Christmas Eve was always’s a hive of activity as it dawned with crispy white show on the trees and on the hills surrounding Wolf Tone . Granny O’Rourke was always up early on Christmas Eve as there was always a lot to do. The fire grate would have to be cleaned out and the fire lit was always her first task as she loved to see the fire burning brightly as she went about her daily activities.
Chickens had to be killed and plucked for the Christmas dinner / Christmas puddings had to be made by Granny as these tasks had always been her tasks from when her own children were small. The plucking of these chickens would need constant hot water; so one child or another would be asked to put the water on and another older child would be asked to fetch the hot water to her in the back yard where the chick plucking would take place
Now she was helping to raise her Kavanagh Grand- children in her home- they still remained her tasks. Pat the oldest boy and Mary the middle child were send scurrying off down the back lane to find a man who would go into the local Pub to buy Guinness in a jug for the Christmas pudding . [ in this era this is exactly what some children would do!] She always had to have the best fruit for the puddings; with sultanas as large as plums and a taste of whiskey of brandy; whichever alcohol that would have been given to her by friends for Christmas. She would have had been buying all the fruits all year around; storing them in her cupboard beside the fire. Woe betides anyone of the children who dared go into her cupboard to sneak out some fruit during the year. As one can imagine this did not happen too often as all the children feared the wrath of Granny. Not that she would do anything to them; in a tone of voice that was understood by all; she would call out the individual child’s name that would have them scuttling off in retreat from the storage cupboard
All the Kavanagh children would stand around her - shoving - pushing their way into the front wanting to have the first ‘ stir ‘ of the wooden spoon in all the lovely gooie mixture. After that all the family would have a turn at stirring the pudding ‘for luck’ and an old three pence piece wrapped in paper put in – the cheese cloths /calico would be buttered with pounds of butter to stop the water getting into the pudding – tied firmly with string . The children would then of course argue about who was going to have the bowl with all the gooie mixture left sticking to the bowl.
It would then be put into a pot of hot water for boiling / with a plate and the old iron on top to hold the pudding firmly in place – having to be replenished with hot water for several hours. The aroma of these pudding boiling sweep out through the front door which was left open to allow the steam out onto the street -where we would be playing – and child like we kept running in to see if they had finished cooking – knowing of course that if and when they would be cooked; they would be hung up in the bathroom [never used as a bathroom as it had no running water !] for after Christmas day dinner.
Christy ; Bridget’s youngest son was a baker and confectioner ; so he would call on his way home from work to decorate the two cakes that were always made weeks before hand .
For those people who went to mid-night Mass on Christmas Eve ; all were smartly dressed in their best cloths [ whatever their best cloths were] rarely did the children get new cloths for Christmas. It was poverty stricken era; so very few people in the neighbourhood had new cloths either.
Bridget would remain up to light the candle for those people who would be coming home from midnight Mass to welcome them back home on Christmas Eve ; as a long standing tradition to light the way for Baby Jesus to arrive- and not least for all the soldiers of World War 1 / World War 11 who never did come home . Then it was off to bed; excited about the Christmas day dawning and what Santa Claus may have brought for us.. These were her traditions and I have tried with some measure of success to keep them flowing in my family.
Mary Thorpe is the author of the new book, "That's Just How It Was."