December 2019

Ireland Newsletter
Christmas in Ireland scene image from Free Photos Of Ireland

  • News from Ireland go
  • Irish Christmas Traditions go
  • 'Woollen Mills Fire' by Pat Watson go
  • 'Parking' by Mattie Lennon go
  • Gaelic Phrases of the Month go
  • Monthly Free Competition Result go
find out more

Popular Articles from Recent Newsletters:
  • The Fate of Frank McKenna by William Carleton go
  • The Tragic Death of Kevin Barry go
  • 'The Purple Hills' by Sean Ivory go
  • Tanistry v Primogeniture go


Hello again from Ireland where the the only thing better than the end of year holidays is the fact that the Brexit saga playing out in these islands looks finally set to reach some sort of a conclusion - see the news article below.

This month we have another fine tale of old Ireland from Pat Watson, a story from Matttie Lennon about a brush he had with the law and a rundown of the most popular Irish Christmas Traditions.

If you have an article or story you would like to share then please do send it to us.

Until next time, HAPPY CHRISTMAS!


P.S. Please Do Forward this Newsletter to a friend or relative. If you have a website or Facebook page or Blog (or whatever!) then you can help us out by putting a link on it to our website:

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The recent General election in the UK was in many ways a proxy vote on the issue of Brexit (the decision by the UK to leave the European Union).

Those who felt that the initial Brexit referendum was flawed or just to close (less than 52% in favour), and that there should be a second referendum have been firmly silenced. The Conservative Party (the Tories) increased their vote dramatically gaining 365 seats in the House of Commons, requiring only 325 for an outright majority.

There will be no second referendum on this issue. Brexit is going to happen.

January 31st is the date set for the UK to formally leave the EU and what follows will be the implementation of whatever trade deal is finally decided upon. Quite how these developments will impact on Ireland, and specifically the border between The Republic of Ireland and Northern Irreland remains to be seen.


It is hard to believe that the shambolic administration of Irish football could get any worse or sink any lower but it actually has.

News that the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) may be facing liquidation (yes you read that correctly) has rocked the sport to its foundations. The recent revelations that the FAI is in debt to the tune of over 55 Million Euro and that this figure was effectively hidden have left the sporting body that runs the most widely played sport in the country on the brink of collapse.

The Irish Government has already indicated that it is unwilling to step in and help, at least until their is a complete change of governance. UEFA (the European ruling body for football) has also indicated that they wont be under-writing the bill.

At this moment in time the best that can be hoped for is that the FAI is placed in 'examinership' (a legal facility that will fend off any creditors seeking to liquidate the business) and that the Government will then provides some loans to keep the organisation going while the governance issues are addressed.

These events are an example of the logical conclusion of lack of effective governance, poor accounting practices, insufficient government oversight and hubris. Lots and lots of hubris.

The individuals who brought Irish Football to this place are an utter disgrace.


Ireland has a wide number of Christmas traditions that are steeped in the Gaelic and Catholic heritage of the country.


The Wren Boy Procession has been revived in recent years with parades being held on St. Stephens Day in Sandymount in Dublin and other locations. There are several legends regarding the 'wren boy'.

The Wren Boy Procession

One such tale tells of a plot in a village against some British soldiers during Penal times. The soldiers were surrounded and were about to be ambushed when a group of wrens pecked on their drums raising the alarm. The plot failed and thus the wren became known as 'The Devil's Bird'.

To commemorate this deed a procession takes place where a pole with a holly bush is carried from house to house and families dress up in old clothes and with blackened faces. In ancient times an actual wren bird would be killed and placed on top of the pole.

It is possible that the very Irish tradition of visiting houses of friends and relatives on St. Stephens Day traces its origin to these events.


A tradition that was very widespread in the 1970's but which seems to be dying out somewhat and especially in urban areas is the 'candle in the window'. Symbolically the candle represented a welcome to Joseph and Mary as they wandered in search of lodgings. The candle indicated to strangers and especially to the poor that there may be an offering of food in the house within.

The Christmas Candle in the Window

During the Penal Times in Ireland Catholic priests were forbidden to perform Mass so the candle acted as a covert signal that the occupier was a Catholic believer and that mass could be held on the premises.


Mary the mother of Jesus was especially revered in Ireland at Christmas. There are many traditions involving girls named Mary which at one time was by far the most popular female name in the country. The candle in the window was often to be lit by a girl named Mary and only extinguished by her. The removal of decorations in January were also often to be punctuated by a visit from a Mary.


The centre-piece of the Christmas holiday in Ireland is the Christmas Dinner. After the often lavish meal the kitchen table was again set and on it was placed some bread and milk and the table adorned with the welcoming candle. If Mary and Joseph, or any wandering traveller, happened by then they could avail of the hospitality.


All Christmas decorations are usually taken down and put away on 'Little Christmas' (January 6th.). It is considered very bad luck to remove the decorations and Christmas tree before this date.

The Christmas Laden Table


The widespread practice of placing a ring of Holly on a front door started in Ireland. Holly was one of the main plants that flourished at Christmas time in Ireland and gave the poorer population means with which to decorate their homes.

Christmas Holly Decoration


Modern Ireland has changed vastly from the times when these Irish Christmas traditions flourished and have often been replaced with newer more secular ones. St. Stephens Day is still regarded as a day to visit family and friends but is also a great sporting day with horse-racing, football and a myriad of other sports taking prominence.

Many workers take the entire week off between Christmas Day and New Years Day with many businesses completely closing down during this time.

Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve is also very well attended and is often adorned with a choir, the Church with a Manger and Nativity scene.

A Christmas Day swim is practised in certain parts of Ireland with perhaps the most famous being at the 'Forty Foot' tiny beach in South Dublin.


The Gaelic greeting for 'Merry Christmas' is:
'Nollaig Shona Duit'
......which is pronounced as 'null-ig hun-a dit'.

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by Pat Watson

When I awoke in the middle of the night the light was jumping on the walls.

I jumped out of bed. Mammy was missing from her bed. I ran down to the kitchen where I met Delia who had come back for me.
'The war has started,' she said.
'And the town is on fire. Put on your boots and coat and come out to look.'
Building on fire

I got dressed and we were on our way in an instant. The rest of the family were all up on the hill looking at the fire in town. That's the lights I saw jumping on the walls.

'Bring the child here to me' Mammy said, as she put her arm round me. The seven of us were all close together, watching and praying for the people in the town.

'The aeroplanes must be very high up as we cannot hear them' Mammy said.
'But I suppose they're gone now that the damage is done.'
After a while Peter came back from Lennon's shop where he had gone for news of how things were in town.
'It's not the Germans at all,' he said,
'It's the woollen mills that's on fire and they say it will burn the whole town.'
'Have they no way to quench it?'
'Only buckets of water from the river Shannon. The army is helping the town's people but they haven't got enough buckets. They're using every vessel in the town.'
'See there, the fire is the far side of the new church.'

We could see that he was right.

'Thanks be to God it's not the war,' Mammy said.
Just then we heard the bombs.
'Oh glory be to God it is the war, don't you hear the bombs, why can't we see the aeroplanes? They must be too high up - you couldn't be up to the Germans. What will happen now? Will there be conscription? They will have to leave some men to work the land. Sure Germany will overrun the country in a few days anyway. What will happen then?'

'The man on the bike that cycled from town must be mistaken' said Peter.
'I suppose they bombed the woollen mills because they were sending woollens to England for the army. What will we do with the wool now?
'It's a wonder they didn't bomb the new church,' said Mammy.
'No they're keeping that as a marker for the army barracks.'
'Why didn't they bomb the barracks now?'
'Maybe they think the Irish army will join them against England.'
'They wouldn't, would they?'
'You'd never know; it might be the safest thing to do. Germany ran through Poland and the other countries without any bother. It's not two years yet since the war started and they're here, it's probably no use fighting them. We have no tanks or aeroplanes. I'll go back to Lennon's to see if there is more news'

When he was gone we started the rosary.

Although there were no more bombs the fire burned as bright as ever with the flames going as high at the twin steeples of the new church. After a long time Peter returned with the news that it was not the Germans at all, only a fire in the woollen mills.

'But we heard the bombs' said Mammy.
'The Irish army had to blow up all the buildings round the mill in order to stop the fire. Luckily nobody was killed or injured. Everybody in the town is in there now throwing water on the rubble to stop the fire.'
'Thank God it's not the war but with the mills gone, where will all the people work?'
'If they go to England they will have to go to the war or down the mines.'
'Sure they might build the mills again.'
'That will take years. What will they do in the meantime?'
'I suppose some might get jobs building it.'
'We can only pray for them.'

This we did as the fire continued and then went back to bed.


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PARKING by Mattie Lennon

I was driving a Ford Prostitute van (it called itself an Escort, but it wasn't fooling anyone).

It was parked on in a bus-bay on Eden Quay (complete with a prominent windscreen-notice proclaiming that I was doing a job for Dublin Bus, and bearing my less-than-Copperplate signature). Car being towed.

It was not restricting traffic movement or causing congestion. And unless the wisp of last year's straw, peeping from under the rear door, distracted passers by it was not doing any harm.

While I was discussing the proposed Luas system with a bus driver I perceived that the front wheels of my van were about 300mm further from Australia than when I parked it.

A tow-wagon bearing the name Control Plus (it didn't say plus what) and a legend in slanted writing about "getting Dublin moving" was parked in front and already had a BMW in an elevated position.

It also had my little van in the.....the.....I don't know what you'd call the position. I'll have to look up Karma Sutra. Anyway they had it hooked up and ready to remove.

I sat into my vehicle to retrieve my jacket.

As I placed my ample rump in the drivers seat, which was now at a 45 degree angle, I was told by a Control Plus official: " you're not getting it back". I had no way of knowing if he meant my jacket, my virginity (which I lost in this very area of Dublin city, many decades ago), or the car.

Then said official gave me an option; "Are you getting out or are you travelling with us?"

Anything is better than walking, I always say, so I replied; "I'm travelling with you".

He didn't seem happy with my reply and rejoined with: "Are you getting out or am I calling the Guards?"

That frightened me! I began to wonder. Does this man know that I urinated on the street of Ballymore Eustace in 1962 in such a way as to "......offend modesty and cause scandal or injury to the morals of the community?"

Or would the Statute of Limitations save me from prosecution for riding an unlit bicycle in Ballinastocken before the Beatles were famous?

Anyway I told the decent man to call the Guards. He proceeded to make the call but didn't tell me why.

A brace of Gardai (one of each gender) duly arrived.

The three of us pondered on why the two of them had been summoned. And when I told them that it was the only time in 55 years that anyone saw fit to call the police for me, the smattering of Psychology in Templemore kicked in. They immediately spotted my hypersensitivity and promptly returned to their beat.

The Control-Plus wagon set off at a steady pace, with my good self in tow. When we arrived at the pound I thanked the driver for the lift and proceeded to pay £130.00.

I had arrived in my own van, the keys of which I now held in my hand. I was paying with an overworked Visa card, the scrawled signature thereon matching the one I was now writing and the larger version displayed on the windscreen. But what was I asked?.......... "Do you have any identification?" While I could have very easily been Tom Cruise playing the part of a much harassed peasant worker I managed to convince Control Plus of my identity.

A concerned official (as soon as he established that I wasn't Meryl Streep) offered me the use of a first-aid kit to tend my lacerated face. (I had by now sustained what my late father used to call "The blackguard's mark", to wit a black eye, but more about that anon).

I refused all medical aid but they gave me a leaflet which told me: ".......... Sometimes things do go wrong". And in a separate document I was informed that things went wrong 71 times in the year 2,000; in the millennium year 71 Vehicle Removal Release Fees were refunded.

So I sent a note to the Control Plus:
Co. Wicklow.

Dear Sir,

Just a few lines hoping this finds you well, as we are not too bad Thank God.

It wasn't a bad winter for fodder.

I would like to become a statistic for 2,001, please send me back my hundred-and-thirty quid.

I Remain,
Your obedient servant,
Matthew J. Lennon."

(I forgot to put; "Courtesy and civility assured at all times")

After a month I received a courteous reply from one Ms. Fiona Pidgeon who informed me ".....I regret that I an unable to identify sufficient reason to cancel the notice that was issued in respect of the above offence".

Ms Pidgeon also sent me a nice Photo for my album; a picture of my van in shackles, so that I'd know it wasn't all a dream. She also very kindly pointed out to me that: "The onus is on the driver to be fully aware of the traffic regulations and procedures when parking their vehicle". I can only assume that the 71 drivers who had their tow-away fees refunded were more aware than most.

I checked with the Companies Registration Office Dublin and found that not one of the Directors of Central Parking System of Ireland Ltd. (of which Control Plus was the trading name) had an address in Ireland. I think I blew my chances of a candlelight dinner with Ms Pidgeon when I pointed out that the last time we had a body of men in Ireland whose bosses all had "offshore" addresses, they were known as The-Black-and-Tans.

While "sometimes things do go wrong", according to Control Plus I'm not included and I wasn't a favourable statistic for 2,001.

If you make the mistake of not using Dublin Bus, you bring your car into town and are towed away here's a bit of advice: if you are writing an appealing letter to Control Plus make sure and conclude with: Courtesy and civility assured at all times.

Mattie Lennon


PHRASE: Nollaig faoi shéan is faoi mhaise duit!
PRONOUNCED: Nullig fwee yan iss fwee mway/shih dwi
MEANING: A prosperous and enjoyable Christmas!
PHRASE: Nollaig Shona duit
PRONOUNCED: nullig hunna dwit
MEANING: Happy Christmas to you
PHRASE: Athblian shona duit
PRONOUNCED: ought/bleen hunna dwit
MEANING: Happy new year to you

View the Archive of Irish Phrases here:


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by Michael Green,
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