Christmas is here - 27th Dec.1947


Christmas Is Here: Text Version

December 27, 1947


When I was writing my notes for last week, I didn't realise that I'd have an opportunity of speaking to you through this column again before Christmas. So for the second time I'm glad to say: - Guidhim Nollaig fe shean, fe mhaise is fe shlainte dhibh go leir. I suppose all of you, even those with no knowledge of Irish, know that Nollaig is the Irish word for Christmas. It resembles the French Noel. You will find it spelt Nodlaig in many places for the new, simplified Irish spelling has not yet been generally adopted. Here is a description of Christmas Day from Canon Sheehan's 'Glenanaar'. Contrast his true and intimate description of Irish life with that of some modern native writers, who like the primpeallan, or beetle mentioned by Geoffrey Keating delight to wallow in the dirt.


'The family have gone to early Mass, some to Ardpatrick or Ballyorgan, some down to their own parish church; for, despite the inclement weather there was some pleasure in meeting friends on such a day, and exchanging Christmas greetings. The boys who had been home early from Mass went out with their sticks to hunt the wren; and Hy, Droleen! Hy, Droleen! echoed from copse and thicket as the young lads shouted the hunting cry far away across the mountains. The rest of the family got back early from Mass also, and the deep hush of a Christmas Sabbath fell swiftly down over the entire land; for it is a matter of honour in Ireland that each family should be swiftly gathered together and have their fireside consecrated against all intrusion on that day. So far is this rigid tradition maintained that it is most rare to find anyone sitting down to the Christmas dinner who is not an immediate member of the family circle; and the happy-go-easy intimacy of other days, when a neighbour might freely cross the threshold with a 'God bless the work' is sternly interdicted on that day. The strict privacy of each household is rigidly maintained.'


'When night fell, all gathered together around the table, where smoked the Christmas dinner. This too, was invariable in every Irish household. The roast goose, stuffed with potatoes and onions, the pig's head garlanded with curly cabbage, a piece of salt beef, and an abundance of potatoes was, and is, the never-changing menu in these humble Christian households. In places where there is a little more pretension, a rice pudding, plentifully sprinkled with currants, or a plum pudding, is in much request. And then the decks are cleared for action; and the great Christmas cake, black with raisins, is surrounded and steamed by tumblers of punch; and all relax for a cosy, comfortable evening in mirth and enjoyment around the glowing fire of turf and logs on the sacred hearts of Ireland.'


What a picture of an old time Christmas we have here. A Christmas on the southern fringe of County Limerick more than 100 years ago. Canon Sheehan continues: 'And there are songs and dances galore, and absolute fraternity and equality, for servant boys and girls mix freely with the family on this great holiday of Christian communism; and many a quaint story is told and many a quaint legend unearthed as the memory of the old travels back into the past, and the hopes of the young leap forward to the future. And all then was limited between the four seas of Ireland. America had not yet been discovered; and the imagination never travelled beyond the circle of the seas. And so there was nothing but Ireland to talk about, nothing but Ireland interesting; the Ireland of the past, so dark, so tragical; the Ireland of the future, so uncertain and problematical.'


For an account of that Ireland, so dark, so tragical, we go from Canon Sheehan to John Mitchel, in whose immortal 'Jail Journal' we get a picture of the Christmas enjoyed by a patriot Irishman as the convict ship bears him to a far-away penal settlement, then to mingle for years with Britain's vilest criminals. On Christmas Day, 1848, John Mitchel wrote:-

'They have had service on deck to-day. The men have had a holiday. The weather is bright and warm; and the whole of this wooden building is reeking with plum pudding. I hear a distant sound of loud applause and stamping of feet, reminding me of Conciliation Hall. The man who attends me says it is a company of amateur convicts enacting a tragedy on the lower deck; the guards and officers are among the spectators and there is a general gala –- something as near to a saturnalian revel as would be safe among such a crew of miscreants. I wish them all a merry Christmas, and many happy returns of the same; but I doubt if it ever will return to me; I am sitting all day shrunk together in my cell, dismally ill, and wrapped up in coats, like a man on a box seat of a coach. Read 'Anthony and Cleopatra'.


This account from John Mitchel reminds us of another great Irishman, and of a fateful Christmas for Ireland. Christmas, 1796, saw part of a scattered French expedition cruising in Bantry Bay, vainly waiting for the rest of the fleet to arrive. A man in the uniform of Adjutant-General feverishly trod the deck of one of the ships. The ship was the 'Indomitable' and the man was Wolfe Tone. In his heart he cursed the fate that lost 15,000 veteran soldiers to the cause of his country's freedom. Looking at the French ships from the shore was Maurice O'Connell, the Liberator's uncle. He mounted his horse and rode post haste with the news to the British garrison in Cork. Some day, we may set down Tone's comments during those fateful days. Few accounts have more power to stir us than that of Tone, written in those days when a nation's fate hung in the balance.


Over the wireless come the words.

Adeste fideles

Laeti triumphantes

Venite, venite in Bethlehem

Natum videte

Regem angelorum:

Venite adoremus,

Venite adoremus Dominum.

Christmas is here. Happy Christmas to you all.


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