Sunday Feature: Christmas Long Ago


As you celebrate Christmas today, let us take you back to the 25th December in rural Ireland, long ago:

Sunday Feature: Christmas Long Ago

  • ADDED
  • 3 years ago

As you celebrate Christmas today, let us take you back to the 25th December in rural Ireland, long ago:

We requested an audience with one of Carriganimma's most venerable inhabitants and the great Mrs Manning, 92 years young, received us with a welcoming smile. During the course of our conversation, we got to talking about Christmas long ago. Here in her words are her recollections.

“There was an open fireplace and there was a crane across like, that you'd hang your pots and your kettle and everything up there, and we'd put our stockings up there to have Santa put things into it.

We'd be delighted to get any kind of a thing, because we got an apple and an orange a few sweets and things often inside of it... because we used to have cousins in town and they used gather up from some other place, dolls and things and put dresses on the dolls for us, and we'd get them and there was no need for Santa to be putting the dolls at all. So we used to get things to eat, but we never said anything at all about it because if we did, we would be getting nothing at all inside of our stockings.

The Christmas was still the biggest festival then as it is now. We used to have to go to mass Christmas morning. The first mass was at half past eight I'd say, and I'd say that was nearly the mass we'd go to. We'd go off with the pony and trap. There'd be a good crowd there.

So that was it, then, when we'd come home we'd used to have for the dinner was a goose. Carrots and that kind of thing wouldn't be going that time at all I'd say. I don't know but maybe we'd have an onion chopped up with it and a couple of spuds.

We used to have geese. When we'd kill the geese then some of em would be sold, we'd keep ones to send down to Macroom to our cousins, and sure we'd get something up then. They used to have a pub I'd say too and we used to get wine and things that way and so that's the way we'd manage. And then there was big bracks going long-go, the bracks were big round ones, for eating at the table, and my mother usen't make any big Christmas cakes like they do now.

You know that time long ago, in every house, the rosary was said and I remember when we were small, we'd be all put around chairs that way underneath the picture there and we'd all put a chair out and say a decade of the rosary, the rosary was said always, but tis not said at all now.

My father died when he was young, honest to God, after Christmas in December I think, and there was no rosary said that night. He was gone to bed and he was sick but my mother said that he got up again because he came down again to say his prayers, she said, and he went back into bed; and I was a terror for waking at a fierce early hour in the morning and hopping around the bed and everything and talking and I suppose squalling, and I was told to stop quiet.

And my mother went to the bed and she said something to him and she got no answer and I suppose she put her hand on him or something I don't know what did she do, and she turned and she said to me, 'he's dead' she said. Sure I popped out of the bed and I didn't cry or anything and I went on to where my older sister was sleeping and I said 'Dada is dead' and someone said to me that she hit me a clout, 'go away' says she, 'and don't be doing the fool like you do always' she said. My mother said, 'he's dead alright', she said, and we all got up then, was a tally-ho then. And someone went for the priest but I don't think he came out because they wouldn't come out for someone that was dead that time.

We had pigs for a piece but it was only cattle we had usually there. When I came here then the pigs were here. We used to have sows and they'd have bonhabhs. You'd keep the bonhabhs a good bitteen and then you'd carry them to the mart or carry them down to the fair and sell em and you'd keep some of em for killing and fattening. There used to be a man that would come and kill the pigs. They were cut up then and put into a barrel and salted. And they'd be taken out after such a length of time and there was no ceilings in the roofs, so there'd be nails along and you'd hang them up and when you'd want a piece you'd take down a piece from there.

The children used to go out Stephen's Day and they'd put something up on the bush and they'd say that it was a wren and they'd sing 'The Wren the wren the king of all birds, St Stephen's Day he was caught in the furze', and they'd go from house to house and see what pennies or tuppences they could get. 'Penny or tuppence to bury the wren.'

They weren't posh then like they are now. I know the Christmas decorations would be put up in the windows and there'd be a candle in every window, even upstairs and everything. I suppose that was to welcome a stranger because they used say before that you shouldn't lock the door, but you'd leave the door open Christmas night on account of Joseph and Mary looking for lodgings, going around, and that if anyone came, they'd have their come in. Sure people usen't I'd say be going around, at least not around here anyhow, and I suppose there's all homeless people now along up in Dublin and everywhere.

Travelling people used go around long ago. I remember long ago that you'd keep a tinker in the house. I remember one fella and we were eating the supper and my mother looked out and she said Daddy Christmas is coming and we were all on the stool and this old fella came in and I forget now what he said, but he was kept for the night anyhow. He was put down on the floor there cause I suppose what beds we had were taken up by ourselves.

There weren't much (Christmas) cards in those days. I know I had aunts in America alright and we used to send over letters and that, and maybe in later years cards. Sure I know they're all gone. Sure I don't write at all now to anyone over in America. I had cousins over there, two of em were nuns and one is dead now and the other moved into a home and I have no address for her at all now. So I don't write to anyone over there at all now, honest to God.

The days they're short out now, but as soon as it will turn the new year like, you''ll see a small bitteen coming again. They're very dark now the mornings and the evenings are dark. They were talking about a big storm for Christmas and wind and rain blowing up and oh, God above. They were preaching that too for Christmas Day but they're after changing that so Christmas Day won't be so bad either. You had big storms at Christmas before too.

But sure we used to have no electricity or anything, only an oul lamp. They'd be lighting the lamp in the evening and when you'd come home from school you'd have lessons to do. There was no wirelesses or anything that time, no phones or anything, neighbours would come in to visit, and relations.

Sometimes there'd be dances in the hall, in the village, three or four miles away. And if there was no dances there'd be plays. But you know you'd have to walk there cause there was no way of getting there, there was no bikes or anything. And I don't know whether you'd have any flashlamp or not, you'd have to walk in the dark anyhow.

So that was the old days. They're very different now of course.”

Our thanks to Mrs Manning for her cooperation and best wishes to all our readers this Christmas.

Go raibh dóchas, síocháin agus grá agat gach uile lá (may you have hope peace and love every day hence).

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