Page 15 - Demo
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with Patrick V O’Sullivan
 ooking back, Christmas piece about the Christmas was like a present waiting candles, reminding us as it did
to be opened: the sense of longing and anticipation it generated very much part of its appeal.
I remember an elderly neighbour talking of the things on her dresser, not a few of the handsome Arklow jugs bought at Maggie Shea’s shop on the old bog road at Christmastime. The jugs with their motifs
of flowers and birds and country scenes could not have been more summery in character and yet they were in their way emblems of Christmas too: each one identified as it was with some long gone Christmas of old and the-memoriesthatwerepartof it still.
I remember our neighbour telling too of the clock in the shop, the old fashioned wall clock beating out time on the wall, its gilded pendulum swinging unerringly to and fro, It was as if the clock had a livelier, jauntier feel about it then, as if it knew that Christmas was in the door once more..Then there were the candles, tall, yet generous pillars of wax, their waxy scent mingled with the scent of fruits and jams, arrowroot biscuits and ginger wine. It was a familiar thing to see people goinghomebyhorseandcart along the old bog road, our neighbour said: three or four candles sticking out of their Christmas supplies. We still bought the same kind of candles ourselves, though the shop on the old bog road had closed its doors, the only reminders of it the vintage advertising signs that were left behind. We hardly thought of it then,butthesignswerelike pictures in a storybook, everything about them redolent, so redolent of a bygone age.
We bought our candles in one of the shops in Killorglin, Mangans or Foleys maybe. The candles came in packets of three and were in their way like repositories of light: channels of brightness waiting their time to shine. I still have the English readers I had at Callinafercy National School, one of those old—fashioned country schools with yellow—washed walls and gabled porch facing the road. Our first class reader had everything from a poem about the moon to a retelling of Aesop’s classic fable about the fox and the stork. I still remember lines from James Hogg’s poem A Boy’s Song, also printed in the reader: ‘Wheretheblackbirdsingsthe latest, Where the hawthorn blooms the sweetest, Where the nestlings chirp and flee, That’s the way for Billy and me.‘ The reader also had a
that these Christmas candles which shine through the darkness have a meaning and a message. They bring us back to Bethlehem and the first Christmas.’ The piece went on to explain that the candles were not only symbols of light, they were also emblems of welcome, which was what we should think of ‘when we light our candles on Christmas Eve.’
pThis latter was very much the tradition in the old days, so that the idea of lighting candles days, even weeks in advance wouldhavebeenregardedas absurd. No, the lighting of the candles, usually at six o clock on Christmas Eve was very much part of the ritual of the season itself. Then the firelight danced in the hearth, the incense of the logs woody and green, the peaty smell of the turf redolent so redolent of long summer days in the bogs, when the skylarks sang overhead and the stonechat’s jinglejanglewasheardinthe bogs.
TheChristmascarol‘Oncein royal David’s city‘ was printed in our first class reader too, but it was in our third class reader we found Padraic Colums well-loved poem about the old woman of the roads, who longed for a house and a dresser of her own: ‘To have a clock with weights and chains, /And pendulum swinging up and down; A dresser filled with shining delph/Speckled white and blue and brown.’ This longing for a home of her own is one that would surely resonate in many quarters still. Another Christmas ritual in our house, though was the varnishing of the dresser in honour of the season that was in it. The cupboard had been made by a local carpenter around 1910, while the superstructure with the shelves was of a still earlier vintage, dating back as it did to the late 1800’s. There were so many scents at Christmas: the candles, the fruits and the jams but one of the most evocative of all was that of the varnish on the dresser.
The varnish dried to a hard gloss, but more than that it had a sweet kind of incense of its own. An incense as intimately bound up with Christmas as the voice of Bing Crosby singing White Christmas on the old Mullard wireless, or the warble of a robin redbreast in the cypress trees in the yard. We decorated the dresser with garlands of laurel which we gathered in the grove, the spraysoflaureltumblingdown over the crown board, the very top of the dresser itself.
Again it might have been a
Princess Sarah Ferguson and her mother Susan Barrantes horseriding in Millstreet in 1989.
Picture by Don MacMonagle
  picture in a storybook for here were lustre jugs and willow ware, and an old blue and white dresser jug, its blues the colour of the bluebells that grew in the grove in the spring, or maybe of the ink into which we dipped our pens at school. My mother had served her time as cook in the kitchens of the old country house and so there were some old Christmas cake decorations on the dresser too, these sat here and there among the ware. One was of a diminutive little church, replete with tower, another of Father Christmas, the latter not as one might have expected with reindeer
Mymotherstillbakedhercake in the traditional way in the old potovenoverthefire;therich fruity aroma of the baking cake with a magic all of its own. The cutting of the cake was another part of the tradition, the ritual of Christmas was never cut till supper time on Christmas Eve, when all the candles were lit and the firelight danced in the hearth, the old card crib given pride of place on top of a cupboard. Needless to say we loved the cake, generously topped as it was with a layer of home-made almond icing and a layer of white, or royal icing into the bargain: the vintage cake decorations that had graced many a cake down through the years still very much to the fore. By then, our
little brown donkey Bill was safe and snug in his shed, extra fodder in his stall before him. The same again with the hens, and our brown and white sheepdog, Rover too: the candles and the stars and the Christmas moon shedding light on the frosted window g1ass.
There was something about Christmas Eve that made it special, so specially was in its way like a door, a magic door tothetimeofpromisetocome. Sometime later our neighbour Jack came to call to tell us tales of Christmas long ago.
The lifting of the latch, the drawing up of the chair and the warming of the hands to the fire very much part of the preamble. Jack had stories of moonlight and starlight and magical flocks at Christmastime, his voice so compelling that we believed every word. He spoke of sitting on the low stone wall looking out on the river one Christmas Eve of old, when all of a sudden a salmon leapt high in the air: A Christmas salmon glittered with the light of the moon and the stars and maybe a few fond memories too. Christmas was that kind of time, a time for stories, reflections, fireside yarns. It was a time when past and present might have shaken hands with one another: the future like a candle burning bright in the windows of wonder again.
Trisha Yearwood married to Garth Brooks perfroming in The Gleneagle Hotel 2002.
Picture by Don MacMonagle
 and sleigh to hand but with his little sack of presents on a little grey donkey’s back.
Mariah Carey tracing her roots in Killarney 2004 Picture by Don MacMonagle

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