So today is the feast day of St Patrick, Ireland's national saint. It is incredible to think that celebrations in the saints name are taking place all over the world today. This post was written by Terry O'Hagan blogger and archaeologist . Terry is near to completing a PhD thesis on St Patrick at the school of Archaeology at UCD and is one of the country's experts on the saint.
Category Archives: Irish Traditions
St. Patrick’s Day…When half the world turns green and the other half is out parading – or so it seems! Airports, rivers, waterfalls, tourist features, buildings, beer and people the world over – all in green livery for the ‘big day’. From Pyramids to Google Doodles- they are all ‘at it’! But, it is far from all of this that we were reared!
St. Patrick’s Day celebrations were traditionally simple and apart from obligatory Mass and school being closed not much happened. I have been trying to recall the events of a typical St Patrick’s Day when I was growing up. I remember being dispatched to find some shamrock a week or so before the big day and again on the day before. The double harvest was required as we had small purpose made boxes in which shamrock would be posted to relatives abroad in England, Scotland or America, and then people at home needed fresh Shamrock to wear on St Patrick’s Day itself.
Shamrock is a very specific plant that can be found growing in certain places. I recall a roadside bank, and a particular field where I used to gather quite a bit. The stems creep along the ground and I have vivid recollections of having cold and sore fingers from trying to uproot stems with a bit of length, so that they could be pinned onto a coat or lapel. I also recall being castigated for arriving home with clover – which was much easier to harvest as the stems did not cling so tightly to the cold wet earth!
Clover is a much softer plant with the leaves on longer stems than ‘proper’ shamrock. Clover usually had a white mark in the centre of the leaves.
As well as wearing Shamrock, we children had a St Patrick’s Day badge. These were bought in the village shop for about 4 pence and consisted of a length of green, white and orange ribbon. Some had a gold paper harp attached. Several designs were usually available and these were worn with great pride. Later at Mass, the very lively hymn ’Síor Glór do Naomh Padraig‘ was sung.
It is often said that the designation of March 17th as the Feast Day was an ‘Irish solution to an Irish problem’ as it falls slap bang in the middle of Lent, when most Irish people would be abstaining from sweets, alcohol and other niceties. Being a feast day, Lenten rules of abstinence and mortification did not apply, so it was certainly a ‘feast day’ with a difference. The tradition of ‘drowning the shamrock’ appears to go back for several hundred years. This is variously described as alcohol being poured over a shamrock in the bottom of a glass, or shamrock being floated on top of a glass. Either way, the alcohol was quaffed, and presumably the drowned plant went with it. Public Houses were forbidden to open on St Patrick’s Day from the early 1900′s right up to the 1970s, in an attempt to curb excessive ‘shamrock drowning’. Irish people are of course aware that neither a ‘closed door’ nor licensing regulations are of much consequence when there is serious shamrock drowning to be done.
St Patrick’s Day is a relatively modern feast day, having been so designated as recently as the 17th Century. It is recognized in many Christian traditions, including Anglican and Eastern Orthodox as well as Catholic. It has now turned into a world-wide festival of Irishness – interesting, given that St Patrick was not even an Irishman! St Brigid would have been much much more appropriate as a National Saint but for two major failings – serious enough that she was tentatively associated with a pagan pre Christian deity, but worse still – she had a gender issue – she was after all only a woman and therefore highly unsuitable for such a prestigious position. The foreign Patrick is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland in 432 AD. This is contested as it is believed that there were groups of Christians in Ireland before he ever arrived. Many places in Ireland contain his name, the most famous being Croagh Patrick, a mountain in Mayo and a place of Pilgrimage, and there are numerous holy wells that bear his name although it is highly unlikely that he visited all of them.
It is rather odd that he is depicted wearing a Bishop’s Mitre and green church vestments that were not invented until several hundred years after his death. This is a dishonest portrayal of the truth of who he was . Another myth prevails that he drove the snakes out of Ireland as apparently there were none here in the first place (arguably there are still plenty snakes here – of the 2 legged variety).
Whatever the truth and the fiction, St Patrick’s Day in the early 21st century is far removed from the simple religious celebration of the Ireland 50 years ago. It is now a world wide celebration of all that is Irish and it continues to reinvent itself. For the past number of years Ireland has had parades and the St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Dublin have now become an annual 5 day festival. While we do have to tolerate the stereotypically awful ’begorrahs’ and ‘top of the mornin’ and red bearded leprechauns, not to mention the emerging excruciating ’St Patty’s Day’ (be warned – I am a follower of Paddy’sDayNot Patty’s Day on Twitter!), we Irish are immensely proud that the world celebrates us so enthusiastically each year. The blurred boundaries between a national saint’s day and a national Ireland day are easily forgotten when we witness the enthusiasm and the joy and fun as people party for Ireland all over the world.
Lá sona Naomh Pádraig daoibh go léir!
The red rose – a great symbol of love! February 14th is a day when cards and tokens of love are exchanged by lovers, spouses and partners. It is almost a rite of passage for young teenagers to buy or make cards in quantity and send them anonymously to the objects of their desires – or if all else fails – to send them to themselves, so as not to feel excluded when the peers arrive with barrowloads from every male in the area. We could be forgiven for thinking that Valentine’s day is an invention of Hallmark Cards, as tens of millions of Valentine cards are bought each year, but would we be correct? As well as cards, millions of flowers will be handed over as tokens of undying devotion to loved ones to mark the annual Love-day, the Feast of St Valentine.
But where did the tradition come from? Valentine’s or St Valentines’ Day is a celebration of the feast day of the Saint of that name. Scratch any religious ‘feast’ very gently and not far under the surface there will be a pagan or ancient celebration. In mid February, or the ides of February, there was the ancient fertility festival of Lupercalia where there appears to have been some ‘blooding ‘ ritual whereby young women were touched with the hides of freshly skinned animals. They then placed their names in a container. Young men would select a name and would be paired with the girl of his choice for the following year, and apparently marriage often ensued. This practice was outlawed in the 5th century about the same time as St Valentine’s Feast was announced.
Several men with the name Valentinus were martyred in the early church. One story suggests that a particular Valentinus was imprisoned for performing marriage ceremonies for soldiers. Soldiers were forbidden to marry as having a wife might distract them from their soldiery duties. When in prison,this particular Valentinus supposedly healed the daughter of his jailer and some stories suggest he fell in love with her. Prior to execution he is said to have written her a farewell note signed : ”from your Valentine”. Whatever the origins, the Feast of St Valentine is marked in many cultures and communions - such as the Lutheran Church, Anglicans, and Eastern Orthodox.
In 1382, Chaucer composed a poem to mark the anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II to Anne of Bohemia, where he refers to Valentine:
For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.
(For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day,
when every bird cometh there to choose his mate)
By the 1600′s it had evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confections and sending greeting cards.
In 1850,Joseph R Chandler in an article entitled ‘St Valentine’s Day‘ in Graham’s American Monthly Magazine of Literature and Art , wrote:
‘The commercial revolution has loosed St Valentine Day from its previous moorings in folk culture and redirected it into new and little charted waters”.
And it would seem that this commercial revolution has continued unabated in the intervening 160+ years.
On November 10, 1836, a strange event was taking place in Dublin. A reliquary containing remains of St Valentine were brought in solemn procession to the Carmelite Church on Whitefriars Street. These had been the gift of Pope Gregory XVI in appreciation of Carmelite John Spratt who had visited Rome. John Spratt was as an eloquent preacher who ‘wowed’ both the elite of Rome and the Church itself. In Dublin he was a well- known and respected figure who worked tirelessly for the poor and disadvantaged in the Liberties area and who had built the church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Whitefriars Street. The gift of relics was accompanied by a letter in Latin which translates as follows:
“We, Charles, by the divine mercy, Bishop of Sabina of the Holy Roman Church, Cardinal Odescalchi Arch Priest of the Sacred Liberian Basilica, Vicar General of our most Holy Father the Pope and Judge in Ordinary of the Roman Curia and of its Districts, etc, etc.
To all and everyone who shall inspect these our present letters, we certify and attest, that for the greater glory of the omnipotent God and veneration of his saints, we have freely given to the Very Reverend Father Spratt, Master of Sacred Theology of the Order of Calced Carmelites of the convent of that Order at Dublin, in Ireland, the blessed body of St Valentine, martyr, which we ourselves by the command of the most Holy Father Pope Gregory XVI on the 27th day of December 1835, have taken out of the cemetery of St Hippolytus in the Tiburtine Way, together with a small vessel tinged with his blood and have deposited them in a wooden case covered with painted paper, well closed, tied with a red silk ribbon and sealed with our seals and we have so delivered and consigned to him, and we have granted unto him power in the Lord, to the end that he may retain to himself, give to others, transmit beyond the city (Rome) and in any church, oratory or chapel, to expose and place the said blessed holy body for the public veneration of the faithful without, however, an Office and Mass, conformably to the decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, promulgated on the 11th day of August 1691.
In testimony whereof, these letters, testimonial subscribed with our hand, and sealed with our seal, we have directed to be expedited by the undersigned keeper of sacred relics.
Rome, from our Palace, the 29th day of the month of January 1836.
Regd. Tom 3. Page 291
Philip Ludovici Pro-Custos”
All Catholic Churches have relics, usually contained in a cavity on the altar, or in a reliquary. The St Valentine relics are in a separate reliquary normally kept under a shrine to the Saint. It is not known what exactly is in the reliquary as it has never been opened. However it is recognized that there may be relics of this particular St Valentine in up to 10 different locations – not surprising when one thinks of the numbers of bones in a skeleton! But, no matter! Whitefriars Church in Dublin,marks the feast of St. Valentine each year with special ceremonies that includes the blessings of rings. A beautiful sentimental tradition attached the the most ecstatic emotion of LOVE!
Happy Valentine’s Day to all my readers!
On 1 February each year, Ireland celebrates the feast of ‘Mary of the Gael‘, St Brigid (Also pronounced Breege or Bríd.) Most people of my generation will recall going to school on the day before St Brigid’s day armed with lots of rushes that had been carefully pulled from their sheaths. There we would fold and turn the soft green stems until we had a swastika shaped St Brigid’s Cross. The ends would be tied, the rough edges straightened up and cut and then we had it! A really simple pleasure that was very easy for even the youngest child. The Cross was then brought home and placed over the front door (on the inside) or behind a picture, and there over the coming year it would gradually dry out and turn a straw colour as it acted as a talisman to protect the house and all those within.
Brigid we learned, was born in Faughart, County Louth in the 6th century and one of my abiding memories as a boarder in the St Louis Convent in Dundalk County Louth was the annual pilgrimage to her Faughart birthplace on cold wet god forsaken February days! Bridget we also learned was a great friend of the other great Irish saints – Patrick and Colmcille – and is reputedly buried with these two in Downpatrick in County Down – an unusual enough occurrence I suspect that a female would be buried alongside two holy men.
According to tradition a sacred fire has burned in Kildare since pre-Christian times and priestesses gathered on the hill of Kildare to attend to the ritual fires dedicated to the goddess Brigid in return for protecting their animals and their crops. St Brigid is also associated with Kildare as it was there that she founded her monastery and church and where she kept alive a tradition of keeping a fire burning on a hill. For her and her nuns the fire represented the new light of Christianity, which reached Irish shores early in the fifth century.
There is definite convergence then between St Bridget, the Christian Abbottess and the pre Christian goddess, Bridget and their symbolic use of fire.
Imbolg or Imbolc is a Celtic festival marking the arrival of Spring. It falls half way between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. It is one of the fire and light festivals in the Celtic tradition and marks new beginnings longer days, return of the sun and animals preparing to breed.
The Christian festival of Candlemas also occurs at this time – so-called as this was the day of blessing for all church candles for the coming year. On Candlemas night, people lit candles in their homes to ward off evil spirits.
St Brigid, the goddess Bridget, Imbolg and Candlemas are all celebrated at this time of new beginnings. Whether pagan or Christian is arbitrary… what is certain is that here in the Northern Hemisphere our days are lengthening – we are pulling away from the darkness of the winter solstice, towards new beginning, new life, a new season.
Lá fheile Brighid fe mhaise daoibh!
One of the silver linings in the cloud of a very un-festive flu is the extended reading time available to make an impression on the reading list. With its large readable format and easy prose, fitting the bill perfectly for propped-up- in- bed reading is Felicity Hayes McCoy’s ‘The House on an Irish Hillside‘.
This book is a true love story between Felicity and the spectacularly beautiful Dingle Peninsula. From the day of her arrival as a student of Irish at the age of 17, the magic of the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry, in the south-west of Ireland filtered into her heart and mind down the years, the incessant ‘pull’ culminating in herself and her English husband buying Tí Neillí Mhuiris – (The house of Nellie, daughter of Muris), a house built from stones picked from the fields and remembered with affection for its once smoke-filled kitchen.
Anyone who has ever crossed the magical Connor Pass, and dropped down into the beauty of the Dingle Peninsula has experienced the unique sense of this place. Few who visit here are not enchanted by the fabulous scenery, the friendly people, the history, the cultural tradition and the wonderful food.
Felicity’s book is beautifully written – flowing along with perfectly chosen words building the word pictures that pervade every page. We are enticed by the ‘polished pewter waves’ and ‘rain-washed mornings with skies like mother of pearl’ and ‘waves shimmering emerald, turquoise and jade’. Dingle is a place that challenges those who wish to describe it, for we simply do not have the vocabulary. My two abiding images are of red hens pecking at watercress and girls cycling to dances with their high heels slung around their necks! It was at this level that Felicity’s writing appealed to me so very much, but there is more.
Felicity has an extensive knowledge and regard for Irish myth and local folklore and these together with the beauty of the place are the ‘weft ‘ on which she weaves a beautiful tapestry of stories of her love affair with Dingle’s people and places. Manannán Mac Lir, the Celtic God of the Sea , Mrs Hurley, Danú the Fertility Goddess, Kath the London neighbour; Spot the neighbour’s dog and the Sun God Lugh – all woven together to deepen the understanding of this place. On these pages you will find present day relevance of Imbolg, Bealtaine, Lughnasa and Samhain, the great festivals and turning points in the Celtic year; you will join in on dancing in the kitchen and music by the fireside, celebrate Nollag na mBan and the ‘Wran’ boys. The mythology, the folk-tales the music, song and dance, the living friends and neighbours and the simplicity of things that matter to them, together with the memory of the dead,some of whom died before the author came to live here and some of whose coffins she followed, is all intertwined into a wonderful tribute to all that is Dingle.
This book will I believe, appeal to anyone who has visited Dingle and has been smitten by it and who keeps going back. It will also appeal to people with Irish roots, who have never stood on these shores as it will give them a sense of what it is to be Irish, what it is to be tied into the traditions and myths of our heritage and how these things impact on everyday life . I heartily recommend it as an excellent read.
The House on an Irish Hillside by Felicity Hayes-McCoy is published by Hodder & Stoughton and is available in all good book shops and online.
‘There’s something about Christmas. There’s something about it that creeps inside and finds the child in you.’ These are the opening words of the magical Barry’s Tea ‘Train’ radio commercial. It is back on the airwaves so Christmas must be near! You can listen to it here.
Christmas in our Donegal home almost 60 years ago is a world away from Christmas in the early 21st Century. My mother used to begin the Christmas baking in late October when she made two rich fruit cakes. The whole process seemed to take days as she assembled sultanas, raisins and currants, chopped the mixed peel and the glace cherries, soaked whole almonds in boiling water so the skins would slip off, then chopped them finely. This scrumptious mixture was placed in a huge basin, doused in whiskey and covered with a clean cloth to soak overnight. During the evening the cloth was lifted when there was no adult in sight, so we could inhale the beautiful aroma of liquor and fruit. Tins were lined first with buttered greaseproof and then buttered brown paper – an art in itself, akin to Origami as it took a lot of expertise to line a round tin!
The following day the serious business of baking took place; flour and raising agent were sieved; the exotic mixed spice, nutmegs, cinnamon, ginger and mace were measured out; eggs were beaten, butter was softened and black treacle was measured out of the tin. An argument would then ensue as to who would get to lick the sticky black syrup from the spoon. This entire process took some hours as there was nothing mechanical in my mother’s kitchen — only a wooden spoon and an egg whisk with a wheel on the side. After all the beating, folding and mixing the tins were filled. We got to clean out every last bit of the mixture that still clung to the sides of the big cream coloured baking bowl, then we were banished from the kitchen and had to whisper for the rest of the day. Any loud noise or banging door might result in the cakes ‘sinking’! A good cook’s worst nightmare!
The following day the cooled cakes were stripped of the paper, pricked all over with a knitting needle,’fed’ with whiskey and placed in an airtight tin. Over the following weeks we had a weekly ritual of ‘feeding the cakes’ and replacing the greaseproof paper!
Similar preparation of fruit took place some weeks later when the Christmas puddings were made. A stale loaf was laboriously made into breadcrumbs. A bottle of stout was added to the mixture which made mixing easier for smaller people and we all ‘had a go’. The well-stirred mixture was placed on double layers of large squares of cotton – old sheets made excellent pudding cloths- the corners were gathered up and tied securely for boiling, resulting in a beautiful round pudding! Christmas was forgotten about then until about a week before when the Yule Log was baked as were my mother’s speciality – ‘Snowballs’. These were rounded balls of cake mixture, baked, then covered in jam and rolled in shredded coconut – they always looked wonderfully tempting! The two rich fruit cakes were iced (two cakes as my younger brother had a birthday on Christmas Day and he was the only member of the family to have a birthday cake) and decorated. Then there was the marzipan to make – we smaller ones could not help with this as it was a very stiff mixture of ground almonds and sugars, but it looked lovely when done! About three days before Christmas we had the Royal Icing that was spread all over the marzipan-ed cakes and we enjoyed placing lovely little silver balls and little snowmen and tiny Christmas trees into the icing. The Birthday cake usually had less seasonal characters stuck into the royal icing, but always had NOEL piped o the surface, for that is my brother’s name .
Some days before Christmas the turkey arrived – alive. It had to be dispatched and hung for several days then ‘cleaned’. Our next door neighbour Katie Ward did the plucking and it was great to watch her do it as she expertly pulled out all the feathers and then singed the skin with a taper to get rid of the very last signs of a feather. On one occasion, when I was quite small I was given the job of carrying the turkey to her house. Carrying it by the legs with the long neck and head trailing down, wings flapped open, I was followed by a dog who wanted to eat it. He got hold of the head as I went in the gate. I climbed onto the wall and tried to hold the turkey up high so the dog could not reach my precious cargo. I was rescued when my roars for help were heard!
Excitement was now really building and we knew it was close when a strangely costumed man with face covered would burst into our kitchen (front doors were always open) and frighten the lives out of us. He was closely followed by a troupe of Mummers all well disguised, who rhymed their way through a performance in which there was a narrator, two bragging men who took part in a fight and various other characters. One of the protagonists dies as a result of having a sword plunged into him, but is revived by a Doctor who demands money. Most of the characters are long forgotten , but I do recall a few. There was Belzebub) and there was Jack Straw - ‘Here come I, Jack Straw, Such a man you never saw! and my favourite ‘Here comes I, Wee Divil Doubt, The biggest wee divil that ever came out’
Also in the days just before Christmas Carol Singers would arrive. They stopped outside the door, sang a few carols and hoped they might get a few pence in appreciation..they usually did!
Christmas Eve was a busy day – my father would bring home a Christmas tree that would be put up in the upstairs sitting- room and decorated with tinsel strips and tinsel ornaments. He also brought lots of berried holly and sprigs would be pushed in behind hanging pictures in every room. Paper chain decorations were hung from the ceiling in the kitchen. Stuffing for the turkey(or goose) would be made to be ready for Chrsitmas morning – more grating of a stale loaf to make breadcrumbs! This delicious mix of breadcrumbs, onions, butter and parsley would have to be put out of reach so we would not eat it all up!
It was impossible to get to sleep with excitement and we were under constant threat if we did not go to sleep Santa wouldn’t come – this only added to the angst and ensured that we would not get to sleep for hours! But on Christmas morning we woke very early to find that Santa had in fact called and there would be something either on the bed or on the floor by the bed. A doll, a meccano set, a toy train, a button accordion, a jig saw – usually one toy each plus an annual or a book and a red net stocking filled with Cadbury’s chocolate bars. Bliss! The discovery was usually made in teh early hours, and needless to say we had to run and wake the entire house to announce what Santa had brought!
Then it was up for 8 o clock morning mass . We walked the mile or so to the Church and one of the loveliest memories I have is of a house at the end of the village street with a tall candle burning in every window – a magical site on a dark morning. And so to the chapel to hear the choir accompanied by the big organ give an almighty rendition of Adeste Fideles and Silent Night! It was Christmas!
Lunch was served about 1 o’clock and consisted of a delicious clear turkey soup made from the neck and giblets of the turkey, that had been bubbling away all morning on the Stanley No. 7 Range!
Our Christmas dinner was served much later at about 4.30 pm. On the menu was roast turkey (or goose) delicious parsley and onion bread stuffing, brussel sprouts (cooked in true Irish tradition for the best part of an hour, until they fell apart- not to be recommended in these modern ‘al-dente’ times!) and mashed potato. In north Donegal our name for the rather genteel sounding ‘mashed potato’ was in fact the very descriptive ‘poundies’! The entire meal was enveloped in my mother’s absolutely fabulously delicious white sauce, made with cornflour and milk and butter and parsley. After our meal we tucked into the Christmas pudding that was always served with hot milk poured over. Yummy!
A little while later it was time for cake – big triangles of beautifully moist cake topped with hard sweet icing were served – how we managed to eat it is a wonder in itself!
Later in the evening we had a huge box of Cadbury’s Milk Tray chocolates. The big box had a beautiful scene on its padded cover – a snowy mountain scape or a Santa scene. What luxury!
On some Christmases we had guests at our table - people who worked locally perhaps and who could not get home to their families for Christmas for many reasons – they may have not had the transport and there was no public transport to speak of, and they may only have had one day off work, so would have had to make the round trip in one day.
After dinner my father would sit in his chair and recite from The Collected Works of Robert Service and transport us to the snow-covered wilderness of the Yukon. He laughed heartily as he read his two favourite poems: The Shooting of Dan McGrew (featuring a lady that’s known as Lou!) and The Cremation of Sam McGee
he Irish Times today reports as follows:
Children at a north Kerry school who became upset after a visiting priest implied there was no Santa Claus have been reassured by parents and staff that the priest was mistaken, and Santa does indeed exist.
The priest who made the blunder while visiting the Scoil Mhuire gan Smal in Lixnaw last week believed he was speaking to mainly sixth class pupils.
Fr Martin Hegarty, a retired priest who was filling in for the parish priest, was visiting the school to explain the message of Christmas.
During an exchange with children in the 4th, 5th and 6th classes, Fr Hegarty implied Santa Claus did not exist. A number of children got upset and at least one 11-year-old child began crying.
A meeting of the board of management was called to discuss the matter.
Fr Hegarty, who is understood to be deeply embarrassed, told the Kerry’s Eye newspaper on Wednesday he did not realise the children were upset .
He also remarked to the newspaper that Irish children got more presents than other nationalities at Christmas time. “So they needn’t worry, the presents will come, whether Santy comes or not,” the priest said.
In a statement last night through the diocese of Kerry Fr Hegarty said the following:
“I regret any upset that I have caused to children and parents of Scoil Mhuire gan Smál. My intention was to talk about the birth of Jesus and the true meaning of Christmas. I must admit that Santa Claus is not my area of expertise.”
Some parents told their children “the priest was making it all up,” according to one parent who did not wish to be named.
So, Santa Claus is not his area of expertise and it was a genuine mistake? BUT, Fr Hegarty, not only does Santa exist, he epitomizes the very message of Christmas that you were trying to convey!
The most reprinted newspaper editorial of all time was on this very topic : Published in the The New York Sun in 1897, it was the response to the question Does Santa Exist? and was the work of Francis Pharcellus Church.
An 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon, whose family read and set great store by the New York Sun newspaper, wrote to ask this question in September 1897. She wrote:
I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?
Francis Church a journalist, was asked to reply and his response has appeared in many publications, in films, on stamps, on posters in about a dozen languages for over a century.
His response was :
Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
The editorial was something of a sensation and the New York Sun reprinted it every year for over 50 years until the newspaper closed down in 1949.
Fr Martin Hegarty will I am sure get inspiration from the story of Virginia and the wonderful response from Francis, a very devout Christian who gave Virginia hope, protection, reassurance and magic!
May the magic of Christmas never cease to captivate children of all ages everywhere for centuries to come!
On Monday August 6th, I left the memorable Bere Island, County Cork to make the three and half hour drive home back to Limerick. The cloudy day was clearing up nicely and I decided to take the ‘scenic’ route home along the beautiful Beara Peninsula. And what a great decision that was! I spent many hours discovering beautiful places, enjoying fantastic scenery, and happening on wonderful surprises. Serendipity at its best!
I headed west from Castletownbearhaven, County Cork, and began the ascent of the Slieve Miskish Mountains I took a last look back at the deep natural harbour of Bantry Bay. The tip of Bere Island is in the middle distance to the right, and the cloud-capped mountain to the left is Hungry Hill, highest of the Caha Mountains. (The novelist Daphne Du Maurier borrowed the name, Hungry Hill, for one of her very successful novels, later a film, set in this area). Travelling on, astonishing views tempted but as the road was narrow and twisting it was not safe to stop the car to capture a scene. A fabulous Martello Tower appeared and then disappeared on the twists and turns of the road. Likewise, a beautiful arrangement of flowers outside a stone cottage, swept past – as did many fabulous seascapes. This is no place for a lone driver with a camera taking snaps!
This is Ballydonegan Bay with Allihies tucked in under the Slieve Miskish Mountains behind. Allihies is reputedly the furthest village in Ireland from Ireland’s capital city, Dublin.
The Beara Peninsula lies south of the magnificent and world famous Ring of Kerry and all along the route there are magnificent views of the peaks of the Kerry Mountains. At a welcome stopping and viewing area I met a black Kerry cow, grazing peacefully in the field below the road. Kerry cows are a native Irish breed, now relatively rare and probably the oldest breed of cattle in Europe.
The road winds down into Allihies. The coffee shop in the Allihies Museum is not to be missed! It is housed in an old Methodist Church, erected to accommodate the Cornish miners who came to live in this area in the 19th Century. These people had traveled from Cornwall in the south-west of England to bring their mining ability to the Copper mines of Allihies between 1812 and 1844. At one time over 1,500 people worked in this area. Following the closure of the mines, many emigrated to the USA, most notably to Butte, Montana, an area also noted for mining. The poached salmon wrap and deep apple tart pie from the coffee shop are highly recommended and when enjoyed from a window seat overlooking Ballydonegan Bay, are just priceless!
The area surrounding Allihies is rich in industrial heritage and ideal for walking. Climbing away from the village, the old Engine House, used I understand for pumping water away from the mining area underground, stands in testimony to times gone by and as a memorial to those who lost their lives during that mining period.
From here the drive becomes literally breathtaking – steep climbs, sharp bends, stone walls around every corner, at the brow of every hill is a wonderful view of sheltered cottages, of geology in all its glory, of vast seascapes, of sheltered coves.
The road winds down towards the edge of the land, as in this case. It is not always clear where the road actually goes! However, this road winds between the pink house and the white–washed wall and it really is difficult to keep the eyes off the wonderful scenery!
Hugging the coast now, the blue-ness of the sea is astonishing. Colourfully marked sheep are more interested in their lush grass than in the spectacular views!
The deep blue sea between Beara and the Ring of Kerry is spectacular indeed!
The sea here is the deepest blue I have seen in a long time, reflecting the blue skies above! Further along, I get a chance to stop and look back from whence I had come – at the carefully nurtured green fields surrounding the pink house and the white-washed wall of earlier pictures. Ancient stone walls edge the roadway as another vehicle approaches.
The rocky hills behind and the lovely clumps of purple heather in the foreground, behind the dry stone wall make a lovely scene. The vehicle in this picture was to be the last vehicle I would see driving on the road for the next three-quarters of an hour!
I wind my way on into the picturesque village of Eyeries, with its brightly coloured street and take a few minutes to stroll along the street. The local shop looks welcoming and I get a postcard to send to Australia. Such a friendly welcome in the local shop , so I enjoy the added luxury of an ice cream while I write my postcard and mail it from the local post office!
I think this house may once have been pink, or perhaps it is owned by the Pink family?
Keeping to the coast road, I came upon what was surely the most memorable place for me along the entire route of the Beara Peninsula on that day. Sun blazing from the blue sky, I notice a small ruined church perched on a corner, bounded by lovely old stone walls.
Here on the bend of the road, overlooking Ardgroom harbour and bounded by a magnificent stone wall, is the ruined Kilcatherine church or abbey,possibly dating to the 7th Century. The surrounding graveyard was having its midsummer grass trim and I was fortunate in being able to see some of the detail in the graveyard where the grass had already been cut.
A beautiful glimpse of the sea through the openings of the building and outside, the spectacular final resting place of the people of this area.
This lonely and beautiful graveyard has a particular poignancy for me because of the large number of small grave markers intermingled with the larger headstones.
It typifies the social history of dying in Ireland – well-marked graves among the anonymous ones, or indeed no markers at all. These may be anonymous graves, but at least they are marked graves, albeit of unknown people.
This expanse of grave markers is particularly poignant and probably represents the most memorable image of my trip around Beara. I fancy that for every marker there are many other people laid to rest without any such marker. There is much emphasis today on cataloguing named gravestones, but many of us – perhaps the majority of us- are descended from people who did not merit or could not afford to have their burial-place marked with their names. In my family, the graves of my paternal great grandparents are unmarked and unknown as are the graves of my maternal great grandparents. Many of us are descended from victims of the Famine and the majority of those millions are also in unmarked graves.
At Kilcatherine, among the long still uncut grass, there are even more such grave markers. I have only once before seen these markers in a graveyard, and that was at Ardmore Cathedral, in County Waterford, but they may be common in Ireland.
This place then to me, beautifully located in a coastal location, is a great symbol of all those who died and whose last resting place in unknown. May they all rest in peace.
The Kilcatherine ruins and graveyard are enclosed by beautiful stone walls that follow the contour of the road. Dry stone walls are a fascinating part of the heritage of Ireland, and are a particular passion of this writer .. meriting a post all by themselves soon!
And so onward, where the road less travelled gets even narrower as this picture shows.
The views continue to amaze and the landscape begins to change to one of country lanes with no traffic at all.
The road is twisty and very narrow now, but with great views of Kenmare Bay at every turn.
I am almost at the end, and in a little while I am surrounded by the fabulous Fuchsia hedging that flourishes along the Atlantic seaboard but especially in this part of Ireland. The red blossoms are full of nectar and the bees hum noisily among the beautiful flowers.
A truly lovely image to end my serendipitous tour of the Beara Peninsula. Béidh mé arais arís!
I hope you enjoy looking at my ‘snaps’ and that they may entice you to visit this remote but wonderful gem in the south-west of Ireland!
Allihies Copper Mine Museum – from The Irish Times