, and excessive lamentation on the part of the Hobby-Horse and the Fool.  After great exertion the latter invariably succeeds in healing the Earl of his wounds, and then the procession reforms and marches onward once more.

At every public house there is a stoppage for purposes of refreshment, and there are innumerable delays caused by the efforts of the performers to levy contributions from the visitors.  As a general rule small sums are given readily, for in case of refusal the Fool dips the besom in the nearest gutter and plentifully besprinkles the rash recusant, and should not this hint be promptly taken the Hobby-Horse proceeds to lay hold of the victim's clothes with his 'mapper' and thus detains his prisoner till the required blackmail is forthcoming. BACK TO TOP

 

 

 

 

 

Old Devon Customs. 1957

At Combe Martin in North Devon, a very curious custom  was performed on Ascension Day each year until the year 1837, when, probably owing to the drunkenness that prevailed, it was discontinued.   The custom was based on a tradition in the district, that, in the days of James I, an outlaw named the Earl of Tyrone was wrecked in the Bristol Channel, and landing from a small boat near Ilfracombe, he is said to have made his way across country to Combe Martin, where he lay securely hidden in the dense woods of the neighbourhood for several days, existing on a few biscuits he managed to save from the wreck. According to the tradition, as soon as his whereabouts were known to the authorities, a party of Grenadiers was sent to Combe Martin with orders to capture him.

 
In its early days the custom was celebrated with colour and vigour, but as time went on it gradually deteriorated.  During the period when it was performed well, it must have been a very colourful and amusing spectacle.  On Ascension Day a party of local men dressed as Grenadiers, and armed with fowling‑pieces made their way to Lady's Wood in search of the Earl of Rone (Tyrone).  Meanwhile, the Earl, who seems to have been the hero of the day, wearing a grotesque mask and dressed in a smock, padded with straw, and adorned with a huge necklace composed of ships biscuits, was being ceremoniously mounted on his mettlesome steed, which consisted of a donkey also decorated with ships‑biscuits.  He was attended by a hobby‑horse covered with brightly coloured trappings and bearing an extraordinary instrument called a "mapper," furnished with large teeth with which the hobbyhorse caught hold of people who tried to evade giving money towards the collection made for the actors taking part in the entertainment.  There was also a 'jester' in attendance, who carried a wet broom with which to sprinkle water over those persons whose contributions to the fund were not forthcoming.  Cheered on by the jubilant shouts of the spectators, the Earl of Rone supported by his ludicrous attendants, rode off on his donkey.  As soon as the Grenadiers saw the Earl approaching, they fired a volley from their fowling ­pieces, and the Earl of Rone promptly fell from his steed, apparently desperately wounded, to the great joy of the Grenadiers.  The hobby­horse and the jester, with many lamentations, replaced the Earl on the donkey and the procession continued through Combe Martin, stopping at every tavern on the way.  Every now and then the Earl would fall from his trusty steed only to be mounted once more by the faithful hobby‑horse and jester.  The procession would reach the seaside as twilight was falling, and then the entertainment would come to an end amid the cheers of the spectators.
 
It is said that during the last occasion on which the custom was observed, a man named Lovering fell from the steps of a house and broke his neck.  This tragic event is supposed to have sobered the party up a trifle, and their visits to the remaining taverns were of a shorter duration out of respect to the dead man's relatives.  It is very difficult to say how much truth there is in the tradition of the landing of the Earl of Tyrone on the coast of North Devon.  No mention of such an occurrence is made in the Dictionary of National Biography.  Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone, was confirmed in his title and estates by James I at Hampton Court on 4th June, 1603.  On his return to Ireland at the end of August, the King's 'deputy' in Ireland, Sir Arthur Chichester, soon had reason to doubt his loyalty, with the result that Tyrone was again ordered to appear before the King.  Irish friends in the Netherlands sent a warning to O'Neill that if he went to England he would be imprisoned, so the Earl decided to escape to Italy.  At midnight on 14th September, 1607, the Earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnel, with their wives and retainers sailed from Rathmullan in a vessel of 80 tons intending to make for Spain.  The fugitives encountered a violent storm which drove them out of their course and buffeted them about for three weeks.  If the Earl ever landed on the coast of North Devon it would have been while his ship was weather-bound.  Eventually, the vessel reached the mouth of the Seine, and later the fugitives journeyed to Rome, where they were well received by the Pope, who granted the Earl of Tyrone a monthly pension, which was increased by an additional sum from the King of Spain, and was continued until the Earl's death on 20th July, 1616.  BACK TO TOP