Tales of Christmas’ past

Posted on: 31st December, 2013

Category: Features

Contributor: Mary O'Brien

“I remember everyone arriving for Christmas mass on the pony and carts, dressed in their best,”

Mary O’Brien goes to Drimoleague to hear two very special ladies — best friends for longer than they can remember — share some of their fondest memories of Christmas’ past. Although stalwart characters of Drimoleague, they don’t normally court the media, so for the purpose of this Christmas tale let them be known as Holly and Ivy!

“It all began with the cleaning of the chimney by the man of the house,” recalls Holly. “A rough branch of a tree called a ‘bissom’ brush was used for this job. If the ‘bissom’ failed to clear the soot, then a live goose was put down the chimney. In those days, chimneys were a lot wider and the wings of the goose, flapping wildly in panic, never failed to clear the soot.”

After the chimney was cleaned, it was time to wash and paint the kitchen walls. “There was no Dulux colour cards in those days,” says Holly laughing. “It was all whitewash.”

Ivy remembers collecting holly and ivy and winding it through the back of the settle seat in the kitchen. “We also put it over every holy picture in the house,” she says. “And every window had a candle in it. The candle was stood in a jam jar or in a turnip.”

Both women nostalgically recall the light from the candles in the windows of every house on the hills in Drimoleague. “You could see the light flickering from miles around.”

“Mind you, it was highly dangerous too with all those lace curtains,” says Holly. “T’was many a curtain caught light at Christmas time.”

The currant cake was baked in the bastible, a flat-bottomed cast iron pot, over the open fire. There were two seats called hobs at either side of the fire. “In those days, you could only get the dried fruit, such as raisins and sultanas, for the cake at Christmas time,” says Holly. “Oranges and bananas were scarce too and always a treat in the Christmas stockings.”

“And the lump sugar…we always had cubes of sugar at Christmas time,” say both women longingly.

“And of course every house had a drop of poteen…made outside on the hills of Drimoleague.”

“Any groceries that hadn’t been bought the week before were collected on Christmas Eve,” recalls Holly. “People would go to the pub while waiting on their grocery order and every customer got a candle and brack or some kind of gift from the shopkeeper.”

“Christmas Eve was about fasting and abstinence in those days,” says Ivy. “It was indeed,” says Holly. “Do you remember the hake, Ivy? It was called ‘battle board’ because of it being as hard as timber with the height of salt. The fish was packed in sawdust to keep the salt in and everyone just wanted the middle part of the fish, as the tail and head were full of bones. It used to drive the shopkeepers mad.

“And the Champion potatoes, the yellow ones…they were beautiful. They used to be cooked on the three-legged pot, the skillet, over the fire.”

“And the minerals and raspberry wine in all the houses for the children,” says Ivy. “T’was 99 per cent water, that raspberry wine,” says Holly laughing.

“I remember everyone arriving for Christmas mass on the pony and carts, dressed in their best,” says Ivy. “Of course there was no such thing as buying new clothes for Christmas back then, everything was mended and home made.”

“There used to be big crowds coming home to Drimoleague every Christmas,” says Holly. “And of course the turkeys were posted over to anyone who was away at Christmas.”

“Do you remember the turkey with the whiskey bottle story, Ivy?”

“One Christmas a local man arrived home to Drimoleague with his family for Christmas,” recounts Holly. “His father asked him how the turkey was that he sent over to England the year before. ‘Perfect’ replies the son. ‘And it didn’t break?’ says the father. ‘No, twas perfect’, says the son, thinking to himself ‘how does a turkey break?’ ‘Oh that’s good,’ says the father ‘I was afraid the bottle of whiskey would get broken enroute.’”

“The father had placed a bottle of whiskey inside the turkey to keep it safe on the journey over the Irish Sea. However, as was the case with many turkeys sent abroad in those days, the bird was rotten by the time it reached its destination and the postman had advised the son that he should bury it in the garden.

“When the family returned to England, the son went into the garden and unearthed what remained of the turkey. Sure enough, the bottle of whiskey was still there, in perfect condition!”

Both women fondly recall the Wren boys on St Stephen’s morning. “They’d arrive all in disguise and pulling a big bush of holly with streamers flying from it.

The money collected by the Wrens always went towards organising a big dance and party at the end of January.

“It was held in the kitchen of a farmhouse and you’d have to be invited,” says Holly.

One of the most anticipated events of Christmas in Drimoleague was the horse races on St. Stephen’s Day. “They brought a big crowd,” says Ivy. “They did,” says Holly, “and always a few fights too. There were 14 pubs, imagine, in Drimoleague in the old days…and we had our own courthouse, which a fair few ended up in after Stephen’s Day!”

“The best thing about those days was that everyone’s door was always open,” says Ivy. “There wasn’t a door without a key in it.”

“That’s true,” says Holly “and there wasn’t a house without some form of a shop in it. They were different times.”

They surely were.

Latest News Articles:

Sam Maguire School Tour launched
Fundraising drive to get Kinsale students to World Robotics Championships to Kentucky
Answer the Call to save lives on March 23
Clonakilty students return from trip of a lifetime to rural Malawi
Clonakilty Fairtrade Fortnight celebrates 15 years
€44 million to improve Cork roads
Clonakilty Access Group AGM hears of many frustrations and challenges for people with disabilities in the town
Schull student scoops top invention award at BT Young Scientist
Schull Garda Station wins ‘Leading Light in Road Safety’ award from Road Safety Authority
Go quackers at the 2018 West Cork Bird Race

Join us on Facebook

Wave to Mary! 65-year-old Mary Nolan Hickey is running around the entire coast of the Island of Ireland to raise funds & awareness for the RNLI and is currently running the roads of West Cork.

Mary is the only woman to have completed every single Dublin Marathon (all 38 of them). She’s also completed the grueling Marathon des Sables in the Sahara Desert, known as the ‘toughest foot race on earth’.

To mark her 50th year involved in Athletics Mary is taking on her biggest challenge yet (even though she thought she’d already done that when completing the Dublin Marathon when she was over six months pregnant!) She wants to raise as much money as possible for the RNLI.

Mary started her epic journey in Arklow, Co. Wicklow, on New Year’s Day. She aims to cover up to 5000 kilometers, using coastal routes, over the next five months. She hopes to get back in time to get her first pension payment in June when she turns 66.

Mary will stop off at as many RNLI stations as possible, on her once in a lifetime adventure. As far as she knows no other woman has ever taken on this challenge.

Speaking about her journey Mary said:

“I wanted to prove that age not a barrier. Coming from a coastal town I have a deep affinity with our local RNLI station & volunteers and have huge admiration for the brave men and women who risk their lives to save lives at sea”.

Mary, who’s depending on the goodwill of communities along her route for accommodation, has been astounded by the response so far. “The support has been overwhelming,” she said. “I have met the most amazing and encouraging people along the way”.

To see more about Mary’s adventures, and to pinpoint her location today, check out her Facebook page - rnlilapofthemap2018.

... See MoreSee Less

20th March, 2018  ·  


This Saturday the 10th March, will see some magically curious activity as local Bandon national schools compete in a Wizarding Harry Potter Quiz. The prize will be the beautiful Bandon Banshee Perpetual Cup.

As any Harry Potter enthusiast knows, Bandon has the unique honour of having a character named after the town. The Bandon Banshee, was referred to as the nemesis of Gilderoy Lockhart in the Chamber of Secrets. The book grossed €60 million in sales and was the 7th highest earning film of all time.

Locals, looking to enhance the town for young people, saw the quiz as an ideal way promote the connection. The universally absorbing book series brings young readers on a huge adventure of magic, adversity and triumph. It is also an exploration of loyalty and friendship, good and evil – so it is not only popular way to engage young people, it is a hugely positive connection.

Zoe Tennyson, one of the organisers said they were delighted with the response from schools who ran a qualifying quiz as part of World Book Day. On Saturday Bandon Town Hall will be transformed into Hogwarts Great Hall, with proceeds going Bandon Playground Group, and to cover costs of the event.

Bandon Books will be rewarding the winning team with vouchers to each of the five members. The Bandon Banshee, or Bean-sidhe na Bandaan Perpetual Cup will be hotly contested – but which school will the Banshee go to??

If you have any questions please call Marguerite McQuaid on 087 900 9494
... See MoreSee Less

8th March, 2018  ·  

Ballineen Foróige Young Engineers Exhibition 23 February 2018

The inaugural Ballineen Foróige Young Engineers Exhibition will take place in Gort Mhuire Hall in Ballineen this Friday 23rd February. As part of Engineers Week 2018, leaders and members of Ballineen Foróige Club have organised an exhibition which will showcase a diverse and exciting range of engineering projects that have been undertaken by members of the club over the last few weeks, with the aid of leaders and a number of local engineers.

With the aid of local pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, along with the support of STEAM Education, a UCC based company focused on promoting science, technology, engineering, arts, and maths subjects in primary schools, Ballineen Foróige has been engaging members and leaders in all things engineering over the last six weeks. From researching, designing, and prototyping a project based on local problems, to participating in various workshops on coding and careers in engineering, Ballineen Foróige have been extremely busy in preparation for the exhibition this coming Friday night.

On the night itself, Michael Loftus, Head of Engineering at CIT, Fintan Goold, Manager at Eli Lilly and All-Ireland Cork winning Footballer, along with Geraldine Coughlan of GCA Architects & Designers, a local business, will act as judges on the night, evaluating the different engineering projects and offering some advice to the members of the club. Also in attendance will be the CEO of Foróige Seán Campbell, along with a number of local councillors, TD’s and Senators.

Leading the team of Ballineen Foróige leaders organising the event, is Rebecca Dwyer, a bioprocess engineer at Eli Lilly. Rebecca recently became a leader in the club and says that Ballineen Foróige Young Engineer Exhibition 2018 “promises to be a fun, challenging and rewarding experience for all involved and we look forward to welcoming parents, relatives, friends and members of the public to the exhibition and film screening on the evening of Friday 23rd February.” Overall, there are twelve projects entered in the exhibition. One project, led by Cian Kennefick and Charlie Nolan, members of the starting out club, examines the possibility of installing speed ramps on the road near local primary school. Fourteen-year-old Charlie says he got involved in the project as it was something to do and it gets you thinking. Cian says the most exciting part of the project was the building of the prototypes.

Both Cian and Charlie, along with thirty other members of the club will display their projects this coming Friday 23 February in Gort Mhuire Hall in Ballineen. Doors open at 8pm and the event runs until 10pm. All are welcome to attend, and admission is free. Catering, including tea and coffee, will be provided on the night.
... See MoreSee Less

20th February, 2018  ·  

Did you know..... ... See MoreSee Less

Main course

17th February, 2018  ·  

Jump to: