Residents at Deerpark House Nursing Home in Bantry share some of their Christmas memories over a cup of tea with Mary O’Brien.
John Crowley from Dunmanway worked the nightshift for 40 years with O’Leary’s bakery in Dunmanway. “I remember being so tired after baking all those bracks in the run-up to Christmas that I was in bed by 9 o’clock on Christmas Eve. We had three days holidays at Christmas time.”
Although John’s mother always lit a Christmas candle held securely in a turnip and decorated with holly, John says the family never had a Christmas tree. A candle was lit in every window of the house to welcome the Lord and any travellers out on the road.
John lived 50 yards from The Parkway Hotel in Dunmanway and he remembers how busy it was at Christmas time. “Joe Dolan, The Dubliners, they came from all over to play concerts there,” he says.
Another great social outing over Christmas was to ‘go to the pictures’ in Dunmanway. “The owner was a gas man,” recalls John. “He didn’t take kindly to complaints. I remember one time when someone complained about the quality of the picture, his response was — ‘what did you want for your one and three pence…Marilyn Munroe to come down and sit in your lap?’
Kevin Cadogan from Schull recalls ‘Hunting the Wren’ on Stephen’s Day. “It was a great way of getting some money to go to a concert or dance,” he says. “We dressed up in old clothes with a ‘face and eyes’ mask covering our face.
In many households back then, clothes were turned inside out or the collars changed or a sleeve cut and reknitted to give the items a new lease of life. Kevin remembers however that at Christmas time there was always a trip to Barnett’s in Schull for a new outfit.
Kevin’s family loved music. “My sister brought home a gramophone and we all loved singing along with it.”
A Cork City native and proprietor of the Anchor Bar in Bantry for many years, Bill O’Donnell grew up in the pub industry. “Regulars always got a free drink on Christmas Eve and the bar opened for ‘free’ drinks on Christmas morning until 2.30pm.”
“I still remember, as a small child one Christmas Eve, hearing something on the roof before I nodded off to sleep next to my father.”
Dan O’Donovan and his family went to mass at 6.30am in Skibbereen on Christmas morning. “Every picture in the kitchen was decorated with holly and berries by my mother.”
From a farming family, Dan recalls how the animals were always given “a bit of extra feed at Christmas”.
He also recalls that when a sow was farrowing, it was brought in to the house for the week and walked outside at night.
Presents were small and more often than not practical and oranges were a huge treat on Christmas morning. A turkey for many households was a luxury.
Everyone distinctly remembers ‘Bringing home the Christmas’, one of the nicest traditions, when families came in to town from the country on December 8 and brought home the Christmas Candle and fruit to make the Christmas cake.
It was the simple things that made it magic. “There was always a footprint in the ashes on the hearth on Christmas morning,” recalls Kevin smiling.