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Christmas In The Country, Fadó, Fadó.

Irelands Own 2005
Christmas In The Country, Fadó, Fadó.
 Colette McCormack
Crisp cold frosty air, a full moon filling the sky, the scattering of stars faintly glowing, Christmas Eve in the country.
Growing up in the ‘country‘ as distinct from the ‘city’ had its disadvantages, or had it? We did not know what we were missing, so we survived very well. Our cousins in Dublin pities us tucked away in a tiny village, no cinemas, no museums, no swimming pool, no trips to the seaside….What a life! Strange though, - they loved to come to us for their summer holidays, loved to roam through the fields, to go snaring rabbits with my big brothers, bring home the cows for the milking, a ritual which fascinated them.
They would stand around watching as my mother washed the cows’ spins before settling the bucket between her knees to begin the ‘milking’. The ‘swish’ of the foaming white liquid splashing into the bucket, my mother contentedly resting her head against the warm body of the cud chewing cow, the rhythm went on. They would beg for a ‘go’ if it was the ‘blue’ cow. She was a calm, placid creature, who did not mind who ‘milked’ her as long as the weight was taken away from her. She was one of those animals who was classed as a ‘good milker’. She would fill the biggest bucket in the shed at her ease. We children used pity her she walked home from the field her enormous udder swaying to and fro, anxious to be relieved of her burden. ‘Good old girl’ ‘Come on, we’re nearly there’. Encouragement for the ‘blue’ cow, as she trundled along.
My mother would demonstrate the art of getting milk from the spins into the bucket to the watchers, making it look so easy. Not so easy when you were on the stool and trying to hold onto the spins and follow her order to ‘squeeze gently, alannah’ ‘into the bucket now’ Many is the time the milk would slosh into your shoes, splash your face, or go the sleeve of your jumper, anywhere except where you were vainly trying to direct the stream of white. There is no doubt that there is an art attached to hand milking, all that is needed is plenty of practise and a quiet cow. Our ‘blue’ cow was perfect in that regard.
The lighting of the lamps in the evening time was another fascinating ritual for the cousins. It was my father’s job to clean the globes, which he did using yesterday’s newspaper. Globes were delicate things and required a neat and steady hand for the cleaning process. He would roll up a sheet of paper into a cylinder shape, and proceed to work it gently into the globe. He would then move it around the inside to remove the smoky dullness from the glass, breathing into it to help in the cleaning. The wick would then be lit and time allowed for it to ‘catch’ properly before the gleaming globe would be set into place.
The rosary was always said after the tea, the chairs ranged around the fireplace, my father taking –pride of place next to the heat, my mother on the other side. I do not remember ever feeling cold in our kitchen, flagstoned and all as it was. There was always an old jumper, a cushion, or a magazine to kneel on. The Rosary beads were kept on a nail beside the fireplace. My father’s was a shiny black set, my Mother’s a gleaming blue, and little gleams of light would sprinkle the room as she moved them through her fingers. Ours were plain brown or dark red, and now and then we would have to resort to our fingers, if the beads were mislaid, to help the count the Hail Mary’s. Our cousins always got their chance to say a ‘mystery’, and whoever would lose out their place to the cousin would be let say the ‘prayer for emigrants’, among the rest of the ‘trimmings’.
No street lights was another ‘wonder’ for them. They were inclined to fall over things which were very obvious to us. They would hold on grimly to whoever was their companion on a ‘walk’ on the narrow road and lanes. Early morning Mass was not something they enjoyed, but, if you wanted to receive Holy Communion you had to go to First Mass. There was no heat in the church, the kneelers were solid wood and the priest was inclined to drone on an on and you dying for your breakfast.
‘Came the year when they stayed with us for the Christmas holidays. Our Aunt was in hospital having a new baby. There was much talk and a lot of worrying as to whether Santy would know where the younger ones were so that he could fill their stockings on Christmas Eve. Would he think to check the house in Dublin? Of course he would, my parents assured them. In the cold dark hours of Christmas Day there was much noise and carryon when they discovered that Santa Claus did know that they were staying in the country and had filled the stockings right up to the top…
Cold crisp air, the full moon lighting the sky, a scattering of stars faintly glowing, Christmas Eve in the country. Walking to Midnight Mass, all of us together, little ones and all, our shoes noisy on the frosty road. Neighbours greeting each other, voices loud in the still air. The gloom of the church lifted slightly by the wavering candle light, holly festooning the altar, and the Holy pictures, before which the stations of the cross were ‘said’ during Lent. The Priest being pleasant and cheerful, us nudging each other as the altar boys went through the Christmas rituals, we knew them to be ‘villains’ in their other lives. The choir was always lovely, even though the harmonium squeeked and squawked despite the best efforts of Mrs. O’ Brien to keep it on the straight and narrow for this very special Mass.
Speaking to one of my cousins who had returned to Ireland after many years away I was amazed to head him say how much he had enjoyed ‘going down the country’ year after year. The memories he had were of halcyon days, the sun always shining, and how kind and loving our parent, God rest them, had been to them always. Bathing in front of the fire in the big tin bath, and then being dried before leaning over my Mother’s knees to have their hair dried in the heat, which was generated by the black turf which they had helped to ‘save’. The outside toilet, and the Po, or Chamber pot, depending on how grand you were, under the bed. Floury potatoes, ‘hairy’ bacon, eggs collected from right under the hens. Hay bogies, threshings, playing in the chaff, so many memories….and his memory of Midnight Mass, the Christmas when they had all stayed with their cousins ‘in the country’, ….’I think of that Christmas every year, he said, no matter what part of the world I happen to be in,,……….
[Colette McCormack was doing research in the library and generously donated the article when I told her I was trying to find material on Christmas in Kildare. She was originally from Clonbullogue]

An article from Ireland's Own by Colette McCormack about childhood memories at Christmas in Clonbullogue.

[compiled and edited by Mario Corrigan; tre-yped by Breid and Maria; all spellings and grammar retained from original article]

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