Monthly Archives: December 2012

2012 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 23,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 5 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.



December 31, 2012 · 11:58 am

Tracking Santa – He’s on the way!

Only hours to go! The countdown is on! Soon Santa will be loading up and leaving the North Pole for his great journey across the globe with Dasher, Prancer, Dancer,Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen and of course Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer! Children of all ages (this writer included) will watch his progress on the internet!

It all began in 1955 when the famous American company, Sears Roebuck, published a telephone number for children to call and speak to Santa. Due to a misprint of the phone number, children were connected to the operations ‘hotline’ of the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD). The then director, Colonel Harry Shoup, arranged for children to be given updates by having the radar checked for signs of Santa flying from the North Pole. And so a tradition was born!

Some years later CONAD became the North American Aerospace Defense Command, with Canada and the United States of America joining forces to create an air defence command for North America. NORAD as it is known, decided to keep up the practice of checking their radar and using their advanced technology all across the world, to let children know Santa’s location as he makes his way at terrific speed through the skies. Each year, NORAD staff volunteers reply to thousands of emails and answer the telephone to the tens of thousands of enquiries they receive from children all over the world.

In recent years Santa’s journey can be tracked on the internet and you can join the millions of others who log in to check by clicking HERE. Checking it out may well be an Irish Christmas Tradition in the making!

He will soon be on his way! Enjoy!



December 24, 2012 · 7:49 pm

There’s Something about Christmas

‘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!


My 3 year old brother blows out the candles on his birthday cake,Christmas Day 1955

 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!


Tucking into the huge box of chocolates. The Christmas tree in the background is decorated with tinsel

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!


The Christmas guests 1955, in front of the fire, with my father in the centre. I think that the man on the left may be O’Donnell, possibly John? and the man on the extreme right may be Ward from the south of the County.

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.


My father, just a few days after his 34th birthday, enjoying and sharing the poetry of Robert Service on 25 December 1955.

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

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
      By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
      That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
      But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
      I cremated Sam McGee.
The only Christmas of my childhood for which we have pictures is this one in 1955. We have 5 photographs in all, and 4 of them are shown here. (the remaining one is of my 3 year old sibling trying to light up a cigarette in behind the sofa!)
This post was inspired by Pauleen at Family History Across the Seas who  in her blog invited her readers to join in with the Christmas Geneameme. It sent me off delving into my family traditions and I am delighted to have had the chance to record a typical Christmas for my family.
There is indeed something about Christmas…


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

Oh! Fr Hegarty there IS a Santa Claus…

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.

santaSo, 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:

Dear Editor

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?

Virginia O’Hanlon


This is Virginia O’Hanlon who posed the challenging question (Image Wikipedia Commons)

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.

Francis Pharcellus Church

Francis (1839 – 1906) whose words of wisdom have persevered for over a century.

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.

The article as it appeared in The New York Sun

The original article in the New York Sun

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!


The Irish Times






Filed under Irish American, Irish Traditions, Oral History

The Dandy, The Beano, The Beezer & The Topper – A Lament

The Dandy No. 1, 4th December 1937

The First Edition of The Dandy – from the Daily Telegraph

I read today that the weekly comic,The Dandy, is to cease publication and move to  the ‘e world’. Some of my happiest childhood memories in the 1950’s in County Donegal, Ireland are associated with The Dandy.  Every  Wednesday in the village of Carrigart,  the weekly precious cargo of comics arrived into the local newsagent, owned by Martha Speer. Our weekly order initially consisted of The Dandy and The Beano, with The Beezer and The Topper being added at a later date.

I vividly recall the sense of excitement on Wednesdays as we ran to the shop to collect the order. My favourite was The Beano  with Dennis the Menace and his very destructive catapult, not to mention his fierce looking dog Gnasher. Minnie the Minx, Lord Snooty, Biffo the Bear, Roger the Dodger, and Pansy Potter brought great delight with their (very often anti-social) antics. But my very favourite character was ‘ Little Plum, your redskin chum’. Little Plum was oblivious of the word ‘the’ and instead used ‘um’, and used ‘heap ‘ instead of ‘big’.  I consequently grew up in the certain knowledge that all native Americans  said things like ‘Um heap big fire ‘!!

The Beano Annual - ex libris one of my children

The Beano Annual – ex libris one of my children

I have a clear recollection of the   time when the ‘header’ to the Little Plum’ page was changed so that the each letter of the title was illustrated with pictures of the little fella in various poses and having a fit of the giggles about it during the nightly family rosary. On another occasion when in bed and ordered to ‘Go to sleep!’ my brother and I engaged in a conversation pretending to be  Little Plum and were roaring with laughter to such an extent that we were threatened  with all sorts of punishments if we did not cease immediately!

The Dandy of course was an equal source of weekly joy – my favourites being Beryl the Peril , and Korky the Cat. Desperate Dan was larger than life with his big square stubbly chin and his diet of cow pies (very often ornamented by a pair of horns, sticking out of the top of the pastry.) gave him enormous strength.  According to an article in The Daily Mail this week, during World War 2 Desperate Dan famously brought down  aircraft of the Luftwaffe with a peashooter!

The Dandy Annual - ex libris one of my children

The Dandy Annual – ex libris one of my children

Later we enjoyed The Beezer with Ginger and The Banana Bunch and The Topper with Mickey the Monkey – these two being in a bigger, loose leaf format than the smaller neater Dandy and Beano.

I recall overhearing my well- read mother saying to someone who was wondering if comics were ‘ good for us’, that she didn’t mind what we read so long as we were reading. And of course that is exactly what these comics did  – reinforced and encouraged our reading in those early days when there was very little access to a variety of reading material suitable for children. They also gave us a sense of values – good always prevailed and naughtiness usually resulted in perpetrators being placed in the ‘naughty corner ‘.

My children also enjoyed their weekly comics –  Care Bears and Farthing Wood, Bunty and Jinty, Victor and Hotspur.  I am delighted to say that the tradition has been passed down to  my tiny grandchildren who are loving their comics. Peppa Pig may  horrify some parents with her disobedience, but she attracts the attention of enquiring little minds who are eager to read. Peppa is of course angelic compared to the shenanigans of Dennis the Menace and  his ferocious hound Gnasher and the famously destructive catapult.

The passing of The Dandy into the electronic world is a pity. To think that at one time this publication had a weekly circulation of some 2 million – even at times of extreme deprivation during and after the second world war, the entertainment of children mattered.

Thank you , The Dandy and The Beano and The Beezer and The Topper for the  hours of fun and laughter afforded to this ‘former child’ and  to generations of children who have loved and learned from every page.




Filed under Ireland, Irish Culture, Irish Heritage, Living in Ireland, My Oral History, Oral History