Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin

In the last few days I’ve been thinking more and more about what it means to be Irish. In other words, I’ve been thinking about this more or less all the time, especially in the context of lively discussions about The Gathering 2013.  The Gathering – The Gathering Ireland 2013

Well,  call me nostalgic or whatever you like, but a while ago I was down on my hands and knees lighting the fire and I could see the old  Irish saying: Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin  (Translated:  There’s no fireside like your own fireside) dancing in the flames as they blazed up the chimney.

The fire was a fundamental gathering point  in Irish homes up until recent decades when central heating, on a timer, tended to take over in many houses and apartments.  The fire came to be seen by many as hard work and mess.

I just can’t see the fire in that light. For me, it’s all about a ritual with which I grew up. Last person going to bed had the job of raking the ashes to make them less likely to be still alight in the morning.  The old pile of newspapers in the corner served very useful purposes; open up a paper and scoop the ashes from the grate into it. Make a dash outside with this parcel and douse it in water if there were any signs of singeing from a rogue spark still full of life.

Setting the fire was an art taught to me by my late father. Tightly crumpled newspaper at the base, a tower of kindling woven to let the air get through and then carefully placed broken-up peat briquettes as the top layer to get the fire going.

How many times did I hear the words, You might think that holding a sheet of paper against the fireplace is the answer to everything if the fire isn’t taking off, but you’ll know all about it when the paper catches fire so watch it, my dear girl!

And how about the time we entered a Bord na Mona  Bord na Móna slogan competition about Peat Briquettes when I was about eight! Rhymes were Mother’s forte and we spent about a week playing around with all sorts of possibilities. ‘ You’ll have no regrets with Peat Briquettes….’  and we didn’t!  We won a wooden rocking chair, with brown tweed cushions, that lived by the fire for years and then spent twenty years with me in various flats in Dublin before it finally stopped rockin’.

But, in spite of all the changes, the fire is still part of my life. It is a gathering point in more senses than one!

Author: socialbridge

I am a sociologist and writer from Ireland. I have worked as a social researcher for 30 years and have had a lifelong passion for writing. My main research interests relate to health care and sense of place.

5 thoughts on “Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin”

  1. That’s a great post. I feel warm and cosy now! I remember watching the “pictures” in the fire when I was a child. Not for too long though, the council made it compulsory that the coal fires had to be replaced with gas fires. I’m glad I had the experience of a coal fire even if only fairly briefly.

    1. Hi Ang, thanks very much for writing. Yes, I, too, remember those picture in the fire as a child. Smokeless fuel has done the trick for us so we have the best of both worlds ~ fires and decreased smog. Just off to light the fire now and will have you and childhood in my mind!

  2. How lovely , Jean! Wish that I had a roaring fire in a fireplace right about now. Your story reminds me a little of my Dad’s story about growing up in a cold water flat in Manhattan. His mother, my Nonna (Italian for grandmother) would heat up a brick on the stove and wrap it in towels for his sisters and him to warm their beds in the winter!

  3. It’s funny reading your post Jean. Before moving to Ireland, I always felt that the fireplace – next to the kitchen – was the most important part of an Irish home. A bookcase next to a fireplace, a worn but comfortable couch next to it… The first thing I did when I moved into my Irish home, was putting the bookcase (totally packed and in dire need of another bookcase by now) next to the fireplace. It’s a gas fireplace, but still the flames remind me of the Ireland of old. The smell of peat, the family around it, music, books… I just love sitting there even though it’s not an old, worn couch but a leather new one 😀

    1. Billie, I’m glad that this post resonated with you.
      The fire is definitely an essential part of my Irish home and all the Irish homes I’ve lived in. I couldn’t imagine ever being without it, especially on dark, cold, damp evenings.

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