here’s Paddy Pharaic Mhichil Shannon remembering Christmas time long ago in Doolin, County Clare. This is an extract from ‘The Way We Were’ chapter of Doolin: people, place & culture
The longest memories I have are of Christmas. We’d be getting ready for Christmas for weeks. There used to be great excitement. The house would be cleaned from top to bottom and decorated with holly and ivy. Thee used to be big markets in Ennistymon and my mother would go there with other women from the village. That would be their biggest shopping day of the year. We’d be down at the bridge, waitin’ for them to come home and wonderin’ what they’d bring us back. If we got jam and baker’s bread we’d be over the moon. We never got toys or do-das, but all the same we had plenty to play with. I remember gettin’ a small piece of currant cake from my mother one Christmas Eve and goin’ down to the street so the other children would see it, I was that proud of it. Even though money was scarce, Christmas was much nicer then, a lot of the old customs are gone and forgotten now.
Except for the gentry, Christmas was the only time in the year that people here got a letter or a card. A lot of money came from America and other places then. Sometimes parcels arrived too, mostly with clothes. On Christmas Eve, before we had the tea, my father would gather us in the kitchen to light the Christmas candle. It was the youngest of the family that always lit it and I remember my father holdin’ my hand to do it. He used to say a prayer in Irish, to welcome Mary and Joseph to the house if they happened to be passin’. From that candle, other ones were lit and put in the windows. Every family did the same, and it was beautiful to look across the countryside and see all the little lights in the cottages. I remember walkin’ to Mass on Christmas morning with my mother and father when I was very young. It was pitch dark and there was a candle lighting in the window of every cottage. All the people goin’ to Mass were talkin’ Irish and givin’ blessings to each other. I’ll never forget that.
It would still be dark on St. Stephen’s morn when you’d hear horns blowin’, callin’ the Wren Boys. If you looked out the window, you’d see all the candles bein’ lit in the cottages all around. The Wren Boys used gather below at the bridge in Fisherstreet, they might be thirty or forty people in the batch, between dancers and players and an amadán (male fool/clown) and an oinseach (female fool). They’d be dressed up with coats turned inside out and crossed with ribbons of green and gold. Stepheneen Hardy was their leader when I was young and he rode a black ass.
The Wren Boys would travel the country that day and come back here at night. We’d hear the noise of them comin’ and everyone would go down to the bridge to meet them. Stepheneen would lead them through Fisherstreet and stop below outside O’Connor’s pub. That was their last stop. There used to be great excitement and of course ’twould go on for hours, music, set dancin’ and a bit of singin’.
What money the Wren Boys collected was always put towards a Swarie. In this village, I remember great Swaries down at Anthony Moloney’s house near the bridge. Dancin’ an’ singin’ went on all night, they were great times, so they were. And what ever drink and cake and the likes was left over was the makin’ of another great night. Them nights were called Scrap Parties and were often even better than the Swarie. ’Tis a pity all that died out.
photos @ folklore dept UCD
Doolin: people, place & culture — Amazon Bestseller by Eddie Stack