New Year’s Eve in Ireland: Banishing Hunger for the Coming Year

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Kildare, 31 December

31 December, Kildare Illustrated London News, 1852

‘It was customary on New Year’s Eve to bake a large barn-brack, which the man of the house, after taking three bites out of it, dashed against the principal door of his dwelling, in the name of the Trinity, at the same time expressing the hope that starvation might be banished from Ireland and go to the King of the Turks. The fragments of the cake were then gathered up and eaten by all members of the household. Before retiring to rest, twelve candles were lit in honour of the twelve Apostles and family prayers were said.’

Omurethi, Journal of the Kildare Archaeological and Historical Society, 1906-08.

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The Feast of the Holy Innocent and Cross days

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 Aran Islands, Galway –  28 December

Image of the Aran Islands between l898 and 1902 taken by the playwright John Millington Synge for Weekend Arts Image of the Aran Islands, circa 1900, taken by the playwright John Millington Synge

 B. N. Hedderman, a nurse from County Clare, stationed on the Aran Islands in the first decades of the 20th Century;

‘The particular day of the week in each year is the one on which we keep the feast of the ‘Holy Innocents.’ If this feast happens to fall upon a Monday, for instance, then every Monday throughout that year will be a ‘Cross day.’ : On these days no person in the South or Middle Island would transact business, commercial or otherwise, have a marriage solemnized, or open a grave; neither would they start the spring planting or the harvest gathering. However, “Mother Nature’ dissents, and permits the arrival of births.’

Glimpses of My Life in Aran

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Christmas day, Gifts, Feasting and the Mummers

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Fermanagh –

christmas

Lombe Atthil writing about the Christmas of his youth,  in Fermanagh, in the 1830s;

‘Christmas seemed a glorious time, but what my grandchildren would think of the Christmas-boxes with which I was content, I can well imagine, for the nearest shop at which presents could be bought was fourteen miles off, and even then the choice was of the poorest kind. But then there was a splendid plum pudding as big as a small haycock; this would be carried in all aflame. There were mince pies, too, home-made cakes, etc., and for us youngsters a bottle of home-made gooseberry wine.

Party of Mask Mummers-x350-M-1288

Then I have vivid recollections of bands of boys being admitted to the kitchen at Christmas time, dressed up fantastically to the best of their ability, and called “mummers”; and of the excitement of us children, when the servant would, some evening between Christmas and Twelfth Night, enter…

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Christmas Eve & the City below Lough Gur

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Limerick-

12399262_10207101634272082_348058044_n Frontispiece from Myths and Folklore of Ireland by Jeremiah Curtin. 1890

Mary Fogarty, born in 1858, Lough Gur;

‘some say that in ancient days there was a city where the lake is now, before an earthquake threw up the hills and filled the hollow with water so that the city was submerged. Even now, the peasants say, when the surface of the lake is smooth one may see from a boat, far down and down again, the drowned city, its walls and castle, houses and church, perfect and intact, waiting for the Day of Resurrection.

And on Christmas Eve, a dark night without moon and stars, if one looks down and down again, one may see lights in the windows, and listening with the ears of the mind, hear the muffled chiming of church bells.’

The Farm by Lough Gur – Mary Carberry, 1937.

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Saint Finian’s Day

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Laois-

patternDay

Rev John Baldwin, Curate – 1819; ‘The people of Rearymore Parish annually assemble, on the 12th of December, at Saint Finian’s well, to celebrate the festival of their Patron Saint. The well consists of three or four holes in the solid rock always full of water, and is surrounded by old hawthorns, which are religiously preserved by the natives: it is also customary for the common people to go round this well on their bare knees, by way of penance and mortification.’

William Shaw Mason, A Statistical Account, or a Parochial Survey of Ireland iii

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The Feast of the Immaculate Conception

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Monaghan –

Patrick_Kavanagh Wilshire Collection – National Library of Ireland

Patrick Kavanagh;

‘The eight of December is a Catholic holiday. Since nineteen hundred and twenty-two, my career as a young gangster touched the high spot, fused and went out.

‘Will ye come out with the Mummers?’ a fellow asked me.

‘I wouldn’t think twice of it if I knew the rhymes,’ I said.

‘Rhymes be hanged,’ he said, ‘ye know enough.’

There were about fifteen lads in our troupe of Mummers. I had an insignificant role at the tail of the play. I wore an old black bowler hat and a cardboard false face.

19th century Oxfordshire Mummers Oxfordshire Mummers – late Nineteenth Century

We headed across, jumping drains and scrambling over hedges. We were well received by the people, hardly any house barred its door against us. We carried a melodeon though none of us could play the instrument. The old folk in the…

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