Nobody does Christmas like this West Cork woman!

AISLING MEATH catches up with Mona Best in Skibbereen, who has been the town’s Ms Claus for 20 years - and pulls out all the stops at Christmas time
Nobody does Christmas like this West Cork woman!

Mona Best as Ms Claus. Picture: Anne Minihane

CHRISTMAS would not be Christmas in Skibbereen without Mona Best.

The free-spirited lady is the proprietor of Bridge House in Skibbereen, surely the most eye-catching and colourful premises in the town.

Voted Ireland’s most unusual B&B by The Ray D’arcy Show, stepping through the front door of the Victorian town house is like stepping onto a film set.

Viewers were treated to a glimpse of her eclectic lodging house when Bridge House was featured on Daniel And Majella’s B&B Road Trip on RTÉ, starring singer Daniel O’ Donnell and his wife during their series touring around the B&B’s of Ireland.

“They were absolutely lovely people and we had a great laugh,” said Mona, recalling their stay, and indeed they are not the only celebrities who have enjoyed hospitality at Mona’s over the years.

“ I mostly like to keep discreet about some of my more famous guests, as that is what they appreciate, but I will say that Jack Lukeman, aka Jack L, is one person I love having as a guest here. He’s a fantastic musician, and music is something that runs through my family too, with two of my sons, Christian and Adrian, both musicians themselves.”

Christian is a drummer and sound engineer who plays with Mick Flannery, and Adrian is a guitarist with Dr Feelgood &The Electric Mayhem Band.

Mona Best with her giant Christmas tree. Pictures: Aisling Meath
Mona Best with her giant Christmas tree. Pictures: Aisling Meath

“Bridge House has seen some great sessions and sing-songs over the years,” says Mona, who recalls a funny story when once she reprimanded a guy who accidentally dropped some chips onto the pavement outside her house as he was walking by.

“ I called him back, demanding that he pick up his chips, and he turned back and was very apologetic and did what I asked. I had no idea who he was at the time, but it turned out to be the world famous musician Nick Cave.”

Mona loves decorating both inside and outside her establishment, and the decor changes according to the seasons.

You might be likely to meet St Patrick or the Easter Bunny outside in the Spring, or encounter a ghoulish phantom taking up residence in the window during Halloween, but when it comes to Christmas, the self-confessed bohemian and artistic Mona does not hold back.

The high red-painted ceiling in her drawing room is the perfect setting for the enormous Christmas tree, resplendent with beautiful decorations.

Mannequins pop up in different corners of the house, often behind the staircases, sporting Christmas outfits. Long candles and quirky artifacts are festooned on occasional tables. Rose petals are scattered on the beds, which have billowing curtains.

Mona Best with Simone her daughter and granddaughter Lilly Pearl
Mona Best with Simone her daughter and granddaughter Lilly Pearl

Dresses are hanging on the walls, an odd shoe can be spotted filled with dried flowers. An old-fashioned telephone once owned by Noel Redding, bass player with Jimmy Hendrix, is on display. Artwork and photography by famous names such as John Minihan decorate the walls, and in every corner of the house there is a feast for the eyes.

“ I love decorating and picking up different bits and pieces, often second-hand, to decorate Bridge House,” says Mona, who brings her great sense of fun to the decor, and who also adores dressing up in costume.

For the past 20 years she has represented the North Pole’s first family kick-starting Christmas in Skibbereen by turning on the lights in the guise of Mrs Claus.

“ I’ll be doing it until I’m on my zimmer frame,” she jokes. I absolutely love the buzz and excitement with all the kids looking forward to seeing Santa and Mrs Claus coming through the town. It’s always a magical time.”

Mona herself has six grandchildren who she dotes on.

“I adore my six grandchildren - Lily Pearl, Emily, Theo, Jessie, Beau and Atlas. They are all so special to me and I absolutely love them to bits.

“I enjoy spending Christmas with my extended family, and love being with my grandchildren and hearing all about what they got from Santa, it’s brilliant.

Mona Best Pictures: Aisling Meath
Mona Best Pictures: Aisling Meath

“I have four adult children whom I’m very proud of - Peter, Adrian, Christian and Simone.

“One song I always love to play on Christmas day is Mary’s Boy Child in tribute to my son Christian who celebrates his birthday on that day. That was a Christmas Day I will always remember!”

Some of the decor inside Mona's B&B.
Some of the decor inside Mona's B&B.

Mona tells us a little bit about her past.

“Growing up in Kealkill in West Cork, I am a proud country girl. My parents were Micheal and Kathleen Vaughan and they ran a grocery shop and petrol pumps in the village.

“There has always been a business background in the family, and later I had my own hairdressing establishment in Glengarriff, ‘Monique Hairdressing’, and my passion was driving fast cars and watching Hot Rod racing. I love Mini Coopers and Mustangs, and my role model is Rosemary Smith, the rally driver. I was delighted when I once randomly met her on a visit to Dublin.”

Festive decorations.
Festive decorations.

She has fond memories of Christmases past.

“I always remember Christmas Eve when I was young. My father used to drive us to a hilly place outside the village where we could look down and see all the candles lit in the windows of the houses below. It was a gorgeous sight seeing the whole area lit up like that.

“I remember we always placed a tall candle into sand to secure it, and wrapped tissue paper all around the container to decorate it, and then placed it in the window to light on Christmas Eve.

“The Christmas tree had little sconces for real candles to be lit on it in those days - no such thing as artificial lights back then, or any health and safety issues either, when you think back on it now!

“My mother was very talented at dress-making and baking and I loved watching her decorating the Christmas cake, and the smell of the Christmas puddings being boiled.

You never know what is around the corner at Mona's B&B.
You never know what is around the corner at Mona's B&B.

“The height of the Christmas season when I was young was driving in the dark frosty morning through the West Cork countryside to Cork city for our big day out.

“My brothers, my sister and I would have saved up our pocket money to spend in Woolworths, which was a shop in Cork at the time, and it was so exciting for us to go there. I could not wait!

“I remember buying little bits and pieces, the small toys, and the little trinkets.

“Then we would be treated to a nice meal before the journey home, and I always remember the waitresses wearing black and white uniforms, it was really a special time and a lovely memory to cherish.

“ On Christmas morning, I can remember getting an orange in my Christmas sock, and I can also remember getting a piece of coal too. I was a bit of a naughty girl. I have not changed much,” she laughs.

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