Nollaig ar Nead an Iolair

December 25th! Must be global warming

December 25th! Must be global warming

Our first Christmas at Nead an Iolair and it’s been everything we could have wished for. The day itself was bright and sunny. We threw the French doors wide open and exchanged our gifts in the sunshine. It’s a good job we enjoyed it while we could, as the wild weather set in on St Stephen’s Day (Boxing Day outside Ireland).

Is there a theme developing here?

Robert’s gifts: is there a theme developing here?

Of course, we had to have the ceremonial first cut of each of our Christmas cakes. Readers will remember that I made Monica Sheridan’s recipe while Robert made Delia Smith’s. The verdict? Mine was way better! (This is MY post.)

The avant garde and the traditional approach

The avant garde and the traditional approach

Our new stoves were installed just in time for Christmas. This kind of supplemental heating is essential for the winter months in West Cork, where fuel is very expensive. Together with our decorations, newly purchased from the Christmas markets and hung on twigs culled from nearby hedgerows, they created a cosy and seasonal ambience in the house. Also perfect for a house-warming party, which we are finally hosting this weekend.

Ready for the house-warming party!

Ready for the house-warming party!

Now so, at the end of 2013, we have to say that it’s been a grand year, like. And to our readers, Bliain nua faoi mhaise agus shona dhaoibh – a Prosperous and Happy New Year to you all.

From Roaringwater Bay to all our friends and readers - a Happy New Year!

From Roaringwater Bay to all our friends and readers – a Happy New Year!

Christmas Cribs

Bantry Town Square

Bantry Town Square

In this part of Ireland putting up a nativity scene at Christmas time is as natural as breathing. Known as cribs, they appear everywhere at the beginning of December. Every Irish home has one, perhaps passed down through the generations, and they come out from the attic storage boxes along with the decorations to be displayed in a window or on a mantlepiece or hall table. Even for families that consider themselves non-religious, the crib is an essential part of getting a house ready for Christmas.

One for every budget

One for every budget

Large cribs are erected in town squares and in churches. Sometimes the figures in a church crib will be inserted slowly, one a day, in little ceremonies involving children. Traditionally, the baby Jesus, was not placed in the manger until Christmas Eve. Live cribs, where the nativity figures and animals are alive, are often mounted as fundraisers. I wrote about the Skibbereen one last year. There is even, in Dublin, the Moving Crib – an institution that generations of Irish children will remember and which is still going strong almost 60 years after it was first introduced as a Christmas wonder in a church basement.

Rosie's Pub in Ballydehob

Rosie’s Pub in Ballydehob

Many businesses clear their window displays to feature the crib at Christmas – along with Santa, reindeer and the usual holly and candles. Shops, hairdressers, garages, pubs: it’s universal and it’s all a reminder that Ireland, which now prides itself on its multi-cultural and pluralistic society, is still at heart a traditional Catholic country.

Outside the Catholic Church in Schull

Outside the Catholic Church in Schull

A striking aspect of Irish cribs is their conventional character: lifelike (and sometimes life-sized) representation is the norm. Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, shepherds and kings, the cow and the donkey are all instantly recognisable and similar, as if stamped out by the same crib-figure factory in Italy.

In Ballydehob

In Ballydehob

John Charles McQuaid and Eamon DeValera - together keeping Ireland devout

John Charles McQuaid and Eamon DeValera – together keeping Ireland devout*

As I considered this, a memory stirred and I went hunting on the internet for more information. In 1964 a new church was built at Dublin Airport. Named, suitably, “Our Lady Queen of Heaven” it was a beautiful piece of mid-century modern architecture designed by an Irish architect, Andrew Devane, who had studied under Frank Lloyd Wright. For Christmas 1966 a new crib was installed. Consisting of minimalist, highly stylised all white figures (I am going by memory here – I can’t find any pictures of it on the internet) it created a sensation at the time. My father, who worked at the airport and who was very proud of the church, brought us to see it. Alas, it was all too much for the Archbishop of Dublin, the famous John Charles McQuaid. Decreeing that it was “beneath the level of human dignity” and that its presence was an offence against Canon Law, he ordered it removed. This sentiment was echoed in the Irish parliament (Dáil Éireann) by the Minister for Public Works of the day, Oliver Flanagan. He said: A crib in modern design was erected at Dublin Airport last winter. The Archbishop of Dublin ordered it to be removed. The images could be described as anything but the kind of images one associates with the Christmas crib. We must have modern art. We must have proper designs for memorials and statues in keeping with the present and the past. Monuments commemorating the past must resemble the past.

I can’t imagine this happening today in Ireland and perhaps there are now many modern and unique cribs around the country. But I certainly haven’t found any so far in West Cork.

How's this for a modern crib?

How’s this for a modern crib?

*From the Irish Independent Website

Christmas Markets

En route to Goleen, every couple of Km, a reindeer points the way to the Christmas Market.

En route to Kilcrohane, every couple of kilometres, a reindeer points the way to the Christmas Market

‘Tis the season…and oh dear, I am afraid to tot up what we have spent at the Christmas markets here in West Cork. We tell ourselves that we have moved here with nothing to hang on a Christmas tree; that we are supporting local entrepreneurs, artists, craftspeople and fund-raisers; that we need to lay in food for visitors; but the truth is that we find the whole Christmas market thing irresistible.

Amanda and her beautiful Wayfarer Cards; December weather in Kilcrohane; furniture and art in Ballydehob

Amanda and her beautiful Wayfarer Cards; blue skies in Kilcrohane; furniture and art in Ballydehob

We love the colour, the carols, and the stalls that only appear at this time of year. We love the ones run by kids – raffling for their youth group, or trying to make a bit of cash by knitting and stitching and sawing and hammering. We love the amazing array of wonderful foods: we have come to know many of the vendors as friends and it feels good to know where your food is coming from.

Raising money for the club; we made them ourselves!

Raising money for the club; elf workshop; we made them ourselves!

This year we have attended markets in Goleen, Ballydehob, Kilcrohane and Skibbereen – so far! Each community is proud of its market and each one has a distinct character. The weather has been marvellous too – a real bonus since at least part of every market is outside.

Everyone loves Eithne's baking; Josephine and he delicious Hannah Quill preserves; Paul and Anne and their Fabulous West Cork Pies; smoked fish, quial's eggs and Coolea cheese.

Everyone loves Eithne’s baking; Josephine and her delicious Hannah Quill preserves; Paul and Anne and their fabulous West Cork Pies; smoked fish, quail’s eggs and Coolea Cheese

I think we might be able to sport a respectable Christmas tree now…and we certainly won’t starve!

Part of the haul.

Part of the haul