Page 19 - Demo
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  WE’LL have the usual rush at Kerry Airport and other airports as exiles return home in the days leading up to Christmas. In sharp contrast to the days when it took a person up to 24 hours to get from London to the heart of Kerry by boat and train, people can now fly from Stansted, or Luton, to Farranfore in a little over an hour. Such are the welcome advances in transport.
Those that cannot come home at this most emotional and sentimental time of the year may write, or send Christmas cards, or at least phone their families.In this age of modern communications, however, many are more likely to make contact through skype, text messages, email, tweet or go on facebook. No doubt Christmas Day will be the busiest skyping day in the entire year. Inevitably, the turkey, or plum pudding, will be burned in a few houses as people get carried away after answering the beep signal that someone in a distant land is skyping, just dying for a few words and a look at those at home on the screen.
Skype is one of the most marvellous pieces of today’s IT technology. There are people in their eighties and even nineties sitting by the firesides in Lyrecrompane, The Glen and Scrahanaville who truly relish seeing their emigrant children and grandchildren speaking to them on a screen from New York, London, Sydney, Vancouver or any other far- flung destination.
And while it’s impossible to take away homesickness and the feeling of longing that our exiles inevitably endure during the festive season, modern communications are making it somewhat easier.
All, indeed, a world removed from the days when a letter, or card, was the only means of communications with the absent diaspora at Christmas. Going back to the 1950’s and ‘60’s, there was always a huge influx of young Irish people from England at Christmas. Many would arrive on Christmas Eve, infused with the seasonal spirit. I can still see them pouring from trains at Killarney railway station before heading off to hold court in various public houses.Most were male and in their late teens and twenties. They wore tight-fitting navy suits, with drainpipe trousers, shoes with long pointed toes, white shirts with red ties and their brylcreemed hair was shaped like what we would impolitely call a duck’s arse, in certain parts of Kerry.
They looked great and were aeons ahead of the folks at home in the fashion stakes. All the way from Oxford Street, you might conclude. However, their outsize, callous hands betrayed the reality that their
Eileen Purtill chats on Skype to her sister Margaret, niece Ura and grandaughter Lily in Australia at Christmas last year.
Irish Sea were far from glamorous. A glance at the blistered hands showed that they worked mainly in construction and major road and airport projects: these lads earned their crust the hard way. However, what struck people at home most was that these fellows seemed to be loaded financially. When paying for rounds of drinks, which they stood generously, they took wads of Sterling banknotes from their back pockets, peeling off tenners, twenties and fifties as if flaunting their wealth. That kind of lifestyle they managed to sustain for a week, or two, during Christmas and when they left again, things appeared very quiet: normal austerity resumed in Ireland (austerity is not something first experienced in 2011!).
Over copious pints at Christmas, the exiles would have regaled people at home with stories about the ‘’good life’’ in London, Birmingham, or Coventry, and all the money that was to be made in bustling cities of bright lights. You’d swear from listening to them that the streets of England were paved with gold.
Going back to dingy digs, or bedsits, and the dawn call for work on muddy building sites in the frost-bitten days of January, they would often take a few other young men from home back with them, all dreaming of a better life in England. The new arrivals soon discovered that everything in that particular garden was not rosy, however. But the new recruits, too, invariably managed to return home, pockets bulging, the following Christmas...and impress impressionable others. On a recent visit to London, I called to a few pubs in Kilburn which, when we first visited the great metropolis in the early 1970’s, were raucous with working class young Irishmen. Alas, the only Irish I could see there, now, were a few elderly men, mainly drinking alone, obviously in poor health and showing the signs of years of hard labour on building sites and hours of leisure on bar stools.
Some of these men would have ‘’been over’’ for a half century or more and might not
   many years – the sad survivors of an era now gone.
Today, when you bump into the young Irish in London, they are most likely to be third-level educated professionals, or skilled craftspeople, who can make better lives for themselves than their unskilled predecessors who saw rough times working on ‘’the lump’’ and whiled away their spare time and money in the pubs of Cricklewood, Kilburn and Camden town.
Of all places in Kerry, Dingle probably celebrates Christmas – the full 12 days – with greatest gusto. Recently, the inimitable Micheal O Muircheartaigh was among a plethora of prominent personalities who recalled the Christmases of their youth for a Sunday newspaper.
What he remembered most was getting up at first light on St Stephen’s Day and heading off ‘’on the wran’’ from his home with other youngsters. They would spend the entire day travelling the countryside from door to door and it would be well after dark when they returned. He also emphasised that, in Dingle, they celebrated the 12 days.
All of which brings to mind thoughts of another well- known Dingle man who died during the year. The late Muiris O Rochain was, for decades, chief organiser of what many aficionados regard as the country’s premier traditional music event, the annual Willie Clancy Week, in Miltown Malbay, Co Clare. Muiris, a teacher by profession, was imbued with a deep love of his native town and returned each year for the St Stephen’s Day ‘’wran’’. He would be up early on the morning of December 26 and you’d find him in his family’s John Street public house getting the straw costumes and the hobby horse ready for the John Street group which would, later in the day, parade through the streets with the other three Dingle ‘’wrans’’. The smiling Muiris, who was immersed in Irish culture and heritage, always marched proudly at the helm. He will be greatly missed. Ar dheis lamh De go raibh a anam dilis..
Relatives keep in touch using skype at Christmas
  Henrietta, The Smoking Chicken
 Vintners John O’Sullivan, Paddy O’Donoghue and Danny Leane smoking ‘ jail bird’s 2004
 Gemma Goodey and Kyle Tyther who perform ‘On Horseback’ in aid of Age Action Ireland pictured in Dingle County Kerry during the COVID-19 crisis.
lives on the other side of the
have returned to Ireland for
by Donal Hickey

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