IN THIS ISSUE
~~~ Keep us Free!
~~~ News Snaps from Ireland
~~~ An Irish Christmas - St. Stephen's
to New Year's Eve by Bridget Haggerty
~~~ Ireland, Sweet Ireland! by Debbie Rachal
~~~ A Part of Ireland by Bequi House
~~~ Quotes of the year
~~~ Monthly free competition result
Well, Christmas is over and another new year
beckons. Ireland is moving so fast that it is
sometimes difficult to keep up with the pace of
the change but hopefully, things are changing
for the better.
This month's issue is just going to make
it in time so let me take this opportunity to
wish you all and your families,
A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR.
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NEWS SNAPS FROM IRELAND
NATIONAL PAY DEAL TALKS UNDER WAY
The recent economic success that has taken place
in Ireland has been largely due to the partnership
programme between employers and workers that have
kept wage increases at a moderate level but which
have been boosted by tax cuts.
The negotiations for the next pay deal are already
under way but are being seen as the most difficult
in the history of the partnership process. The
Irish economy is in a serious downturn and
government spending is being reined in. Already the
plan to build a national sports stadium has been
scrapped and cutbacks have occurred in the national
road building programme. Cutbacks are very much the
order of the day and there have been some high
profile job losses too.
Inflation is expected to creep over 5% in 2003 with
some economists expecting it to top 6% before it
Employers are looking for a pay increase of 2% or
3% but the workers unions are unlikely to accept
any deal that does not deliver an increase that
is ahead of inflation.
The difference between the two sides is so wide
that some commentators are forecasting the
collapse of the partnership process and a return
to individual union bargaining and the likelihood
of industrial unrest.
PRESIDENT MCALEESE IN SKIING ACCIDENT
Irish president, Mary McAleese, suffered a broken
ankle while on a skiing holiday on Christmas eve.
While attempting to board a ski lift the President
was struck by the lift at the Austrian holiday
resort of Bad Hofgastein. She has since returned
to Ireland and although wheelchair bound is in
good spirits and optimistic of being able to
complete her official duties.
AN POST UNDER PRESSURE OVER PRE-EURO STAMPS
The plans by An Post (the national postal service)
to treat letters with pre-Euro stamps as being
unstamped are being criticised by some public
representatives. Most European countries plan to
allow the use of pre-Euro stamps until 2011 and
Belgium will allow their use indefinitely.
It remains to be seen if a legal challenge is
mounted to the decision by An Post.
CRACKDOWN ON LEARNER DRIVERS IS PLANNED.
The Government is planning a crackdown on learner
drivers. It is estimated that over 600,000 vehicles
are covered by drivers who only have a provisional
licence and who have not passed any driving test.
Reports that speeding offences have dramatically
dropped in recent months are being attributed to
the introduction of the penalty points system. 2000
speeding offences were recorded in November while
over 6000 were recorded in the same month in 2001.
Ireland is in the middle of the European league
table of road deaths. Scandinavian countries rank
as the safest while the Mediterranean countries
rank as the worst.
Speeding can result in 1 penalty point, depending
on the extent of the offence. Failure to pay the
fine will result in 4 points being levied. The
accumulation of 12 points means the loss of the
offenders driving licence for 6 months.
TOURISM SUFFERS IN ECONOMIC DOWNTURN
The latest tourism figures for 2002 show that the
overall numbers of visitors to Ireland increased by
2%. This is regarded as a disappointing result
despite the recent difficulties of the foot and
mouth disease outbreak and the problems experienced
Visitors from the USA decreased by 10% but visitors
from England increased by 6%.
Voice your opinion on these news issues here:
Keep us alive! - visit http://www.irishnation.com
AN IRISH CHRISTMAS - ST. STEPHEN'S TO
NEW YEAR'S EVE BY BRIDGET HAGGERTY
When I was a little girl, the day after Christmas
was almost as much fun as the day itself. It was,
and still is, a national holiday in Great Britain
and Ireland, which makes a great deal of sense to
me; adults get a day off to relax (or recuperate!),
kids can look forward to going to the pantomime,
and best of all, there's still that magical
feeling of good cheer in the air.
Here, in the U.S., I can't get used to the abrupt
end to a season that should have only just begun.
Most people are back at work; there are no more
carols on the radio, and even a few trees, some
with branches still tinseled, can be seen cast
out on the sidewalk. True, there's New Year's Eve
to look forward to - but it's not the same as
Christmas. New Year's just happens to fall in the
middle of the season; sadly, in this hurry up,
hustle and bustle world, we seem to have forgotten
that. Wistfully, I recall it wasn't always so.
Imagine nearly two weeks, when all but the basic,
most necessary chores were set aside; when family
was reunited; when the hospitality of the house
was open to all; and when friends and neighbors
gathered around your fireside for long evenings of
story telling, music and reminiscing. If you were
in Ireland, long ago, that's what you could expect
during the 12 days of Christmas, from the Nativity
to Epiphany. Back then, Christmas Day was a family
celebration and it was seldom that friends and
neighbors would intrude. But, the next day was
In the north of Ireland, December 26th was
celebrated as Boxing Day, which originated from
the time when it was traditional for the lord of
the manor to give gifts to servants, tradespeople
and tenants. In the Republic, the day was
altogether something else!
There, it was the feast of St. Stephen or Wren Day.
At one time, groups of small boys would hunt for a
wren, and then chase the poor bird until they
either caught it or it died from exhaustion. It
was then tied to the top of a pole or holly bush,
which was decorated with ribbons or colored paper.
Early in the morning on St. Stephen's, the wren was
carried from house to house by the boys, who wore
straw masks or blackened their faces with burnt
cork, and dressed in old clothes. At each house,
the boys sang the Wren Boys' song. There are many
versions and variations, including the following:
The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
On St. Stephen's Day was caught in the furze,
Although he is little, his family is great,
I pray you, good lady, give us a treat.
My box would speak, if it had but a tongue,
And two or three shillings, would do it no wrong,
Sing holly, sing ivy - sing ivy, sing holly,
A drop just to drink, it would drown melancholy.
And if you draw it of the best,
I hope in heaven your soul will rest;
But if you draw it of the small,
It won't agree with these wren boys at all.
Often, those who gave money were given a feather
from the wren for good luck and then the money
that had been collected was used to hold a dance
for the entire village.
There are different legends about the origin of
this custom. One is that St. Stephen, hiding from
his enemies in a bush, was betrayed by a chattering
wren. From that point on, the wren, like St.
Stephen, should be hunted down and stoned to death.
The pursuit and capture of the wren is also related
to the pagan custom of sacrificing a sacred symbol
at year's end. In contrast to the legends of the
wren as betrayer, the wren was also revered in
Ireland as the "king of all birds." An Irish folk
tale tells of a contest held among birds to see
which could fly the highest and should be given the
title. The eagle soared higher than any other bird,
but lost the contest when a clever wren hid on the
back of the eagle, then flew off and soared higher
in the sky.
Wren Day fell into disfavor around the turn of the
century and died out completely in most parts of
Ireland. However, just recently it has seen a
widespread revival, but with some marked
differences. Mercifully, wrens are no longer
hunted and killed - today, an artificial one is
used; the "Wren Boys" now include girls, and adults
often accompany the young people. Folk costumes and
traditional music and dancing are often part of the
festivities, and the money collected is sometimes
used for community or school projects.
As a child, I never knew about Wren Day. My parents
never mentioned it, and it's probably because the
custom had already disappeared when they were
growing up. Because we were in London, we
celebrated Boxing Day! For breakfast, we always had
a traditional Irish fry-up, including my dad's
feather-light potato pancakes - if he felt up to it!
Then, for a few hours, while our parents read the
newspaper, we played with our new toys and games. I
can remember Snakes & Ladders, Snap, and a Mechano
set one of my brothers got which allowed us to
build the strangest contraptions! Then, after a
light lunch, it was time for the panto! We'd get
all dressed up again in our new Christmas outfits
and head off with mum to the Wimbledon Theatre and
several hours of child heaven. Dad had his heaven
too - meeting his mates at the local, and then
making the rounds until tea-time.
My own children have never seen a panto and I
daresay if you asked an American child what it is,
they wouldn't have the foggiest idea. And that's a
shame. Today, kids all over Great Britain, and also
in the Republic of Ireland, look forward to this
annual treat on the second day of Christmas. Far
from being a silent show as the name might imply,
in my memory, it was a rollicking, slapstick
performance loosely based on classic fairy tales
such as Babes in the Woods, Cinderella or Puss 'n
Boots. With very few exceptions, men played women's
parts and vice versa and there was always great
interaction with the audience. Usually, one of the
performers adopted the role of cheerleader and
would alert us when the villain was about to come
on stage. With screams, hisses and boohs, we
greeted his or her arrival. By contrast, when the
hero and heroine appeared, we almost lifted the roof
with cheers and applause. When it was over, we'd
hurry home, exhausted but happy; mum would make tea,
and Dad never failed to show up - a little tipsy
maybe, but always in a cheerful mood. So cheerful
that he didn't mind us competing with one another
to tell him all about our afternoon. What a
wonderful time it was.
The third day of Christmas - the Feast of St. John
the Apostle - my mother would have attended Mass;
but what was so unusual about that? As devout as
she was, she went to Mass every day. What was
unusual about it, was that she'd come home and
begin a marathon cleaning and stocking up for New
Year's Eve. To this day, I follow her routine,
because according to her, the condition of your
house and home on the last day of the year was how
it would be for the following 12 months. Beds were
stripped, brass was polished, drawers and closets
were cleaned out, and the larder was restocked. My
dad would be totally relieved that he had to go
back to work!
My parents were both Irish, but I don't remember
them telling us anything about St. John or special
customs associated with his feast day. Since then,
I've learned of a delightful tradition, but I'm not
sure to which culture it belongs. St. John is
remembered for the miracle of drinking a cup of
poisoned wine without harm. On his feast day, wine
is blessed with holy water and the sign of the
cross, then sugar and water is added to make a
punch. This is poured into the best wine goblets.
At the supper table, the father begins the toast,
touching his goblet to the mother's, saying 'I
drink you the love of St. John'. In turn, she
touches the goblets of each of the children and
they follow suit all around the table.
December 28th - Holy Innocents Day; this day is
regarded as very ill-omened because it commemorates
the slaughter of the baby boys by King Herod. Known
as La Crosta na Bliana 'the cross day of the year',
Irish superstition says that it is very unlucky to
plan or begin any new work or enterprise. If work
needed to be started, bad luck could be avoided if
it was begun before midnight on the 27th - the reason
I'm convinced my mother commenced her New Year's
preparations on St. Johns! Also known as Childermas,
it was widely believed that whatever day of the week
on which it fell, that day would also be unlucky in
the following year.
New Year's Eve - and the house is spotless. Fresh
linens are on each bed. And, even in lean years, my
mother has managed to make certain there's food in
the larder and coal in the cellar. This afternoon,
we will skip tea, because a large supper is planned
for tonight - this was to ensure plenty for the
coming year. Best of all, we will be allowed to
stay up until the stroke of midnight. Dad will pour
us all a little drop of port in readiness for the
toast. As the radio alerts us to the chimes of Big
Ben on the radio, my brother, who is tall for his
age and has black hair, is given a lump of coal and
sent out the back door. He goes around to the front
and we let him in - our lucky 'first foot!' With
that, Dad draws from his Galway roots and proposes
May your nets always be full,
Your pockets never empty,
Your horse not cast a shoe,
Nor the devil look at you
In the coming year.
We clink glasses, hug, kiss, and wish each other
all the best.
For more wonderful tales visit Bridget's website
IRELAND, SWEET IRELAND! BY DEBBIE RACHAL
Ireland, sweet Ireland!
I hear you call my name -
in the whispers of the wind
and the gentle falling rain.
The ancient drums are beating
in the corners of my soul.
As my heart beats with the rhythm,
the thunder starts to roll.
Ireland, sweet Ireland!
I heed thy mortal call.
The winds of change are blowing strong,
I hear them as they sqawl.
Though ravaged by my heart that aches,
I know I must be strong.
For only you can soothe my soul
and woo me with your song.
Ireland, sweet Ireland!
No peace can 'ere be found -
until the day I walk upon
thy hallowed, sacred ground.
For only then will I be free,
my heart will be at home.
My soul will find the peace it seeks
and nevermore will roam.
Keep us alive! - visit http://www.irishnation.com
A PART OF IRELAND BY BEQUI HOUSE
Today we all want to be Irish. Ireland is doing
well economically and, thanks to technology, the
young ones are returning instead of leaving.
At the turn of the 20th century, here in the USA
most everyone tried to hide their Irish descent.
According to a recent informal survey of 20 people,
100% had at least one grandparent with an Irish
name. This survey was taken in the Southeastern
United States, where today they are proud to be
called Irish. Of these 20 people, 60% had two
grandparents with Irish Surnames. These are more
than Irish names but real people, loved ones.
'Yes, Grandmother Mary Sheridan’s grandfather
came over from Ireland'.
Actually, with a little research we find it was
her Great Grandfather, Jacky. Still, they do
have names and know they came from Ireland.
Those of us in the Southeast have an appreciation
for things Irish that has helped Ireland’s
tourism. Most of us either have gone or plan to
go to the Emerald Isle. We want to see where
Granny Maggie came from.
It’s the people in Ireland like the nice lady
between Dublin and Limerick who allowed a tour
bus to stop at her home for one sick lady to use
the bathroom. The nice fatherly Cabbie took time
to tell us about the small pubs with the local
music that we would enjoy much more than the
Cabaret with 300 people seated at long tables to
listen to music. These people keep us returning
because they make us feel at home, a part of
QUOTES OF THE YEAR
It was a golden period for the people
of this county
Taoiseach Bertie Ahearn after dissolving the 28th
Dail and announcing a General Election.
The heart of the county is confined
in Listowel today
Tribute by writer and friend Tony Guerin to
John B. Keane who died in May
Five years ago, if you asked a child to name a
priest they would all name Father Ted or Father
Jack. Now they don't even know them.
Joe Conway of the INTO (Teachers organisation),
on the decline of religion in schools.
DECEMBER COMPETITION RESULT
The winner was: firstname.lastname@example.org
who will receive the following:
A Single Family Crest Print (decorative)
Send us an email to claim your prize, and well
done! Remember that all subscribers to this
newsletter are automatically entered into the
competition every time.
Keep us alive! - visit http://www.irishnation.com
I hope that you have enjoyed this issue.
Please keep the feedback coming!
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
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