As Ireland moves towards St. Stephen’s Day, I would like to share a couple of photographs from today ~ a day on which nature here in Co. Waterford sparkled:
Ireland has just edged passed midnight and into Christmas Day as I write this. At this time each year, I think of the Christmas Truce which occurred on Christmas Day among the soldiers in the trenches in World War in1914, one hundred and one years ago now.
I sense I can hear them singing Silent Night and creating a momentary peace in one of the most vicious wars in history.
It’s a night, too, that brings me to the poetry of Francis Ledwidge, from Slane in Co. Meath, who will killed in action in Ypres in 1917.
A burst of sudden wings at dawn,
Faint voices in a dreamy noon,
Evenings of mist and murmurings,
And nights with rainbows of the moon.
And through these things in a wood-way dim,
And waters dim, and slow sheep seen
On uphill paths that wind away
Through summers sounds and harvest green.
This is a song a robin sang
This morning on a broken tree,
It was about the little fields
That call across the world to me.
(from The Ledwidge Treasury: Selected Poems (2007) Dublin: New Island)
This poem makes me think of all those who, like Francis Ledwidge, crave to be back home in Ireland, be they in the defence forces abroad or people who have had to emigrate due to the recession.
It also brings me to the current efforts by US diplomat Dr Richard Haass and talks vice-chair Dr Meghan O’Sullivan to try resolve some of the outstanding issues in the Northern Ireland Peace Process.
Peace in so fundamental to life, be it peace of mind, peace of heart, or peace between warring factions.
May this Christmas be peaceful for you at all levels.
Christmas Eve is a day that bursts at the seams with activity, anticipation, emotion, memories … the lot. It reminds me in so many ways of my vision of Santa’s sacks that are so full that you catch fleeting glimpses of teddy bear eyes, corners that reveal those longed-for train sets, Lego, poster paints, Christmas annuals, Chemistry sets, Tennis Magazines, especially ones with my hero, John Newcombe!
It was always a day of mixed emotion in our house as Dad’s father died on Christmas Eve in the 1940s and he always had a pensiveness about him that we expected and respected.
A Christmas Eve night that stays etched in my memory is one in the 1960s when we lived in Castleblayney, Co. Monaghan. We were travelling home from Ballybay to Castleblayney after visiting friends there and we all saw a colourful sleigh travelling at high speed across the sky. It was a clear night and that vision is as clear today as it was that night as I sat in the middle of the back seat of Dad’s Morris Minor with the people I loved best in the whole world.
Then there was the Christmas Eve of the ‘dictionary debacle’ when we kids were all still single and gathering at home for Christmas for one of the last times. We were wrapping our presents, Christmas paper and sellotape everywhere. It was like a game of Snap when my brother and sister realised that they had both bought a dictionary for Mother. A big debate ensued about the respective merits of the Cambridge and Oxford English dictionaries. The Cambridge Dictionary won, on the grounds really that it was a bigger tome and had a lovely red cover. Mediation was required and I found myself, as the baby of the family, in a most unfamiliar role. The outcome of it all was that I ended up with the poshest Oxford English Dictionary. I can’t remember now what I had to hand over in exchange! That dictionary is still serving me well!
There was also the Christmas Eve in 2003 when I stayed up very late writing that Thank You letter to Father which has been such a source of solace to me, especially since he died in 2010. Hard to believe ten years have elapsed since I penned what I think was the most important letter of my life so far. http://wp.me/p1ip9d-WK
This morning I found myself singing along to Jingle Bells on the radio as I made some mental notes about excavating the dining-room table out from under the overflowing mountain of washing. Amazing how such ‘jobs’ become joyous on Christmas Eve!
Best get cracking!
I believe in thanking places that have been kind to me and Garrarus Beach has been especially kind in 2013. Hardly a day has gone by that I wasn’t out there and, no matter what, it never failed to soothe, energise and empathise with its natural beauty and animated waters.
I stole out there this evening when I
probably should have been attending to Chrismas catering. It was wild and stormy but utterly majestic and the heart, or is it a harp, in the rock formation kept catching my eye:
How do you thank a beach? You need a language it will understand and I think Garrarus will understand human hands decorating it with colourful stones right beneath the cliffs, where games are played out with the incoming tide.
If I had to pick just one thing to cook and eat at Christmas, it would be bread sauce. In fact, I think I would manage fine on bread sauce alone and this has nothing to do with ‘austerity’ which has become one of the most used words in Ireland in the last few years.
Bread Sauce is my emotional stabiliser as Christmas fires all the personal and public changes of the year, and indeed life, into the monstrous pressure cooker. Obviously, change can be both positive and negative but somehow all changes have to be processed and they seem to be at boiling point around Christmas and the New Year.
Bread Sauce has been part of my Christmas since I was a child. It connects me to the female line going way back to my grandmother and sideways to my sister. For me, it’s as constant as Santa and that’s saying it all. Santa never, ever let me down and he has a capacity to keep going, no matter what.
Bread Sauce starts on Christmas Eve with the halving of an onion and that view into the layers of life and what really matters. It may draw tears but these are soothed by the call of cloves begging to be inserted into the fleshy cracks. No matter what the weather, fresh bay leaves have to be picked from the little tree in the garden, itself born from a cutting from the big bay tree that lived outside Mother and Dad’s back door.
There is a need to live in the absolute present as the decorated onion, bay leaves and pepper corns come to the boil in a saucepan of milk. Milk, with all its connotations of motherhood, those calming words so often whispered in a comforting hug: Oh, no use crying over spilled milk …..
As everyone sleeps on Christmas Eve into Christmas morning, except Santa, the covered saucepan works its own mingling magic which rises to a tantalising aroma when re-heated in readiness for the handfuls of bread crumbs to be absorbed, a moment when you watch the ease with which connections can bring a whole new texture to life.
So often, over the years, the phone has rung as this very point. Big Sis with her cheery ‘Happy Christmas ….. remind me again about the bread sauce …..’ Of course, she hasn’t forgotten how to make it but she never fails to mention it!
Gently dissolving a knob of butter and adding cream ~ thoughts flowing to Granny and her handmade butter and real creamy, cream.
The first taste of the warm bread sauce, licked off the wooden spoon, serves as a main course in re-assurance that fundamental love prevails.
Florrie’s Wine Shop here in Tramore, Co. Waterford is by far the quaintest wine shop and off-licence that I’ve ever seen.
What I’m talking about is history, heritage, sense of place and sheer beauty. Florries, which is physically attached to the well-known Ritz Bar was originally a fisherman’s cottage. It is a beautiful thatched building, just around the corner from the road that sweeps down to the lovely Pier in Tramore.
Sometime in the 1920s or 1930s, the cottages were converted into The Ritz, and the part that is now Florrie’s Wine Shop served as the living quarters of the manageress of The Ritz, who was called Florrie.
Florrie’s Wine Shop opened eight years ago and offers its customers a choice of over 200 wines from all round the world. It is quite amazing to see such a wide selection housed in what is a very small but extremely well-used space.
Browsing and selecting wine in Florrie’s is a deeply enriching experience which transports one all round the globe as well as into the very heart of Tramore and its long history.
Oh, let me propose a pre-Christmas toast for good health and happiness as I pour a glass of fine red wine purchased in Florrie’s at sundown.
Sitting over breakfast this morning, my brain went into ‘wordy’ mode ~ all sparked by thoughts of a van I saw the other day with the words You Surf and We Deliver.
Back in 1973, a rather progressive scheme was introduced in our school. Sixth year pupils were paired with teachers to do a bit of work with the ‘kids’ in First Year. My most vivid memory of all this was being ‘told’ by the teacher to prepare a presentation to give to the youngsters on How the World will be in Fifty Years Time.‘I ended up finding a piece in The Reader’s Digest that pointed to possible developments in relation to technology and gave a lip-wobbling talk about how robots and computers would make the world unrecognisable. The fact that I was a big Dr.Who fan influenced some of my more crazy predictions that day.
Computers in College needed whole rooms to themselves ~ big yokes like industrial fridges and printers that spewed out miles of incomprehensible code that you’d collect a few days after you’d pressed Print or whatever it was called then.
In 1990, I was catapulted out of my comfort zone and asked to lead a course on Social Aspects of Information Technology. Really, I hadn’t moved very far from Dr Who and the readings had elements of fantasy land about them.
This morning, so many familiar and double-edged words came floating by ~ tablets, not the kind you swallow; pins, a million miles away from the dress-maker who fascinated me by the way she could talk with a moutful of pins when she was fixing the hem of my box-pleated grey flannel school uniform; walls, no, not the lovely stone walls of places like Co. Clare or the walls that served as my tennis practice partners for so many years; Yahoo, anything but the galute, eejit, gombeen that my father meant when he’d laugh and say: What kind of a big yahoo have I reared?
But, nothing, just nothing has surprised me more in 2013 than the fact that hubby moved in the space of 6 months from being a guy who had huge issues with hole in the wall cash machines to being addicted to his Smart Phone. This is a revolution to beat all revolutions and one that no one, just no one, could ever have predicted.
I wonder will I be needing to share these words, that make me chuckle, with him sooner rather than later?
No one ever said on their deathbed, ‘Gee, I wish I had spent more time alone with my computer’. (Danielle Berry)
Today may be the shortest day but down on Tramore Beach this morning, I could feel Percy Bysshe Shelley’s great line from Ode to the West Wind lightening my step at sunrise:
“If winter comes, can spring be far behind?”
There was a time when I lived just a few miles from magnificent Newgrange in Co. Meath and the significance of December 21 is deeply ingrained in my being. It seems to me to epitomise a deep, deep bond between us and nature. The tightness of that bond hit me the minute I opened the curtains this morning. The bright yellow blooms of the mahonia in the back garden which have served as beaming lights since early November had disappeared overnight in the vicious storm that raged.
The sun was just coming over Brownstown when I got to the Prom and here’s a glimpse the glory that lay before me:
There was a real sense of the sun lighting up the whole town of Tramore and it was like witnessing a collective smile of gratitude and welcome beaming down:
I got my berried holly and mistletoe today so even though we’ve no tree or decorations or anything that looks remotely Christmassy, I can happily say ‘Oh yes! to the perennial pre-Christmas question: ‘Are you all set?’
The holly has to have berries and it has to be in a big bunch. No centre-pieces or wreaths for me, thanks. I will spend glorious time tomorrow decorating every picture in the house with a sprig of holly and think of all the years that Mother and I shared precious hours chatting about Christmases in her youth in Co. Meath.
The mistletoe is different! It brings me to my youth and all those days and nights wondering when it would happen ….. my first kiss. I was the youngest in the class in school so everyone else seemed to be streets ahead in the kissing stakes. I blush still when I think of the annual retreats and priests, of all people, telling us in graphic detail about the dangers of kissing, especially French kissing!
I held high hopes that mistletoe would resolve everything and went to great lengths to place it very strategically in those places where I felt it was most likely to have the desired effect.
There was a ‘gathering’ in our house around Christmas when I was twelve ( or was it thirteen?) ~ a gang of cousins and our friends. The record player in full blast and the lights low or rather lowered by the deep red paint that we’d plastered onto the bulbs.
Somewhere between Neil Diamond and Jimi Hendrix, it happened. He was a year or two older than me and we went from chatting to him holding my hand and then our lips meeting for a brief moment.
Oh, I remember his name but I strongly suspect he’s forgotten mine. For ages and ages after that life-changing experience, I kept saying to myself: And there was no mistletoe in the room so it really is ‘ MY FIRST KISS.’
I wonder how many first kisses are bound up with Christmas-time?
Just imagine if he was out today buying mistletoe and remembering …..