Remembering Christmas on Scattery Island…
Christmas will be very different this year – for everyone. It’s feels like an appropriate year to look back and remember that Christmas wasn’t always about frenzied shopping for gifts, the over indulgent treats and ‘Christmas FM’ blasting out festive tune on the radio as we race around doing all those last little jobs in preparation…
Christmas on Scattery Island in years gone by, was a far cry from the glitter and lights of the Christmas we know today. There were no Christmas trees laden with glittering lights and baubles, bulging with perfectly wrapped presents. On Christmas day, tables were not laden with readymade treats and bins were certainly not full of brightly coloured packaging.
The islanders decorated their homes with modest paper decorations carefully preserved from year to year and in the absence of red berried holly, they decorated the windows with lush dark green trailing ivy, that the children harvested from the walls of the old Cathedral on the Island. Christmas was a time of simple celebration, of wholesome home cooking and modest gifts, gently placed in a stocking by the fireplace on Christmas Eve.
Some of my favourite stories from dad about life on Scattery Island, are about Christmases past and how he remembered celebrations. The much loved Christmas pudding was cooked weeks in advance of Christmas, wrapped in a sheet and hung from the roof in his parents’ bedroom. The hanging process was not to improve the taste, but instead to keep it away from little fingers! These little fingers had in the past, been known to carve very slim slices off the pudding in the weeks before Christmas, in the hopes it wouldn’t be noticed! Dad and his siblings still managed to steal some away, but come Christmas day, there was still plenty to be enjoyed.
The islanders prepared for Christmas with a trip to the mainland to purchase supplies, amongst them, the special ‘Christmas candles’. These tall candles were lit over four nights during the Christmas holidays, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and Little Christmas, also know as Old Christmas or Women’s Little Christmas on January 6th, signifying the end of Christmas. These candles were lit, and burned through the night and by the end of Christmas had burned down to the last. In those days, there was a tradition that the oldest, or the youngest in the house was responsible to light the Christmas candles each night. In my father’s home, as the youngest, the responsibility was given to him, and he remembers it well.”
Christmas Mass was in St. Senan’s Church in Kilrush. The children were dressed in their Sunday best and the families would set off in the currachs to row the 2 kms to the mainland for Mass. On arrival to Cappagh village, they’d walk the 1km into the town for the annual Christmas mass. By the time the returned to the island, everyone was well ready for the Christmas Dinner!
St. Stephen’s Day was a favourite for children on the Island and like many other places across the country, the children would go on ‘The Wren’. Hunt the Wren Day or Lá an Dreoilín in Irish, dates back many years across the nation and was very much part of Christmas on Scattery Island. The children would call to houses across the Island looking for a penny for the wren. Of course, these days then pennies have been replaced by notes!
Scattery Island may now be uninhabited, but these wonderful old stories live on with the past residents as they share their memories of life on the island. This year, as we experience a very different Christmas, lets us all remember times past. Lets take the time to ask our parents and grandparents about the Christmas traditions that they remember, and celebrate the gift of time and story.
From all of us here at Scattery Island Tours, we wish you a safe and peaceful Christmas.