Easters of dancing suns and coloured eggs

Easter was an exciting time for us children growing up in a Donegal home in the 1950s.  Having survived standing for the long gospels of Passion Sunday and Palm Sunday, Holy Week arrived, with  Spy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil,   each having its own unique catholic rituals. We were shooed off to the chapel for these  ceremonies, and even though we had better things to be doing like playing cowboys and indians, we knew that it meant that dreary Lent was coming to an end. There was a definite sombre air about the place on Good Friday in particular, but once we passed 3 pm things lightened up a little and there was serious work to be done!

We were  dispatched to the hedges to find a nice branch – a nice elegant one  with no leaves was the ideal. For weeks, my mother had collected eggshells after cooking and baking. The broken shells were carefully washed and left on a big tray to dry off. On Good Friday evening, we were allowed to begin painting them. Using standard children’s paint boxes, we painted them pink and blue and red and yellow and green and they were again left to dry. The branch was then painted white and left overnight.

On Saturday my mother threaded a big needle and very carefully pushed it into the end of the painted shells and back out again, making a very neat little hanger. The shells were then hung on the tree and it looked just fabulous when the decoration was completed!  She anchored the branch in a large vase and placed it on our very deep kitchen windowsill. The Easter tree tradition is kept up in my family, but the real broken egg shells have been replaced by more sophisticated ornaments!  Time perhaps to revert to the traditional way of making the decorations!

 

 

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A modern Easter Tree in my sister’s house

Our Easter Vigil church services began at about 9 pm and went on for several hours and it was not unusual for small children to sleep through the entire proceedings! My mother told us  that if we were up at sunrise we would see the sun dancing in the sky in celebration of  Easter, but of course none of us managed to be out of bed by 6 am to check this out.  On Easter Sunday morning we did however have boiled eggs for breakfast. A big pot of them was put on to boil  - some were eaten and others when cold were painted. These were then used for ‘egg rolling’. My father used tell us that when he was a boy they had very serious egg-rolling contests down grassy slopes, with everyone in the village taking part.  There was nothing formal about our egg rolling, and the fun was between we siblings to see how far our eggs would travel.

Chocolate Easter Eggs arrived later and replaced the egg decorating traditions that had been handed down for generations. The chocolate manufacturers mastered the technique of mass producing hollow chocolate eggs in the early part of the 20th Century. World War 2 brought rationing, so the Chocolate Easter Egg only became the norm for children after the 1950s. They didn’t reach our village until towards the end of that decade. Prior to this chocolate eggs were handmade and beautifully  decorated by hand – works of art – as can be seen in the photograph below.

 

A VERY HAPPY EASTER TO YOU ALL !

Early Cadbury Easter Eggs. Hand decorated, luxury items for adults.

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Filed under Celebrations in Ireland, Ireland, Irish Traditions, Living in Ireland, Oral History

April 7 2014 Changing the future still more

Almost three years ago in May 2011 very many people in Ireland watched in amazement as Elizabeth II, the Queen of Britain paid homage to Irish people who died fighting for freedom from the oppression of her country.  This is a short post I made at that time:

Choosing to change the future:Queen Elizabeth II in Ireland

Living in Ireland, it is hard to ignore the momentous events taking place in our country at the moment.

An Irish army officer at the President’s residence, announces Queen Elizabeth II   –  ”Banríon Eilís a Dó”.

A short time later, an Irish military band plays ‘God Save The Queen, the British national anthem. The location is one of  the most iconic sites in Ireland – the Garden of Remembrance, dedicated to the memory of those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish Freedom. The President of Ireland and the British Monarch ascend the 22 steps to the  memorial sculpture to lay wreaths.

The Queen steps forward to lay her wreath. She steps back, then bows her head in respect for those who died for freedom – died fighting against her country. It is a poignant moment.

The one minute’s silence that follows is intense and emotional; it brings a tear to many watching - whether present or watching on television. Kathy Sheridan in the Irish Times wrote: ”a host of old ghosts, dear and gentle, fierce and austere, hovered around a small, elderly woman, dressed in pretty ivory and sage, standing in homage before a sculpture inspired by the legend of the tragic Children of Lir and Yeats’s Easter 1916 ”

It was indeed a symbolism beyond words.

 

Today April 7, 2014, the President of Ireland makes the first state visit ever by an Irish head of State to the United Kingdom. It is a proud moment for the many tens of thousands of Irish people who, down the decades, have ‘taken the boat’ out of this country looking for new and better lives across the water. In that Kingdom they sought and they found employment and an escape from poverty. They worked on roads, construction sites, tunnels, building the infrastructure that made Britain, and most importantly, they sent money  home to their families in Ireland.  It is recognized that the money sent by migrant workers  played a large part in the economic and social development of the Irish Republic.
Men and women from Ireland,   be they ‘tatty-hokers’ navvies, radio or tv personalities, actors, authors, clerical workers, soccer players, doctors, nurses, IT consultants, hospitality workers, refuse collectors - have shaped that society and are happy to call it ‘home’. They live there happily without hangups or begrudgery. They are proud of their Irishness, and proud of their British localities. Their Irishness is not defined by an angry agenda based on long gone history  such as that expounded by many of the Irish American diaspora. We in Ireland have moved on – we can look back at our history to see where we have been and learn from it, and we can look forward to changing the future still more.

Over the next few days, President Michael D Higgins as a guest of  Queen Elizabeth and the people of the United Kingdom, is choosing to continue to change the future of our two nations. And once again, the symbolism will be beyond words.

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Michael D. Higgins. President of Ireland Image Wikimedia

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Young at heart? Why not OLD at heart!

“Aging…Not everyone gets here. We, all of us who looked battered and weathered, are more beautiful than we know.”so says Jan Wilberg on a wonderful piece of writing on her blog at   Red’s Wrap. 

It only takes a moment to read   – but it  will  be hours in your head!

Read on  here 
My thanks to Social Bridge  for reblogging this wonderful piece of writing from Jan Wilberg’s  blog.

 

 

http://redswrap.wordpress.com/2014/03/22/youre-asking-the-wrong-question/

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Mother’s Day

Tulips and Daffodils

Tulips and Daffodils traditional Mother’s Day flowers. Image Commons.Wikimedia

These final weeks of March have, for some years now, been ‘busy’ weeks in our house in terms of celebrations. In Ireland, we have St Patrick’s Day on March 17th giving as it does, such welcome relief from the austerity of  Lent. For Catholics, Lent meant 40 days of fasting and abstinence. Why did we say 40 days, when it is actually 46  from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday? On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday we barely ate anything as these were days of Fast and Abstinence. On Fast Days we were allowed 1 small meal and 2 collations – a collation being a snack. On days of Fast and Abstinence no meat was allowed. This always amused me as most people could not afford meat every day of the week anyhow! So for Lent – no sweets, no biscuits, no cakes – and when I was growing up 60 years ago in Donegal, no dances, no cinema, no marriages, in fact not much of anything. St Patrick’s Day allowed us to ‘break’ Lent and gorge on cake and sweets, have milk and sugar in our tea and eat tons of Kimberley and Mikado biscuits.
I have a secret – my birthday happens not long after Paddy’s Day. Try as I might my birthday always always falls in Lent, and has on a few occasions even fallen on Good Friday, a dismal  day for a child to have  a birthday! This misery continued for  18 years and so for  my entire youth I was a begrudging victim of circumstance.

When I went to live in England in the 1960s I discovered several things: English Catholics did not have the same rules about Lent as we had  in Ireland. They could even eat meat on Fridays and in a diverse society there were normal happy things happening – dances, weddings, cinemas were open, people ate chocolate and potato crisps even on Good Friday! Not only this, but they heartily celebrated Mothers Day, which falls in Lent. Mother’s Day was  then unheard of in the Donegal Highlands.

‘Mother’s Day’ is not an invention of Hallmark cards, but in fact has its roots in ancient history. In Ireland, as in the UK, Mothering Sunday is celebrated on the 4th Sunday in Lent. In other parts of the world it is usually celebrated in March, April or May.

Celebrations of motherhood can be traced back to the Ancient Greeks and Romans. The ancient Greeks held a spring festival dedicated to Rhea, the mother of the Greek Gods Zeus, Poseidon and Hades. They also celebrated the Festival of Cybele, Mother of The Gods, at the time of the March equinox and this was later adopted by Romans who celebrated it around the Ides of March ( March 15th to 18th). Also in ancient Roman religion there is mention of the Matronalia when women got gifts from their husbands and daughters, husbands were expected to offer prayers for their wives and slaves were given a day off work.

Several Christian denominations, including Anglican and Catholic, celebrate Mothering Sunday. It falls approximately mid Lent, on Laetare Sunday (‘Laetare’ means ‘Rejoice’). On this day, there was a relaxation in the austerity of Lent. In Elizabethan times, girls who had been hired out as servants were given a holiday in the middle of Lent, so that they might visit their families. In the 16th century there was a practice of returning to the ‘mother church’ (the main church of the area), which meant that children in service would be reunited with families on that day. To prove their new-found cooking skills, they brought home a gift of a ‘Mothering’ or ‘Simnel’* cake. Dairymaids or laundry maids who had no cooking skills, would often be presented with a ’mothering cake’ by a sweetheart.

Simnel Cake - a very old Mothering Sunday custom . Image Commons.Wikimedia.

Simnel Cake – a very old Mothering Sunday custom . Image Commons.Wikimedia.

The Lenten fast was at that time very rigorous, so the cake was made with a rich mixture so that it would keep until Easter. They also picked wildflowers for their mothers as they made their way home and the wild violet became a traditional gift for mothers.

-_Narcissus_pseudonarcissus_03_-The tradition of Mothering Sunday gradually died away over the decades. It is said to have been revived during World War 2 by visiting American and Canadian soldiers who celebrated Mother’s Day on the second Sunday in May. The celebration was indeed revived but the original day – the fourth Sunday in Lent – was retained in these islands. Our Mothering Sunday has now become Mother’s Day, (and is nowadays heartily celebrated in Ireland) but call it what you will, it remains a day to celebrate motherhood in general and your mother in particular. Happy Mothering Sunday to all mothers!

* I have an old recipe for Simnel cake. If anyone would like to have it, please email me.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Celebrations in Ireland, Ireland, Irish Traditions, Mother's Day, My Oral History

St Patrick’s Day:Badges,Shamrocks and ‘Going Green’

The Silver Voice:

Badges, Shamrocks and Going Green for St Patrick’s Day.Update of an earlier post.

Originally posted on A SILVER VOICE FROM IRELAND:

adare shamrock

A bowl of ‘ Shamrock ‘ on a restaurant table in Adare, Co. Limerick this week

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!

Trifolium.dubium

This little 3 leafed plant looks like the Shamrock that we used to pick for St Patrick’s Day . It grew tight to the ground and was difficult to pick the little sprigs.

St. Patrick’s Day celebrations  in my small village in Donegal were traditionally simple. Apart from obligatory Mass and school being closed, nothing else much happened. I have tried to recall the events of a typical St Patrick’s Day…

View original 977 more words

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Extraordinary Ordinary Women

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Each year International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated on March 8 when thousands  of events occur all over the world in celebration of  the achievements of women.

The first International Women’s Day (IWD) was in March 1911. It had its origins in America a few years earlier where women had come together to protest against poor working conditions, resulting in a National Women’s Day being declared by the Socialist Party of America. Subsequently at an International Conference for Working Women in Copenhagen, attended by delegates from 17 countries, and including the first 3 women elected to the Finnish Parliament, a proposal to have a special day each year to focus on women’s issues was met with unanimous approval. International Women’s Day has evolved into a global day of celebration of the achievements of women, socially, politically, and economically. Women’s rights campaigners highlight inequalities and raise money for Charity and  Celebrities the world over associate themselves with the day.

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Inspiring Change

The United Nations  recognized International Women’s Day in 1975 and for the past 19  years it has designated a global theme for the day. Their  theme for 2014 is ‘Inspiring Change’.

The need for change has been very much highlighted by the publication this week of a European Union wide report on violence against women. This report, reveals the startling statistic that one in 3 women across  28 member states of the EU  has experienced either physical or sexual violence since the age of 15.

It is interesting to note that the United Nations has returned to the need to stop violence against women as a theme for International Women’s Day time and again as can be seen below.

Year       Theme

1999       World free of violence against women

2007      Ending impunity for violence against women and girls

2009      Women and men united to end violence against women and girls

2013       Time for action to end violence against women.

Some groups, countries and organizations select their own theme for IWD. It is not surprising therefore to find that the EU has adopted as its theme ”Preventing Violence Against Women – a Challenge for all”  for IWD in 2014. This is their Poster .

On International Women’s Day  we rightly celebrate our ”celebrity women” who have made a difference to the lives of many, but we must not forget the ordinary women such as the 1 in 3 who suffer abuse who are the most extraordinary of all.

womendayHappy Women’s Day to all my readers!

Further reading/references:

E U Report 2014

The Guardian Report

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Discovering Castle Oliver, Limerick, Ireland

Castle Oliver – where’s that?  A couple of Facebook posts made me wonder – thank you, Bridget Elliott and Seamus Quaide! And so on a balmy day last summer I headed off to discover this beautiful building, nestled under the Ballyhoura Mountains near Ardpatrick, County Limerick.

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Entrance to Castle Oliver

The entrance is guarded by a pair of fearsome looking griffons. This a relatively recent entrance, lacking the grandeur of the original gate lodges, but is nevertheless pleasant and certainly not your average gate!

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One of the original entrances to the Castle Oliver Estate

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Another of the older entrances to Castle Oliver, no longer in use

Crossing in front of the very spectacular house, veritable herds of rampant griffons protect the magnificent structure!  The setting is stunning  with an uninterrupted view of the Ballyhoura Hills in the ‘front yard’ so to speak, with the immediate area around the house  laid out in manicured terraced lawns, fringed by woodland near the house. A carp lake, sunken garden and fountains complete the picture.

Imposing  house, made from local sandstone

Imposing house, made from local sandstone, beautifully located

This house bears testament to two women – sisters Isabella and Elizabeth Oliver Gascoigne, talented artists who designed stained glass windows and  glass panels. Isabella was also an accomplished woodturner. They built this house in 1843 mainly for lavish country entertaining. Many locals were engaged in the building of the house during the Famine, and so avoided the ravages of hunger. Ownership of  the estate  changed several times over the decades, and it was eventually divided up into lots and sold off to pay bank debts. The house  fell into decay and  at one stage had a large tree growing out through the roof. All but 15 acres or so surrounding the house were sold off . It was almost a total ruin when it was purchased by the current owners, the Cormacks, in 2006.  Roofless  and windowless, they set about turning the shell into a beautiful home for themselves and their three young children. 

I love the elegance of the house with all its architectural detail – I have a passion for interesting chimneys  and had lots of them to look at here !

In the large entrance hall there is a beautiful stained glass window. Some  of the original panes had survived and thanks to old surviving photographs it was possible to recreate the window in its entirety.  Isabella and Elizabeth had designed this feature.

Working from old photographs it has been possible to create an interior that reflects many of the  features of the original house. Some small portions of original decoration  survive as on the dining room ceiling below.

The most beautiful room in the house, in my opinion, is the ballroom, with stunning views of the countryside and a magnificent ceiling. Here too can be seen some of the original artisan work at the fireplace.

Lavishly furnished bedrooms fitted out with carefully sourced period pieces, many with a history all of their own, add to the ‘sense of place’ of this lovely house.

All great houses had a wine cellar. Castle Oliver is no exception and it boasts one of the largest ever built in these parts, with room for tens of thousands of bottles!

Castle Oliver is a gem in the Limerick countryside. How wonderful to see beautiful houses such as this being loving restored and  open to the public, so we can share the splendour and grandeur that was such an integral part of our society in days gone by.

Further reading:

For opening times see http://www.castleoliver.ie/

http://www.abandonedireland.com/Castle_Oliver.html

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Filed under Ireland, Irish Countryside, Irish Heritage, Irish History, Social History Ireland