Wednesday 24 December 2014

Christmas memories

Our internet has been flickering on and off, so we've had only occasional posting. Whatever your faith or traditions, enjoy your holiday, everyone. 

Mary O’Sullivan: Christmas was a very big event then – now it’s a big event commercially, but then it was a big event from a different perspective. It was the time of year when – we talk about spring cleaning now, but then it was the Christmas cleaning. In the run-up to Christmas the dishes were taken down off the dressers, all the cobwebs were knocked down and windows were cleaned and the whole place was whitewashed.

My father was born on a farm about a mile from the village, and had a significantly different upbringing to my mother in the village, and my father used to say that Christmas on a farm was a very big event – this was before electrification, in the era of the tilly lamp. People didn’t just hop into the car and go to town – most people wouldn’t have had a car, just a horse and trap if they were lucky or a donkey and trap. So they would have only gone to town a few times a year, and going before Christmas was a major event.

On Christmas Eve there was the lighting of the candle – a big red wax candle, put into a jam jar filled with sand, ringed with holly and lit by the youngest member of the household. Then the neighbours rambled in.

The concept of rambling went out with the advent of television, but it was how people entertained themselves in the 20s, 30s, 40s. They walked to one another’s houses at night time and talked about what had happened during the week, weddings, funerals, wakes and local affairs, and someone would get out an accordion and tell stories and sing songs.

Ray O’Sullivan: Christmas Eve was a fast day, and all we could eat was salted ling fish, and it tasted terrible. People dreaded the thought of it from about October, but it was nearly like a penance. It used to hang in the fishmongers and you got the smell off it.

Christmas Eve was like good Friday is now, (with all shops closed - BK), and that was just in the mid-1970s and 80s, and it’s funny how quickly things have changed in such a short time.

The O'Sullivans were interviewed by RTE radio about the Christmases of their childhoods, December. 2009.  Photo: The canal outside our house a few winters ago.

Friday 19 December 2014

Christmas on an island

"It is wild and gusty today. People are gathering green branches and to decorate the windows – ivy and other evergreens. The houses have been without a daub of whitewash since last summer. There was not a crumb of lime to be had in Dingle since the trains stopped running. Many another item is not to be found, and no means of procuring it.

I am writing this on the Saturday before Christmas; Christmas Eve is tomorrow. The people who have gone out to the mainland have not yet returned yet on account of the bad weather. ‘Maybe,’ the children say, ‘the bad weather will ruin the Holy Night.’

The people of this village have made a trip to the hill and a sheep for nigh every household has been slaughtered. I suppose those who have such delicacies will share them with the neighbours; the established custom here is for everyone to share, except that we are seeing many changes in the world now, where there had been none for a long time."

-- From the diaryof Thomas O'Crohan, on Blasket Island, 1922.

Friday 12 December 2014

The sound of an engine in the distance

"Most people had a pony or donkey, but young people walked. The only motor car in the area was owned by the solicitor, and he drove it to see people who were making out their will, and once people heard the motor-car, they started talking about the person as though he were dead already. 
There were two motorbikes in our area, one owned by the priest, and the other owned by the doctor -- and when they passed late at night, we knew by the sound of the bike which one it was passing. As soon as they heard it in the distance, people were in a panic as to who was badly off."

-- Recollections of Aine Aherne, of Nohoba Kinsale, County Cork. The car belongs to my neighbour.

P.S. Blogging has been a bit light lately. Sorry. Christmas and all.

Thursday 4 December 2014

Ferguson coda

After some days talking about the tragedies in my old neighbourhood of Ferguson, Missouri, this blog will return to its regularly scheduled programming tomorrow – traditional crafts, sustainable skills, and older ways of life in rural Ireland. Before we do, though, I wanted to tell one last story about the protests, one you'll never read anywhere else.

For more than two decades I’ve been friends with a couple in St. Louis – I met her when we were teenagers, him shortly after, and kept in close touch with them as they married, raised two kids, and a few years ago found God. When the protests started, the husband decided he would go visit the protesters – not to join a conflict, but to be a friend and witness for people in a dangerous situation. My other friend, his wife, made dozens of sandwiches for him to bring, just to hand out to people who needed something to eat.

Some nights grew tense, as protesters faced off against rows of heavily armed police and were sometimes dispersed with tear gas. On one such night, when a protester needed a place to stay for the night, my friends invited him to sleep on their couch. My friends are white and the young man was black, coming out of a flashpoint of racial tension – but they let a stranger stay in their home, no questions asked.

It doesn’t fix everything, because nothing does. But a million decencies like that can make a civilisation, or rebuild one.

Photo: Courtesy of Wikicommons, Ferguson as you'll never see it in the media -- the way it looks on a normal day.