Page 23 - The Kerry News 2019
P. 23

here was one week each excitement and the bright and farms. These were put on a doll.”
year when teenage girls Christmas lights, I missed display on December 8th, the All Theresa’s dreams came
on Valentia Island said their prayers with attention and devotion asking the Lord for good weather and a calm ocean. However their intentions during Christmas week were not entirely religious but based on a fear that the young men from Portmagee, Ardcost, Renard and other areas would be unable to cross over to Valentia for the Christmas dances.
The girls were in awe of their mainland peers who appeared to be living in another world full of adventure and mystery. They all wanted a boy from the mainland as their boyfriend and usually had a local lad on hand just in case their mainland dream was shattered. Dances during the year took place in Knightstown on Wednesdays and Sundays but during funerals in the locality they were cancelled.
Today, more than 80 years later, Theresa Curran from Knightstown remembers those far off days with delight and nostalgia, tinged with sadness as she remembers friends and family who no longer share the joys of Christmas on this idyllic Island, one of Ireland’s most westerly points.
“Valentia was always the place I loved and felt so much at home in. With no work, or prospects of work, I left the island when I was 17 and moved to London where I stayed with an Uncle before I secured a job as a Nanny with a lovely family. I stayed with them for 7 years and when they moved to Canada I went with them for another three years. The boat trip to Canada took eight days at that time and was an experience I will always remember. By now I was 27 and despite the amazing fashion,
the smell of the sea, the fresh air and the rugged beauty of Valentia. London and Canada celebrated Christmas in a way that was alien to me. Parties, expensive gifts, expensive clothes and everyone trying to be better than the next person. It was commercialism at its best. We had everything in reality but we did not have the caring and loving nature of our family, friends and neighbours we grew up with back home on Valentia. There were cars everywhere, a far cry from the four cars we had on the island that belonged to the Priest, teacher and two doctors,” said Theresa, now 93.
As a child Theresa loved the company of friends and neighbours. Christmas was a special and magical time for her in the 1930’s.
“We were living on the island and were basically self sufficient. There were four shops in Knightstown and three in Chapletown and they looked after all our shopping needs from groceries to clothes. We would see the boats arriving from the mainland with boxes of tea, sugar, flour and other items. Just before Christmas we would go to Caherciveen for a days shopping. We walked to Knightstown and travelled across to Renard by boat and then by steam train to Caherciveen. This was magical. Caherciveen was the centre of the universe for us with so many shops and traders. It would culminate with brack and tea in a café which was a big treat at that time.”
Back on Valentia, Theresa spent the month of November preparing for Christmas. Very basic decorations were made with natural materials such as holly, pine cones and ivy all located in the local woodlands
official start of Christmas at that time.
“Bunting was made with crepe paper and when that was unavaible we cut old newspapers. They were placed over the fireplace and across the ceilings in the house. We also placed a natural holly wreath on the front door. We had a very small crib in the house, with the baby Jesus only placed into the manger on Christmas morning. One old custom was the placing of a wax candle in the window on Christmas Eve, a symbol to welcome strangers and to remember those who are far away from home. Looking out over the island, all the candles shining in windows give a warm and welcoming feeling.” Turkeys formed part of her early life with her parents rearing up to ten at a time for sale at the market in Knightstown. This much needed revenue formed a vital part of the family income for the coming year.
On St. Stephens Day, Theresa and her friends travelled the island on The Wren, a long standing tradition in those years.
“In the 1930s we had more than 1,200 people on Dairbhre, meaning the Oak Wood. We travelled the entire island, which is 11 kilometers long by 3 kilometers wide, and after an exhausting day of singing and entertaining we divided the money we earned which was later used to purchase shoes or clothes. They were simple but very enjoyable times. I wonder if the children of today have those memories. Have they the joy of making decorations and the simplicity of Santa who would bring us one small gift of
true in life. She married an old boyfriend from Chapletown while she was in England and more than 60 years ago returned home to the sound of the sea, the crashing winter waves and the warmth of the island community on Valentia Island.
Today her philosophy on life is simple. “Enjoy life, it’s for living. Love your family and friends and be thankful for life. Its not about money or wealth, it’s about health and happiness.” According to 96 year old Anna O’Keeffe, Valentia has lost some of its island charm. She maintains it is now an extension of the mainland. A campaign to build Valentia Island bridge started in 1912 but was shelved due to World War 1, 1916, the War of Independence and the Civil War. The bridge was built and finally blessed by Bishop of Kerry, Eamon Casey on New Years Day 1971 and opened by Minister Neil Blaney and Fr. John Beasley PP of Valentia. “The opening of the bridge changed our lives for good and bad. It allowed people to travel more and spend less time with family and neighbours,” said Anna, a native of Portmagee, who spent 45 years working in Nursing Homes in London and Birmingham.
“Like so many young people I was forced to go to England for a career. There were no jobs in South Kerry at that time. I came back home over 20 years ago and settled in Valentia. I married Jerome O’Keeffe, a school friend of mine from Portmagee when I was 29. We were in London at the time and later moved to Gloster. Jerome owned a hackney car before he went to London, one of just three cars in Portmagee in those years.”
Valentia friends Theresa Curran, Anna O’Keeffe and Margaret O’Shea remembering Christmas Valentia Island.
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Christmas Greetings & A Safe New Year
Anna remembers her childhood Christmas in a special way. There were no turkeys or fancy Christmas dinners in 1930s Portmagee. “A week or two before Christmas my father would kill a pig. This would be divided up in parcels and shared with all our neighbours. We would travel from house to house dropping off meat with the remainder of the pig expected to last through the winter. You would always get a treat in the various houses ranging from a boiled sweet or an apple to a slice of home made bread. There was no chocolate or fizzy drinks back then.”
While times were difficult in the 1930s, 40’s and 50s, Anna also felt life was far more meaningful. “There was a philosophy of caring and looking out for each other. With progress and modern technology we have lost this. We no longer visit friends or neighbours like we did at Christmas time where we enjoyed their company and the basic refreshments they provided. We visited all our neighbours on Christmas Eve and then finished the night with midnight mass.
tIt’s a different era and is constantly changing with each passing year.”
Mayo native Margaret O’Shea came to Valentia Island 50 years ago when her father worked as a Lighthouse Keeper.
“Planning was vital at that time as money was scarce. Christmas was simple and an occasion for sharing our time with the community. We had a simple and fulfilling life.
We made our own decorations and this taught children so many skills that are lost with computers and other gadgets.” Travel around the island was by pony and trap and all shopping was done locally. “Shopping was prudent and not extravagant and this also applied to Christmas time. Bracks were made at home as a treat and we lived a simple and happy life. We had a country feeling on the island. Life changed when the bridge opened in 1971 and the island became more accessible. We welcomed new families to Valentia and suddenly we were moving at a faster pace than we were accustomed to. Life has changed but the island is still a very special gem in the Kingdom’s crown, especially during the Christmas season.
By Con Dennehy
Christmas Greetings & A Safe New Year

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