a few words of a kind…

Archive for the tag “irish folklore”

A Doolin Christmas

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

paddy pharaic mhichilThe 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.

paddy Pharaic house

photos @ folklore dept UCD

Read a book by Eddie Stack this Christmas

doolin cover

Doolin: people, place & culture — Amazon Bestseller by Eddie Stack

The Festival of Lúghnasa: an Irish harvest festival

Yesterday was Féile Lúghnasa, the pre-Christian Irish harvest festival, which is still celebrated at a few locations in Ireland. One time it was held at around 200 sites, nearly always remote, inaccessible places that were on heights, or near water. The festival was dedicated to Lúgh, the young and most brilliant god of the Tuatha de Danann. Lúgh was the god of light, god of arts and crafts, father of inventions and the likes. It was he who saved the harvest by vanquishing Bal, the sun god who was in the process of scorching all the country’s plants and crops with relentless heat.

Lúgh was a good time god. His festival was a young peoples gig and it was party central. In the Irish calendar it was the biggest celebration, the harvest was safe and the population could go and boogie. Held at remote locations, only the young, the fit and the agile made their way there.

As was its practice, the Catholic Church cast their net wherever there was a crowd. They took over Lúghnasa and put a religious stamp on it. One of the most glaring examples of this hi-jacking is Reek Sunday on Croagh Patrick, an ancient Lúghnasa site. The Irish Church said that St. Patrick spent 40 days and nights on the mountaintop, fasting and praying for the salvation of Ireland. If he did, he failed. But it’s more likely a pr job and the nearest Paddy got to the mountain was Campbell’s pub in Murrisk or maybe Matt Molloys in Westport. Anyway, year in and year out, thousands of the hoodwinked faithful climb the mountain on Féile Lúghnasa, saying prayers to Patrick, Mary and Jesus. Some climb barefooted, others climb blindfolded. Lúgh is probably shaking his head at the pain, wondering why they no longer believe in a good time god.

Bridget: Irish goddess disguised as a nun

In west Clare, the oldest Lúghnasa site is Dabach Bríde, also known as The Blessed Well or Bridget’s Well. Near the Cliffs of Moher, it’s a well in a little grove and has the sense of an ancient place. The Well is unique, as it’s the site of pilgrimage on Féile Bríde (February 1) as well as Lúghnasa. One time, thousands of people came there on Lúghnasa and later went down to the seaside village of Lahinch to sport and play. In recent times attendance has been slack and it’s mainly a scattering of diehard locals like myself who turn up to ‘pay our respects’ to the local deity, i.e. Lúgh.

So I went over to the Well yesterday afternoon. It was misty up by the Cliffs and I had a sense that the year had turned. When I was a youngster, Lúghnasa was the highpoint of our summer. We knew it as Garland Sunday, the last Sunday of Hungry July. It marked the day when we could harvest the new crop of potatoes — the ‘floury spuds’ and we gave thanks.

There was nobody at The Well when I got there. Inside, there were a few candles flickering, the faithful had been and gone. I paid my respects and walk up the old path three times to do ‘the rounds’, went back to the well again and sipped the water. Outside the sky was a bit brighter, the mist had cleared and I could see across Liscannor Bay and down along the coast of West Clare.

all around the shrine, there are offerings, prayer requests, memory cards

As I was about to leave, I heard the chattering of young voices, and saw a troop of teenagers coming down the road. They stopped outside The Well and looked at maps or guidebooks. They were young German hikers. One of them approached me and said,
‘Please, what is this?”

So I told him about Lúgh and the tradition and said it was auspicious that they came this way on his feast day. He related the story to the others. They asked questions and I answered best I could. They were respectful and asked if it was ok for them to enter the shrine and taste the water.
“Sure,” I said, “Lúgh would be delighted.”

Young German hikers about to meet Lúgh...

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