Page 24 - Demo
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Oth m
th h fo w a s h s In n m th li s in w p a T th it y th s th th ju h C M S o re w B C fa ( d ro w s v m a ra d g s a a th a
Rose of Tralee contestants 1960
Picture by Harry MacMonagle
Eamonn Kelly, Open Fires and lighting the
 Christmas Candle in East Kerry
by Gneeveguilla native, Donal Hickey
ne of the best descriptions
great feast, we’d spend hours with our noses pressed against that window, hoping that Santa would bring us a chosen toy.
Christmas Eve arrived with an almost unbearable sense of anticipation. Household chores were executed early in the day. Enough turf had to be brought in for fires during Christmas, mother would be busily engaged with the turkey and ensuring a hundred and one jobs were done, delegating various tasks to each child. When they had to be good for Santa, it was easy to find plenty of willing hands.Excitement built up as the day wore on and the jobs would be finished by mid-afternoon. As dusk approached, the radio would be switched on and there might be a story aired by the inimitable seanchai Eamon Kelly. He received undivided attention in our house because he hailed from the same townsland as my late mother. I can still hear his voice against a background of gathering dusk on a damp and grey Christmas Eve more than a half- century ago.By now, tall white candles would be standing upright inside the windows. We would have set the candles firmly in jars of sand and sprigs of red berry holly would be placed in the sand, around the base of the candles. When it had turned dark, the youngest child in the house would ceremoniously light the candle in the kitchen window and would often have to be lifted up to do so. Many houses had candles in every window and all the other candles would be lit from the first one. Having candles in every window seems to be a Kerry tradition and some friends from Cork city who visited Kerry on Christmas Eve, some years ago, were surprised at the phenomenon which seemed strange to them. Once the candles were lit, everyone fell to their knees on mother’s orders and the rosary was said, with all the trimmings and special remembrance for all deceased family members, friends and neighbours, especially those that
had died during the year.
Then, there would be the evening meal – salted ling would often be the sole menu. Some people were known to keep back from the table, saving themselves for a massive dinner of turkey, or goose (the preferred Christmas dinner of our next door neighbours), the following day. But it’s in the soft, compelling glow of near-mystical light that our memories of childhood Christmases bask. Just after dark, candles would be lighting in every house and there was a thrill in going to an upstairs front window, pulling back the curtain and looking westwards towards places with lyrical Irish names like Maghantourig, Scrahanaville and Ath na Blath, to view in awe those twinkling lights in the houses.The normally dark countryside would be aglow on this night of nights, with the lights resembling bunches of stars as if reflecting the heavens on a clear, frosty night. Inside each house, a bigger fire that usual would be ablaze, again throwing out extra light, matched only by the genuine warmth of the welcome that awaited visitors who might call to sample the festive spirit. The candle flame was a symbol of welcome to Jesus, Mary and Joseph, or anyone who might have been passing the way on Christmas Eve.
All these lights continued to flicker during the Christmas and we were always lonely when they were quenched after the Women’s Christmas, on January 6, and the world again returned to darkness. That magnificent Kerry poet, Sigerson Clifford, put it delightfully:
“Don’t blow
the tall white candle out, But leave it burning bright, To show that they
are welcome here,
This holy Christmas night. Leave the door upon the latch, And set the fire to keep, And pray that they
will stay with us
When all the world’s asleep.’’
I’ve heard of Christmas is at it is a great pool light in the idst of darkness.
fter a usually dreary November f short days and long nights, as e sun sunk ever lower in the orizon, we always looked rward to Christmas as a elcome respite, with fairy lights nd candles, extra lighting in the hops and multi-coloured bulbs anging over the streets of towns
uch as Killarney.
today’s world, people don’t
otice the extra lights nearly as uch as they did long ago when ere wasn’t as much public ghting as now. Houses also
eemed to have been much darker side: I still remember kitchens in inter-time when the most
owerful light was the glow from n open, turf fire.
here was something magic about at fire as people gathered round in winter evenings, swopping arns and discussing the affairs of e day. When I was going to chool in Gneeveguilla, fado fado, e late Deedie O’Donohoe was e teacher for the infant and nior classes, all of whom loved er dearly. The first harbinger of hristmas came when Deedie (not s O’ Donohoe, mind) drew anta, always accompanied by a utsize, bulging bag of toys, with d chalk on the blackboard, a
eek or two prior to the holidays ut the real confirmation that hristmas was nigh was when the irly lights went up in Mikey
Maria) Moynihan’s shop. The ancing lights went all the way und the main rectangular indow of the shop (now a upermarket) at the Cross, in the illage.On the window were the ost popular toys of the day - gun nd cowboy holster sets, little red cing cars and balls for the boys; olls and skipping ropes for the irls, and popular board games uch as draughts, ludo and snakes nd ladders for everyone, young nd old.The wonderland behind e glass fired our imaginations nd, in the days coming up to the
          Ambrose O’Donovan leads Kerry to win the millenium All-Ireland in 1985 Picture by Don MacMonagle
  Making Poitin (Potchbeen) in The Gap of Dunloe - Louis Anthony collection
A Killarney Regatta winning crew 1956

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