Why Graveyards Remind Me Of Christmas

Visiting our departed loved ones at Christmas is an age old Irish tradition. My childhood memories of Christmas Day include a trip to the local cemetery to say a prayer at the gravesides of our deceased relatives and friends.

Irish graveyard - Leaba Molloga, Kildorrery, Co. Cork

To many this may seem a very grave matter for Christmas time, but if like me your heritage is Irish, connecting Christmas with death is a perfectly normal and natural thing to do.

Honoring our ancestors and those who have gone before us is very important to Irish families.  Christmas is a family holiday which we not only celebrate with the living, but also the dead. When a close relative is unable to visit a grave, a cousin or a friend will often complete the traditional task.

Irish graveside

I have heard that Finnish people also observe this tradition of Christmas visits to graveyards. There however, the visit usually happens on Christmas Eve just before dark.  Finns usually light a candle in memory of their loved ones.  I can only imagine how beautiful it must be as darkness falls.  Graveyards must transform into a beautiful sea of candles.

On Christmas Day in Ireland graveside weed pulling is deferred, but old vases and pots of decaying flowers are replaced with wreaths of holly and ivy.  We pay our respects in many ways. Some write little notes, and graveside mementos are placed respectfully over the dead.

Irish graveyard ruin

But these customs are not reserved for the recently departed. Our long lost ancestors are often acknowledged on this holy of holy days.

Cemetery visitors nod to each other, respectfully conveying season’s greetings, yet all the while acknowledging our forebears are now close neighbors.

Like many other Irish people, I find graveyards have long been a source of solitude, comfort and contemplation.  Even as a child I never objected to our yuletide cemetery visits, recognizing at a young age that this was part of our heritage – our family duty.

Ancient door in an old Irish church

As I have grown older and look back on my Irish childhood I have come to fully appreciate this family ritual, even though many may deem it too somber for this merry season. But I never felt somber as I searched headstones for names I recognized so well.

Our ritual actually felt joyous, as if somehow in my young heart I knew I was bringing the joy of Christmas to our beloved family members who had passed away. Together we honored their lives, aware their lives gave us life, and the ability to celebrate this joyous season.

Celtic Cross, Molloga Graveyard, Kildorrery

A silent spiritual music provided rhythm to our Christmas stroll around grave stones and family memorials. Trees seemed silent and indifferent, yet ancient stones comforted us, rooting us to the valleys of our past.

As I now walk amongst the Celtic crosses of my memories, I am reminded that we too are simply passing through. We are only temporary residents on earth, yet duty bound to find joy in the simple things in life, especially family holidays and celebrations.

 

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

Irish American Mom

Chilblains, Hot Water Bottles And Other Chilly Memories Of An Irish Childhood

Chilblains were part and parcel of an Irish childhood for many when I was growing up.  Memories of red, itchy, inflamed toes still linger for my generation, but painful, chilblain flash blacks still haunt the generation that went before me.

Chilblains and Hot Water Bottles

Now many of you are probably wondering what on earth a chilblain could possibly be. The word is not feared here in America, with very few even being familiar with the term.

One cold winter’s day I was reminiscing with an American friend, and asked her if she ever suffered from chilblains as a child. A flash of fear spread across her face, as if I had asked her if she ever had the plague. She never before had heard of the dreaded CHILBLAIN, but the very word put the fear of God in her.

A Chilblain On The Third Toe

A Chilblain On The Third Toe

She was relieved to hear they’re non-contagious, small, itchy swellings on the skin that occur as a reaction to extremely cold temperatures. I have only ever seen chilblains of the toes, but apparently they can appear on fingers, heels, ears and even on the tip of the nose.  OUCH!

I was one of the lucky ones in Ireland in the late ’60’s and early ’70’s. My little piggies seldom succumbed to the frosty bite of winter’s chilly air, but my poor sister often complained of burning, itchy toes that swelled and turned bright red. Sometimes her poor little piggies were blistered by these notorious chilblains.

Chilblains seldom occur in America, because despite the cold winter temperatures, the air is dry, unlike the cold, damp conditions found in Ireland and the United Kingdom during the winter months. Chilblains were common in my youth, in the days before we had central heating.

Now it’s time for a little technical explanation … after studying physical therapy, I just can’t resist sharing the medical rational behind this winter discomfort.

Chilblains are caused by an abnormal reaction of blood vessels to the cold. As the skin gets cold, blood vessels near the surface get narrower, and then when suddenly exposed to intense heat, the blood vessels near the skin surface grow wider too quickly, and the blood leaks into the surrounding tissue, causing none other than, a chilblain. Warming our freezing toes by an open fire was not a good idea.

Allergy to cold and hives are two diagnoses some American readers have reported, but I think a differential diagnosis of chilblains might be indicated in some cases.

A Cozy Fire

Does anyone remember coming in from the freezing rain, discarding coats and scarves by the door, and ripping off wet shoes and socks to wiggle those freezing piggies by the fire?  If you answered yes, then you must be IRISH.

Little did we know we were creating the perfect conditions for a CHILBLAIN ATTACK.

I remember sitting by the cozy fire in the living room, my legs all toasty and warm, mottled red and white from the heat of the fire. We always said we had the ABC’s on our legs when we overheated our skin. I remember trying to convince myself I didn’t need to go upstairs to the bathroom, afraid to face the arctic air of the hallway. You see, when I was young, most houses were heated by an open fire, with no central heating. The living room was the only comfortable room in the house.

Hot water bottle

At night we snuggled under a layer of wooly blankets and brought our favorite friend to bed – the hot water bottle, hoping to ward off those dreaded chilblains. In my day, if our hot water bottle was too warm at first, we wrapped it in a towel, but nowadays they come with all kinds of fancy covers.

Apparently wearing socks in bed is a better way to prevent chilblains. Our hot water bottle solution only exacerbated the situation, creating more exposure to extreme temperatures.  Little did we know!  And oh, how I loved my pink hot water bottle. It was made of pink rubber, and had no fancy knitted heart like this modern day hot water bottle pictured below.

Pink polka dot hot water bottle cover with a white heart

Chilblains are now practically a thing of the past. Central heating has ensured most houses have a nice warm, dry atmosphere promoting chilblain free Irish feet.

A few years ago when I took a guided tour of Glenveagh Castle in County Donegal, I learned a neat little fact about its previous aristocratic inhabitants.

Servants were tasked with warming the master’s bed before he retired for the night. No, the poor servant didn’t have to jump in and lie there for a while to warm the sheets.

Metal Bed Warmer

Metal Bed Warmer

Image Credit

The task of heating the sheets was accomplished using a special metal bed warmer, which consisted of a copper container, shaped a little like a frying pan.  The pan was filled with hot coals from the fire, covered with a finely perforated lid, then placed under the bed covers. A long handle allowed the servant to swish the hot pan over and back across the sheets without burning them.  This process also dried out damp beds. I wonder if the gentry suffered from chilblains?????

Anyway, as I snuggle under my comforter each evening, warmed by the soothing warmth of my forced air heating system, I wiggle my pain free toes, and count my blessings. It’s lovely to live in a chilblain free age.

And so, I hope all my American readers have learned a little bit about our Irish winter time ailments of days gone by, and that my Irish readers won’t have any chilblain infested nightmares after reading this little post with a trip down a chilly memory lane.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

Villages In North Cork – An Entertaining Video Series

Cork Videos produce short films of ordinary people, telling about ordinary things in towns and villages around County Cork, Ireland. I was delighted when Tony Kennedy, the producer of these films, e-mailed me to share his entertaining and informative amateur videos of North Cork villages.

These simple films share chats with locals, images of shops, points of interest, churches and schools – all-in-all a very thoughtful exploration of what makes these little communities tick.

Now, since my family hail from North Cork, just outside Kildorrery, I simply had to share this little snapshot of the village I know so well.

 

Famous Kildorrery Town:

 

Like many places in Ireland, Kildorrery even has it’s very own song, entitled “Famous Kildorrery Town.” The town is so famous, you’ve probably never heard of it, but hopefully this little blog post will help remedy that.  Here’s the chorus of our famous song:

“Have you ever been up to Kildorrery

Indeed if you haven’t that’s quare

Sure it’s only five miles from Ardpatrick

And three from the cross of Red Chair

And when at that cross you are landed

You will see a big hill looking down

And on top of that hill bare naked and chill

Stands famous Kildorrery town.”

 

This song is sung by Kildorrery GAA supporters at matches throughout the county and province. I just had to highlight the lyrics in Kildorrery GAA blue.

 

Elizabeth Bowen:

 

The writer, Elizabeth Bowen, whose family lived at Bowen’s Court just outside the village, described the area as follows:

 

“Kildorrery is so placed as to be a landmark for miles.

Cross-shaped, and of some size, it has the characteristics of a hill-village

– rather sad weathered houses, sky seen through arches, draughty streets,

an exposed graveyard, a chapel launched over the distance like a ship.

Though its name means church of the oak grove, one can see no trees:

the Ballyhouras are very near, to the north.

Only when Kildorrery stands full in the sunset has it an all celestial smile.”

- Elizabeth Bowen, 1942

 

It sounds like Elizabeth was in agreement with the “bare naked and chill” description by our local songwriter of years gone by.

 

North Cork Videos – A Glance At Kildorrery, County Cork.

 

And so, without further ado, here is a little snapshot of the little corner of Ireland I love so well.

 

 

If you enjoyed this little glimpse of Kildorrery there are more short films of other Cork villages waiting to be viewed on the Cork Videos YouTube channel.

Thanks to Tony for giving me permission to share his work with you today.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

 

Irish American Mom

 

 

Ships, Boats And Ferries – A Nostalgic Tribute

Ferries and ships depart and dock at Dublin’s ports on a daily basis. These boats mesmerize me.  Whenever I am in Dublin I often sit in my car, parked at the Summit in Howth, overlooking Dublin Bay.  Dublin’s waters grow busy, especially during afternoon rush hour.

Nostalgia overwhelms me watching Dublin’s shipping lanes. I left Ireland by airplane, so at first I didn’t understand why boats strike an emotional chord in my heart.

Stena Line

My mother will never watch these boats with me. She says they make her too sad, reminding her of days when all three of her daughters worked across the waters on foreign shores.

But I have never experienced a mother’s sadness at the loss of her children, yet these boats remind me of our nation’s sorrow. We are a country of immigrants, and even to this very day the Ireland’s young people are boarding ships and planes to seek their fortunes on distant shores.

In America boats are associated with leisure pursuits such as fishing, water skiing, cruising, and house-boating. The lonesomeness of immigration does not spring to most Americans’ minds upon seeing a water craft.

Not so for the Irish. Ever since I was a child, I have listened to Ireland’s folk music. Many of our traditional songs emphasize the pain of leaving family, friends and homeland. When I examined the lyrics of some Irish boat songs I realized I have been programmed since an early age to feel nostalgic at the sight of a ship.

In today’s post I share some excerpts from the sad, lonely songs of Ireland which focus on the pain of leaving. I hope these photos I took last summer will help illustrate the poignancy of these well-loved words.

The Cliffs Of Dooneen

 

“You may travel far far from your own native land

Far away o’er the mountains, far away o’er the foam

But of all the fine places that I’ve ever been

Sure there’s none can compare with the cliffs of Doneen.”

 

Irish Ferries By The Bailey Lighthouse

Carrickfergus

 

“I wish I was in Carrickfergus, only four nights in Ballygran

I would swim over the deepest ocean, the deepest ocean for my love to find.

But the sea is wide and I cannot swim over, and neither have I wings to fly

If I could find me a handsome boatman to ferry me over to my love and I.”

 

Irish Ferries

Come Back Paddy Reilly

 

“And tones that are tender and tones that are gruff

Are whispering over the sea,

“Come back, Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff

Come home, Paddy Reilly, to me”.

 

Ship By Howth

Botany Bay

 

“Farewell to your bricks and mortar

Farewell to your dirty lime

Farewell to your gangway and gang planks

And to hell with your overtime

For the good ship Ragamuffin

She is lying at the quay

For to take old Pat with a shovel on his back

To the shores of Botany Bay.”

 

Stena Line Passing Howth

The Shores Of Amerikay

 

“I’m bidding farewell to the land of my youth and the home I love so well

And the mountains so grand round my own native land

I’m bidding them all farewell

With an aching heart I’ll bid them adieu

For tomorrow I’ll sail far away

O’er the raging foam for to seek a home

On the shores of Amerikay.”

 

Stena Line Passing the Kish Lighthouse

Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore

 

“Our ship she lies at anchor, she’s standing by the quay

May fortune bright shine down each night, as we sail over the sea

Many ships were lost, many lives it cost on the journey that lies before

With a tear in my eye I’m bidding good-bye to Paddy’s Green shamrock shore.”

 

Ferry Leaving Dublin

The Leaving Of Liverpool

 

“So fare thee well, my own true love

And when I return, united we will be

It’s not the leaving of Liverpool that grieves me

But my darling, when I think of thee.”

 

Ferry In Dublin Bay

The Irish Rover

 

“In the year of our Lord eighteen hundred and six

We set sail from the sweet cove of Cork

We were sailing away with a cargo of bricks

For the grand city hall of New York

‘Twas an elegant craft, she was rigged fore and aft

And oh how the trade winds drove her

She could stand several blasts, she had twenty-seven masts

And they called her the Irish Rover.”

 

Ferry Photo Taken on Dollymount

The Holy Ground

 

“Now when we’re out a-sailing and you are far behind

Fine letters will I write to you with the secrets of my mind,

The secrets of my mind, my girl, you’re the girl that I adore,

And still I live in hope to see the Holy Ground once more.

You’re the girl that I adore,

And still I live in hope to see the Holy Ground once more.”

 

Boat In Dublin Bay

Farewell To Dublin In My Tears

 

“And now I’m standing on the Quay, my destiny’s uncertain

Where fortunes have been lost and won with the dealing of a hand

The past it is a purple haze, the future is an untold maze

The present is another gaze at dear old Dublin Town.”

 

Crow Watching The Stena Line Ferry

Home To Donegal

 

“The lights of London, are far behind

The thoughts of homeland are crowding my mind

Familiar places, come in to view

I see my home now, soon I’ll see you.”

 

Dublin's Boat, Ships and Ferries

Fiddler’s Green

 

“Wrap me up in me oil-skin and jumper

No more on the docks I’ll be seen

Just tell me old shipmates,

I’m taking a trip mates

And I’ll see you some day in Fiddler’s Green.”

 

Dublin Port

The Fields Of Athenry

 

“By a lonely harbour wall

She watched the last star falling.

And that prison ship sailed out against the sky.

Sure she’ll wait and hope and pray,

for her love in Botany Bay.

It’s so lonely round the fields of Athenry.”

 

I hope you’re not too teary after all these sad lyrics. Nostalgic and sentimental definitely are words to describe these excerpts.

And so now I think you’ll understand why the mere sight of a ship makes me a little wistful.  Do you ever feel the same way?

 

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

 

An Entertaining Stroll Down Grafton Street

Reminiscing about Grafton Street is easy for a Dubliner. I always think of buskers, Christmas shopping and festive windows, flower stalls, Bewleys coffee, shoppers and tourists.

Grafton Street has been a Dublin constant for centuries. Not merely a right of way, nor a commercial center, it is a social and cultural icon of the city, because here is where people meet to create memories.

In the 1600’s Grafton Street was simply a laneway used to access a square grazing field. The street was first developed in 1708 by the Dawson family. A parallel street bears their name, but Grafton Street was named after a local land owner, Henry FitzRoy, 1st Duke of Grafton, the illegitimate son of Charles II of England.  The grazing square is now St. Stephens Green, and Grafton Street is a commercial hub of the city.

Buskers On Grafton Street

The proliferation of street entertainers on Grafton Street is appreciated by some, tolerated by others, and detested by a few. Crowds can accumulate around a really good band in no time at all, blocking the street.
For me this little inconvenience is a small price to pay for an afternoon of wonderful entertainment.

Lunchtime for a Dublin Busker

Grafton Street is where U2 honed their skills, playing for Dublin crowds. I often wonder if I stopped and listened to them many years ago when I was a teenager.

Dublin Buskers Tuning Their Instruments

Who knows which of today’s great Dublin bands will entertain the masses in years to come! Skills learned on Grafton Street will stand them in good stead.  Here singers and musicians learn to entertain, to grow acutely aware of the crowd’s applauding feedback, and to fine tune their rhythms and lyrics.  If you gain approval from Dublin’s afternoon shoppers, the world might soon follow.

Statue Of Phil Lynott On Harry Street

The great Phil Lynott listens to the chorus of voices from a side street.  I’m sorry to report this statue was vandalized a few days after I took this shot. Hopefully it will be repaired quickly and soon be back on Harry Street.

Sand dog on Grafton Street, Dublin

A sand dog basked in the sunshine, guarding a precious tennis ball.

Sand dog on Grafton Street, Dublin

Watching an artist quickly form a canine replica was fascinating.

Sand dog on Grafton Street, Dublin

And some dogs just slept as the world passed by.

  Brown Thomas Greeter

Brown Thomas is the anchor shop of the street. Their friendly greeter doesn’t merely wave as you enter. Hand shakes are often followed by a friendly chat.  Walmart eat your heart out – this is greeting Dublin style.

 Leprechan On Grafton Street, DublinIf you get a notion you can always leprechaun yourself and pay to have this friendly fellow take your photo.

Dublin Saunter, is a song by Leo Maguire, a native Dubliner.  He deemed Grafton Street a wonderland. I remember rolling my eyes to heaven as a youngster when my parents listened to tunes like this, but now that I’m a few years older and wiser I have grown to appreciate the sentiments of these lyrical oldies.

For Dublin can be heaven

With coffee at eleven,

And a stroll in Stephen’s Green

There’s no need to hurry

There’s no need to worry

You’re a king and the lady’s a queen

Grafton Street’s a wonderland

There’s magic in the air

There’s diamonds in the lady’s eyes

And gold dust in her hair

And if you don’t believe me

Come and meet me there

In Dublin on a sunny summer morning.”

 

Mime artists on Grafton Street, Dublin

These mime artists always amaze me.  Such control, not even a flicker, until their chosen moment.  Then the slightest move of hand can shock the world.

Mime artists on Grafton Street, Dublin

Patrick Kavanagh speaks of the allures of Grafton Street in his poem On Raglan Road.

“On Grafton Street in November we tripped lightly along the ledge 

Of the deep ravine where can be seen the worth of passion’s pledge, 

The Queen of Hearts still making tarts and I not making hay – 

O I loved too much and by such and such is happiness thrown away.

        Mickey Mouse On Grafton Street, Dublin

Mickey Mouse may wear his obligatory green camouflage, but for me, he still seems out of place on the street of my happy childhood.

  Hare Krishna Dancers In Dublin

And no stroll down Grafton Street would ever be complete without meeting some happy Hare Krishna dancers.  I remember their distinctive chant since I was a little girl.

Grafton Street is part of my Dublin memories.  Even the great American singer/songwriter, Nanci Griffith, has written about this thoroughfare. In her song, aptly called On Grafton Street, she claims …

 “On Grafton Street at Christmas time

The elbows push you ’round.

This is not my place of memories -

I’m a stranger in this town.

The faces seem familiar,

And I know those songs they’re playing.

But I close my eyes and find myself

Five thousand miles away……

……On Grafton Street at Christmas time

The elbows push you ’round.

All I carry now are memories -

I’m a stranger to this town.”

 

Although I now live five thousand miles away from Grafton Street, I hope I will never be a stranger to this town.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom