Cork tradition of Women’s Little Christmas is cancelled

For the first time in decades, Women’s Little Christmas celebrations won’t go ahead this year, due to Covid-19 restrictions. CHRIS DUNNE talks to some of the performers and event organisers who have been involved in the much-loved Cork tradition over the years
Cork tradition of Women’s Little Christmas is cancelled

HAPPY MEMORIES: Sandy Kelly celebrating Women’s Little Christmas at the Ardmanning lounge in years gone by.

“IT is the first time in 40 years, Women’s Little Christmas, or Nollaig na mBan as it is known, won’t be happening in 2021 in Cork.”

So says Cork showband promoter, Sean O’Sullivan, who is synonymous with showband legends like Joe Mac, Art Supple, Sandy Kelly, Johnny Carroll, Mick Flavin and many more Irish entertainers.

“The 6th of January celebrations are always huge in Cork where the night out is a big tradition. We are very sad that the ladies won’t be able to let their hair down and have their traditional knees up after all the hard work and effort they put in over Christmas,” says Sean.

Cork is legendary for celebrating Women’s Little Christmas on January 6 — the feast of the Epiphany when Christmas is officially over.

“I often joined the ladies on the dance floor!” says Sandy Kelly, who travelled South every year for the ladies’ night out.

“I will really miss it this year after Christmas and I will miss meeting my Cork fans. I remember appearing in the Cork Opera House when I brought out Patsy Cline’s Crazy. The Cork audience knew all the words and I was mobbed after the concert — in a good way!”

Both Sandy from Sligo and myself, from Galway, didn’t realise just how much Women’s Little Christmas was celebrated in Cork over the years until we got stuck in with the revellers.

“The Women’s Little Christmas tradition began in Cork,” says Sandy.

“Then it began to spread country-wide. 

"Women in Cork always celebrated the end of the festive season with dinner, dancing, singing and a bit of cráic after all the hard work they put in over Christmas, shopping, cooking, decorating, and entertaining.”

Sandy added: “For us entertainers, it was lovely to play such a fun gig, meet up again and enjoy a drink after the show.

“But look, we can look forward to singing and dancing together again later in the New Year, and I can look forward to performing in Cork again.”

Ballinlough crooner, Tony Stevens, returned to the stage in the Clayton Silver Springs earlier this year, on January 6, 2020. He made a jubilant comeback to sing ‘For all the Girls He Loved Before’ in front of a Cork audience in his home town.

“I have a legion of loyal fans in Cork,” says Tony.

“It was a wonderful occasion for me with all the showband greats.”

Tony was involved in a serious road accident at the height of his fame in 1992, spending 250 days in hospital as a result. He was determined to sing and to entertain his Cork fans again.

“It was great to be able to do what I love doing best on stage,” says Tony.

Art Supple also says he will miss heading from his home in Gortrue to a venue to entertain the ladies and some gentlemen on January 6.

“Women’s Little Christmas is traditionally a big night out for all the ladies,” says Art.

“They deserve the break and they deserve to enjoy a night off.

“The January 6 audiences are always wonderful audiences, singing and dancing the night away. Cork is the biggest place in the country for that night and it has the most impact in Cork.”

Everybody is out for a good time.

“The audience is easy to please,” says Art.

“And everybody joins in dancing together on the floor and singing along. People’s energy is magical. I love the atmosphere and I’ll really miss that this year.

We know all the guidelines from the Government are for our own good and for our own safety,” says Art. “But not being able to entertain people is soul-destroying.”

Sean O’Sullivan is looking forward to better times when the 6th of January is joyfully marked again.

“It was always a big part of my calendar,” says Sean.

“Women’s Little Christmas is the highlight of the year where people come out in their droves to enjoy dinner and a show.

“Ladies everywhere get their hair done, get their nails done, put on the make-up, put on the glam; all ready for a good night out.

“In more recent years, the gentlemen often join the ladies for a slap-up-dinner and some great entertainment.

“Whole groups like the ICA book their tickets ages in advance, looking forward to a great evening out together,” says Sean.

“Often I’d be asked to hold tickets for January 6 as early as St Patrick’s Day!”

The tradition of Women’s Little Christmas is a long one in Cork.

“It is,” Sean agrees.

“Lots of ladies like re-living nostalgia on that night, going back to the hey-days of their youth and to the Ballroom of Romance days.”

“Often, groups book an overnight stay in the hotel and have breakfast and a browse in the city next morning before heading home.”

Showband legend Joe Mac who loved to perform at the Women’s Little Christmas gigs.
Showband legend Joe Mac who loved to perform at the Women’s Little Christmas gigs.

He recalls the glory days of Women’s Little Christmas in Cork.

“I remember when Dickie Rock sold 700 tickets in Cork in 1993 for Little Women’s Christmas. And of course, there was no show like a Joe show!

“Over the years, Johnny Carroll of the Golden Trumpet, Dave Lawlor, Dominic Kirwin, Mike Denver... all played to full houses.”

There were high jinks.

“Joe Mac always got up to his usual antics, entertaining the crowd and going among them!” says Sean, laughing.

“He drew massive crowds at Ardmanning House, Togher, and I remember the Old Island Room being jointed.”

The artistes are missing out on the most wonderful night of the new year.

“They are fed-up not playing concerts or gigs since the pandemic broke out in March,” says Sean.

“They miss meeting and mingling with the people.”

It is their bread and butter.

“So many things have been cancelled this year,” says Sean.

“Two shows I had scheduled for the Everyman Theatre were cancelled. It is very sad. The hotels lost out big time too.”

Not celebrating Women’s Little Christmas this year will be like a bereavement of sorts for many people.

“It sure will,” says Sean.

“For all the mothers, the daughters, the friends, the neighbours; they will all miss their annual get-together this January 6, their simple pleasure, their big night out.”

But there’s always January 6, 2022, to look forward to.

“Bring it on!” says Sean.

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