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

 

 

Lingering Irish Twilight

Twilight is a mystical time, especially during summertime in Ireland. The sun struggles to set on the western ocean horizon, casting supernatural light across the waves and land. Here twilight is not measured in minutes or hours, but by magical, timeless moments.

Sunset and Twilight In Ireland

For most readers the word ‘twilight’ conjures up images of vampires and Stephanie Meyer’s saga. Not for me. Twilight reminds me of Ireland, where magical half-light lingers. 

American twilight is different, shorter and more business like, except I suppose in Alaska. In Kentucky, the sun heads for the horizon and achieves its goal in spectacular fashion.  Here in America we even praise the “twilight’s last gleaming” in our National Anthem.

In Ireland, the summer sun takes a little more time to finally set, lingering on the verge of the horizon, shedding mysterious half-light across ocean swells and patchwork fields.

Apparently Ireland is further from the equator than the lower 48 US states, lengthening Irish twilight hours in summer.

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The slow setting Irish summer sun creates a time when the faeries, the gatekeepers of the Celtic Otherworld, can spirit humans away to a land beyond time.

William Butler Yeats was inspired by twilight’s mystical light. His book The Celtic Twilight is a collection of Irish folklore. Here Celtic queens visit humble housewives, dead warriors spring to life, and blind storytellers share the secrets of our mythical past. This is Irish folk art at its finest. Yeats helped ensure these ancient tales would persist in the perpetual twilight of folk history.

When I was a little girl, my grandaunt Nan loved to read poetry. On the wall of her living room she had framed the following verse by Yeats. I read it over and over again as a little girl, enthralled by the magic of his words.

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He Wishes For the Cloths of Heaven

W.B. Yeats

 

“Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,

Enwrought with golden and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and the half-light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

 

photo

James Joyce also used his talented pen to describe the beautiful colors of Irish twilight.

Chamber Music

by James Joyce

 

“The twilight turns from amethyst

To deep and deeper blue,

The lamp fills with a pale green glow

The trees of the avenue.”

Howth sunset

 There are a few words in the Irish language that refer to this time of day.

“Coimheascair” (pronounced kwiv ashkur) refers to twilight, but it also means struggle. Was the word applied to the end of day to highlight the struggle between sunlight and moon light? I like the poetic origins of this connection.

“Clapsholas” (pronounced clop hullus) means “last light”.

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Another word is “idirsholas” (pronounced idur hullus) meaning “between light”, or “idir an dá sholas ” (pronounced idur on daw hullus) meaning between the two lights.  Once again, beautifully poetic.

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The Donegal poet Cathal Sharkey writes of this time of day in the Gaelic Language. Here is a little excerpt of his lyrical, descriptive verse.

 

Níl Aon Ní

le Cathal O Searcaigh

 

“Níl aon ní, aon ní, a stór

níos suaimhní ná clapsholas smólaigh

i gCaiseal na gCorr,”

 

There is nothing, nothing, my love

More tranquil than a twilight of thrushes  starlings

In Caiseal na gCorr (pronounced Cashel na Gur)

 

This is my best effort at translating these beautiful words – any Gaelic scholars out there, please feel free to assist with the correct meaning in the comment section.  It’s many years since I studied Irish in school.

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And so, I hope these few thoughts about my fond recollections of Irish twilights will help you end your day on a positive note.  No matter how hard your day may be, I hope twilight is a reminder of all the wonders of life that lie ahead.

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

 

The Sun Does Shine Sometimes In Ireland.

Today I am sharing a short post to remind everyone that the sun does shine in Ireland every now and then.  And when the sun does peep out from behind the clouds, it brightens up the landscape to lift those rain induced doldrums.

This past weekend the sun broke through the clouds and shone on Ireland’s winter weary residents.  Everyone suffering from cabin fever took to the hills. My sister sent me this lovely panoramic shot taken from Howth, overlooking Dublin Bay

 

View from the Hill of Howth

Panoramic View From Howth, Co. Dublin

Dank, dreary and dark are the descriptors I have heard way too often when I phoned home over the past six months.  Talking about the weather is an obligatory part of every Irish phone call.  This Irish winter has been very long, just like our lingering American Winter 2013.

Howth Sunset-001

Sunset from Howth, Co. dublin

But just when you think there is never going to be an end to that interminable Irish rain, the sun finally does come out to brighten up the landscape and the soul.

I hope these photos of Howth are a reminder to everyone living in Ireland that all bad winters eventually come to an end. To those planning a trip to the Emerald Isle at some point this year I hope they give you hope that you won’t be wearing your rain gear constantly during your stay.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

Irish American Mom