Friday, December 25, 2015

A Christmas Childhood

Patrick Kavanagh’s “A Christmas Childhood” was born out of loneliness and solitude. The County Monaghan poet penned this poem having spent a Christmas season alone in his flat in Dublin. The poem is filled with nostalgia for rural, farming, family life. His memories comes to us through Christian imagery from the story of the birth of Jesus.
One side of the potato-pits was white with frost –
How wonderful that was, how wonderful!
And when we put our ears to the paling-post
The music that came out was magical.
The light between the ricks of hay and straw
Was a hole in Heaven’s gable. An apple tree
With its December-glinting fruit we saw –
O you, Eve, were the world that tempted me.
To eat the knowledge that grew in clay
And death the germ within it! Now and then
I can remember something of the gay
Garden that was childhood’s. Again.
The tracks of cattle to a drinking-place,
A green stone lying sideways in a ditch,
Or any common sight, the transfigured face
Of a beauty that the world did not touch.
My father played the melodion
Outside at our gate;
There were stars in the morning east
And they danced to his music.
Across the wild bogs his melodion called
To Lennons and Callans.
As I pulled on my trousers in a hurry
I knew some strange thing had happened.
Outside in the cow-house my mother
Made the music of milking;
The light of her stable-lamp was a star
And the frost of Bethlehem made it twinkle.
A water-hen screeched in the bog,
Mass-going feet
Crunched the wafer-ice on the pot-holes,
Somebody wistfully twisted the bellows wheel.
My child poet picked out the letters
On the grey stone,
In silver the wonder of a Christmas townland,
The winking glitter of a frosty dawn.
Cassiopeia was over
Cassidy’s hanging hill,
I looked and three whin bushes rode across
The horizon — the Three Wise Kings.
And old man passing said:
‘Can’t he make it talk –
The melodion.’ I hid in the doorway
And tightened the belt of my box-pleated coat.
I nicked six nicks on the door-post
With my penknife’s big blade –
there was a little one for cutting tobacco.
And I was six Christmases of age.
My father played the melodion,
My mother milked the cows,
And I had a prayer like a white rose pinned
On the Virgin Mary’s blouse.
(Published today on

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Your Complete Guide to an Irish Christmas

"Merry Christmas" is "Nollaig Shona Duit," which is pronounced as "null-ig hun-a dit." Now you have almost completed your IE 101!

But despite the warmer temperatures, Ireland has been getting less sunlight than a typical December, due to heavy rain storms and cloudy conditions. In my time in Ireland, we experienced terrible storms and power cuts due to fallen trees but never snow.

You know you're in Ireland when you book the 8th December off and drive to the"Big Smoke". You get all your Christmas shopping done in one day. It's called "Farmers Christams" or nowadays #Farmersdayout. Ireland, like most countries, has a number of Christmas traditions that are all its own.  

You leave a can of Guinness, a slice of Christmas cake and a carrot out on Christmas Eve”... and rocking Irish Santa thanks you!

The placing of a lighted candle in the window of a house on Christmas Eve is still practiced in Ireland today. It has a number of purposes but primarily, it was a symbol of welcome to Mary and Joseph as they traveled looking for shelter.
German, btw, does or did that too. At least during the years while it was divided between East and West. (We in the West put the candles in the windows for our brothers in the East.)


The placing of a ring of holly on doors originated in Ireland as holly was one of the main plants that flourished at Christmas time, giving the poor ample means with which to decorate their dwellings.

All decorations are traditionally taken down on Little Christmas or Women's Christmas (January 6) and it is considered bad luck to take them down beforehand.

We missed our Christmas tree.Sure pine and spruce was available long before Christmas but would usually be dry and wilted by Christmas, especially when brought indoors. Firs or noble firs that keep better were not available. The tradition of advent wreath like in Germany with four candles in the lead up to Christmas for every Sunday was not a tradition in Ireland. I made my own wreath our of all kinds of evergreens available: yew, holly, laurel. 

And an unheard of frivolity (even / particularly now here in the USA as well) is a live tree with real candles. My American family almost went paranoid over it and insisted on having a hose from the garden at the ready. In Ireland, however, I saw decorated and illuminated Christmas trees outside for the first time, however, already up on December 1. They were not popular then in Germany yet and Germans mostly still buy their tree only on Christmas Eve and put it up then indoors.

St. Stephen's Day and the Wren Boy Procession
During Penal Times, there was once a plot in a village against the local soldiers. They were surrounded and were about to be ambushed when a group of wrens pecked on their drums and awakened the soldiers. The plot failed and the wren became known as 'The Devil's bird'. On St Stephen's day, a procession takes place where a pole with a holly bush is carried from house to house and families dress up in old clothes and with blackened faces. In olden times, an actual wren would be killed and placed on top of the pole.

My son was born on St. Stephen's Day. (Pronounced btw. like St. Stephense's Day in North Country Tipperary where we lived. Boxing Day in the UK).It was impossible to have a birthday party for the little boy. First of all, the Irish have big families and they all had to visit their relatives on that day. Second, Tipperary where we lived had the customary Wren boys doing the rounds on St.Stephen's day. Originally staging a fake wren shooting, tradition has it that a group of boys and young man dressed up and went from farm to farm singing and collecting goodies- sweets or pennies.

Ireland's a nation of emigrants and most Irish families will either be missing someone at their Christmas dinner table this year due to emigration or they’ll have the emotions and joyous experience of a homecoming. Emigration, a typical phenomenon for centuries until the boom times of the Celtic Tiger. And when he stopped roaring, the situation reversed again.

Last year the Dublin Airport Authority posted this emotional video on their YouTube channel showing an emotional Christmas homecoming with the O’Connor family from West Limerick being reunited for the first time in four years.

Christmas Songs
A generation of Irish kids grew up on Dustin, the singing turkey without who Christmas would not be complete,  especially when he joins Twink in a panto. His most popular songs  "Christmas Tree Song" and "Rat Trap" together with Bob Geldof.

One of the few Xmas songs I really like and get emotional about, although I never particularly liked Shane Mc Gowan, once married to Sinead O'Connor.  I'm amazed he is still alive - given his lifestyle.