A Kerry Christmas Childhood

Reproduced below is a nostalgic remembrance of childhood Christmases by my late father and which you might enjoy at this time of year. This was first published in the Sunday Independent on 21 December 2003.

A KERRY CHRISTMAS CHILDHOOD
Now I cannot help remembering those happy days gone by,
As Christmas time approaches and the festive season’s nigh,
I wallow in nostalgia when I think of long ago
And the tide that waits for no man as the years they ebb and flow.
We townies scoured the countryside for the holly berried red,
And stripped from tombs green ivy in the graveyard of the dead,
To decorate each picture frame a-hanging on the wall,
And fill the house with greenery and brighten winter’s pall.
Putting up the decorations was for us a pleasant chore,
And the crib down from the attic took centre stage once more.
From the box atop the dresser the figures were retrieved
To be placed upon a bed of straw on that blessed Christmas Eve.
For the candles, red crepe paper round the jam jars filled with sand
To be placed in every window and provide a light so grand,
To guide the Holy Family who had no room at the inn,
And provide for them a beacon and a fáilte mór within.
The candles were ignited upon the stroke of seven,
The youngest got the privilege to light our way to heaven,
And then the rosary was said as we all got on our knees,
Remembering those who’d gone before and the foreign missionaries.
Ah, we’d all be scrubbed like new pins in the bath before the fire,
And dressed in our pyjamas, of tall tales we’d never tire,
Of Cúchullain and Ferdia, the FiannaRed Branch Knights
Banshees and Jack O the LanternSam McGee and the Northern Lights.
And we’d sing the songs of Ireland, of Knockanure and Black and Tans,
And the Boys of Barr na Sráide who hunted for the wran.
Mam and Dad, they warned us, as they gave each a goodnight kiss,
If we didn’t go to sleep at once then Santa we would miss.
And that magic Christmas morning so beloved of girls and boys,
When we woke to find our dreams fulfilled and all our asked-for toys.
But Mam was up before us, the turkey to prepare,
To peel the spuds and boil the ham and supply the festal fare.
She’d accept with pride the compliments from my father and the rest,
“Of all the birds I’ve cooked,” she’d say, “this year’s was the best.”
The trifle and plum pudding – oh, the memories never fade,
And then we’d wash the whole lot down with Nash’s lemonade.
St. Stephen’s Day brought Wren Boys with their loud knock on the door,
To bodhrán beat and music sweet they danced upon the floor.
We terror-stricken children fled in fear before the batch
And we screamed at our pursuers as they rattled at the latch.
Like a bicycle whose brakes have failed goes headlong down the hill,
Too fast the years have disappeared, come back they never will,
And our clan is scattered round the world, from home we had to part,
Still we treasure precious memories forever in our heart.
So God be with our parents dear, we remember you with pride,
And the golden days of childhood and that happy Christmas tide.

© Garry McMahon
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