Our magic memories of Cork’s Christmas past

As we enter the hectic Christmas season, take time out to reflect on Yuletides gone by, with these fabulous memories supplied by the Cork Northside Project
Our magic memories of Cork’s Christmas past
Christmas Shopping on Patrick Street Cork. /December 1927. Picture: Archives

Breda Sheehan

Oh God, Christmas night, I remember going to bed and I’d lie awake. If I woke in the morning I wouldn’t open my eyes, because we were told that if we saw Santy he’d leave us nothing.

So, I’d lie in that bed with my eyes closed tight shut until I’d hear someone moving around. And no way would I open my eyes until I heard somebody up, because I was afraid that if I did, and I opened them and he hadn’t come, or he was there, I’d get nothing.

So there was that sense of wonder about it, you know, it was magical.

Pat Speight
Pat Speight

Pat Speight

We never ate meat. Our family didn’t. I think ’twas a Kerry tradition that my mother brought back with her, that nobody ate meat on St Stephens’s Day, because the house was full of meat, but by abstaining from meat, ’twas felt that you’d kept bad luck and ill health away from the house for 12 months.

Now, whether ’twas a Pagan thing or a Christian thing, I dunno, but maybe.

I still don’t eat meat on St Stephens’s day. Now, I’m not sure about the rest of the family, but I just do it because, you know, the old Irish saying, ‘Ná déan nós agus ná bris nós, ‘Don’t make, or don’t break a tradition’.

So, I still wouldn’t eat meat on St Stephen’s Day, but at five past twelve on St Stephen’s night, by Jesus you couldn’t get between me and the meat. You’d lose your life if you got between me and the meat.

Eileen Murphy

Celebrating Christmas Day at home, it used to be a big ordeal, because I used to not eat meat. Vegetarianism, I’d say, wasn’t even heard of that time now. We never heard of the word ‘vegetarian’ like.

But I just didn’t like meat, so my mother would have all the turkey now and ham, and the spiced beef and everything there, and I used to be looking for a piece of cheese or an egg.

Biddy Barrett

I can remember my mother baking the goose in the bastible over the open fire, because there was no electricity, so the cooker didn’t exist.

And I can remember her putting the red, we used to call them seed, which was turf I suppose really, on the top on the outside because you had heat underneath and you had the heat from the top.

Decorations were non-existent but we made our own paper ones and then we’d be decorating the Christmas candle. The holder was a turnip with a hole cut in the centre.

Noreen Hanover

We nearly all had a doll, and we’d get a toy for Christmas, so, like, during the summer the doll would be broken, we’d make a paper doll, with newspaper.

I often made a doll a foot long with newspaper, and if you got brown paper it was a great novelty, because you could draw a face with the brown paper, whereas with the newspaper you could not make a face.

And then there was a woman living near us who was a dress maker, and we’d knock at her (house), and we used to have her scourged, for old rags and bits of trimmings off the things that she’d have, and you’d make clothes for the doll, then — scarves for the dolls — and we’d dress her up.

And if you got enough stuff then you could make a little pillow and a little cover for it, and you’d be there for all hours of the morning, playing away.

Kathleen Sullivan

We lived in Fairfield Avenue (in Farranree) and there were elderly sisters living right next door to where we grew up, and my father would invite them in Christmas evening.

Never married, they never had any children but the fact that we had seven, my parents they always brought these two elderly women, in to share the joys of family at Christmas time.

From as far back as I can remember, those two were in our house every single year until they died.

Kay O’Sullivan

I remember at Christmas you’d put candles in the windows, in all the windows. You had one big candle that you lit downstairs and then you had one candle in all the other windows. And I know there are two traditions around that candle lighting, cos I still do it as I thought it was a lovely tradition.

One of the traditions was that during penal times it was a sign to priests that this house was safe to come to and say mass. And the other one was that strangers were welcome to come and stay, because one of my furthest back memories is a little old man, he used to come and stay a couple of times a year in the house, and I remember my Mom telling us that that was one of the reasons we lit a candle in the window and this man used to come. And I think he used to do kind of odd jobs maybe.

And then my Mom used to give him clothes and she used also to pack his bag when he was leaving, with socks and food.

But he used to come a couple of times a year and I don’t know what his name was.

Eileen Murphy

My grandmother would stay on Christmas Eve with us and she used to wear nylons at the time, and she put her nylons up on the end of bed. And she would have potato now and a carrot and an onion, and a couple of lumps of coal.

And then there would be a big joke in the morning, what Santa Claus left Nanny.

Pat Speight

At Christmas time there was a lovely thing there, where the shops, some shops, would, like, hand something back to their customers.

And depending how much you bought, if you were only a mediocre buyer, right, you maybe got a candle. If you were a better buyer, you might have got a cake — a Madeira cake — or that awful stuff that my mother used to get off her, it was — seed cake.

I used to spend the night trying to pick the seed out of the Madeira. Then you could get a Madeira and a candle, and sometimes if you were a really good buyer, you’d get a box of biscuits.

Now, ’twasn’t that you had more money as such, as suppose you did all your shopping in Mrs Moynihans, she’d know that, and she’d give you everything, but if you only did some of your shopping there, you’d get so much, and if you only did very little of your shop there, you’d get a candle.

Breda Sheehan
Breda Sheehan

Breda Sheehan

Christmas was always very important in our house, even though, like, my father was in the army and my mother wouldn’t have worked. We would have been all young, so money was tight, but then again it was the same for everybody at that time.

But at Christmas we always got toys. I remember one time, as a child, her bringing me into Robert Day’s inside in town, and going around the store with me, and asking me what I would like Santa to bring me.

And I remember seeing this three-wheeled tricycle, and I was drawn to that, but then I saw a china tea set. And then I told her I wanted… first I wanted the tricycle, we were halfway down the stairs, and I changed my mind, I wanted the china set.

But we always, you know, seemed to have got what we wanted at Christmas. But sure, I regretted the china set, like. Because I wasn’t allowed put any water into the cups or the tea pots, in case I’d make a mess.

Michael O’Flynn

I remember a couple of years ago, it was actually on a Christmas Day, and we were extremely busy, and this woman was on the phone and to know could I send one of the lads to fix her television, it was after breaking down — she was watching her favourite programme. We can work wonders but we can’t work miracles, you know.

John O’Leary

For our Christmas party we did a Santa’s den and to the best of my knowledge we were the first club or pub to ever do anything like that, and that’s a standard now, you know, in pubs and clubs in Dublin and wherever, so it was a brilliant idea.

We used Muppets and Ernie and Bert and things like that on our flyers, and we just harked back to a lot of childhood innocent things.

So having Santa Claus coming to our Christmas party and to have 20-year-olds sitting on his knee and telling him what they wanted for Christmas just seemed almost like an obvious idea for us, and people loved it.

We felt it was a great kind of thing then to have for posterity, that you’d have a picture of yourself in Sir Henry’s with Santa and ‘Freakscene 1999’ and there were people that used to come even years later and they’d say, ‘I haven’t been to Sir Henry’s in a whole year but I have a photograph from ’94, ’95, ’96, so I just wanted to keep it up’, you know?

 Johnny Chris Kelleher
 Johnny Chris Kelleher

Johnny Chris Kelleher

As a matter of fact, my mother, a lot of times, often told me the Holly Boughs that come out at Christmas at the time, were brilliant, people would buy them to send them all over the world.

There was great sale for Holly Boughs, so there was a few bob to be made for the sellers. And on the morning the Holly Bough come out, there’d be very few fellas at school, they’d be all down Faulkner’s Lane, waiting to get them to sell ’em, to try and make a few bob. Because a few bob, at the time — and coming into Christmas — a few bob was money.

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