Ag mhaisigh an tí ~ Decorating the house
Hunting for holly
Finding holly with berries was best. You’d look all over for it. You might tie berries on if there were none. If there are lots of berries it’s supposed to be a hard winter. It feeds the birds for a hard winter.
There weren’t any bought decorations from the shops. We made our own.
We’d cut coloured paper and make our own decorations from paper scraps. You’d cut them and sometimes sew on holly.You know that coloured paper.
There were no Christmas trees years and years ago. Fifty or sixty years ago there was no trees. It was all a bit of holly and ivy and such. There were no decorations sold then. You’d have to make your own decorations out of paper, you would, out of any colour paper. We used to get the stretchy paper and wind it all around and put it up. No Christmas tree.
I’d never seen a Christmas tree, not the way they decorate them today with all those lights and everything. I never seen them in any house. If you did, you’d be wondering what that big tree was doing in there.
There’s a lot of people who don’t know what the decorations are for. Don’t know that they’re for celebrating the birthday of Christ. The star goes on the tree because the wise men were told to follow the star to where Our Lord lay. There has to be an angel on the top of the tree and a light on it.
Ivy was used as much as holly but we never saw mistletoe. We seen it on films.
Bia na Nollag ~ Christmas food
Christmas Eve was a fast day. It was the fast before the feast. A lot of people didn’t eat meat as a preventative to the fever. Sometimes it was kept as a fast day, the day after Christmas. That was a fast as well. It would keep away all diseases. It was a bit of a sacrifice. People don’t fast now. It was up to yourself, like. A lot of people used to do it.
It was a cure, wasn’t it? It was supposed to take you through the twelve months if you didn’t eat meat on St Stephen’s day. There’s a lot don’t eat meat now and there’s a lot of men that don’t eat meat.
You could wait a long time in the shop; three or four hours. You’d go and buy the flour, 7/6d for a bag of flour. And then the shop keeper would want a Christmas present.
Most people had their own vegetables.And they had their turkeys or could buy them in the country, but you would buy them in the town. Then there was the open fire, no modern cookers. It was the open fire or a big oven.
But you’d have to ask the women about the cooking. The men didn’t do anything. For Christmas ‘thirty-two we had beef and Irish stew, thanks to God, and the heart of DeValera. There was free beef introduced at that time in this country, and that’s the only bit of meat you bought at Christmas except for a hare or rabbit.
For ten years, our Christmas fare, Was a wee bunny or a hare A dumpling stuffed inside, nought else to vary But for Christmas thirty-two, We had beef and Irish stew Thanks to God and DeValera
Back in Hitler’s war, forty years ago, maybe more, the loaf of bread was rotten that you’d buy. It was like sawdust. All the people had was their own potatoes, and cabbage and vegetables and their own meat. That hadn’t to go into town. All I’d have was a good dinner, and that kept me going till the next day. And a good mug of soup from the bunnies too.
Most people had turkeys or could get turkeys if you lived in the country. If you lived in the town you would buy it from the shop. You usually had to pluck and clean the turkey yourself.
My husband used to chase the children with the turkey legs. He would pull the strings and make them move. The children would scream and giggle.
You’d buy a turkey from the market or out in the street and bring it home, you would, and pluck all the feathers of it and make a pillow out of the feathers. My husband used to clean it out and run after the children with the head of him. They’d have to be fasted for a couple of days and then they were easier.
The goose, the head was cut off but the turkey was choked. You choke a turkey to bring the blood down to the head.
I wouldn’t do it myself. You’d want to learn how to do it. I’d choke a chicken.
Did any of you men have to kill the turkey?
You’d have to get the two wings together and then get its feet. You’d break it in seconds, its neck. I’ve never seen a head cut off a goose. It only takes a second to break its neck.
I’ve seen the head cut off a chicken and seen it running round the yard with no head on it.
I think everyone had their own recipes at that time. There were no bought plum puddings, there was nothing to buy. They’d be boiled in the white muslin for a couple of hours. They’d put the dried fruit and the suet and the whiskey and the brandy into it. Everybody wanted a go at stirring it. All eight of mine wanted a go, more to dip into it. They would be dipping the finger into it, not dipping the spoon into it!
They don’t taste as good now. They make them in bowls now. Years ago, they used to make them in a big tin can and cover it with paper, and hang them up on the ceiling with a handle on it, for months before Christmas. We would boil it in a pillow case.
That’s how they got to be round, wasn’t it?
I remember my mother cooking over the hob and the open fire. There was a fireplace and a hob on both sides She’d put the cake in one and the dinner in the other. There was a metal skillet for making the stir-about. There was the oven for making the bread and she made the plum pudding in a big pot; a big, big pot and she’d make the plum pudding in that. The can would be sitting down into that and she’d fill it full of water. The pot was on a crane. You could pull it over and pull it back and any way you liked to put it. I still have the crane outside of my front door. I have my mother’s crane outside my front door and I have a kettle and a pot hanging on it. They were all metal, these containers.
You could see the pudding rising up like a big football. It would be lovely. She would make griddle bread and I still have my griddle, that my mother had years ago. It’s hanging outside too. You make a cake like a pancake. It’s just like a cake but you put it on the griddle and it’s called griddle bread. The taste of the smoke gives it a lovely flavour.
The chimneys were big. You could kneel down inside to see if it had caught fire. I often could smell smoke and I’d get down on my two hands and knees and look up the chimney and I’d see little bits and things falling down and I’d know it was on fire.
I have my own story about chimneys. In fact three weeks after I moved into my stone built house in Leitrim, the chimney caught fire. My neighbour had advised me, previously, not to have the chimney swept but I had it done anyway. The day following the sweeping, after lighting the fire, white smoke began to pour out of the chimney behind the range, I could hear a continuous loud roaring sound from inside the gable wall. My new next-door neighbour, a builder as well as a farmer, came around with a roof ladder and poured water down the chimney. He told me that the chimney fire would burn out on its own.
However, it got much , much worse, and after the paint on the wall began to bubble I called for the fire brigade. Somhow, the fire engine got down my narrow drive. (The van delivering my furniture and posessions from the UK had got stuck three weeks before). The firemen went into serious fire mode as they believed the fire had gone into the roof. However after breaking into the gable wall, they managed to put the fire out. It turned out that the soot brought down by the cleaning, had heaped onto the great wooden lintel which had supported the original open fireplace, now cliosed up with a range fitted in fromt It had got so hot back there that some of the large chimney breast stones had actually cracked.
By this time all the neighbours had come by with cakes, pies, alcoholic drinks and more. So we all had a housewarming party, outside in the February night, dozens of neighbours, firemen and a big red fire engine. It was a memorable night. The house was a bit of a soggy mess but by the end of the party we had got to know all the people on our hill, had promises of clear-up help, and, Oh yes, had bought a flock of 20 in-lamb hoggets.
Return to ‘Candles in the Window’ index
Continue on to Page 3: