Shortly before he died, in 2001, the legendary Kerry storyteller Eamon Kelly described his memories of Christmas in Sliabh Luachra in the 1920s. He did so in an interview with author, Colm Keane.
Christmas time for us, when we were small, was the greatest time of all the year. We used to look forward to it so much.
In the 1920s, the place was really dark in the countryside. There was no electricity at that time. But when Christmas came, it was a pool of light in the middle of the darkness.
A candle would be put in every single window of the house. My father used to prepare those candles and put them in the windows. The honour of lighting them was given to the youngest in the family.
My mother used to say that the lights were put in the windows to show the way to St. Joseph and Mary if they were walking outside.
However, my father, who wasn’t as good a believer as my mother, used to say that if the blessed couple were walking in our part of the country, they’d have strayed a good bit from the road to Bethlehem!
When the candles would be lighting, oh, there would be such excitement for us, running from room to room, seeing all the new light everywhere! We’d go out into the yard and see what effect it was having from the outside.
Then we’d look up along the countryside and see all the lights coming on in all the houses across the darkness and up to the foot of the hills.
There would be little bunches of lights here and there, until the earth below would be a reflection of the starry heavens above with all the little winking lights.
Then there’d be the letters and presents from America.
We had aunts in America and we used to get presents from them. There would be dollars arriving at that particular time. You’d get letters with dollars inside.
They used to say about one unfeeling person that he’d open the envelope and shake it, and if dollars didn’t fall out of it he wouldn’t read the letter at all!
The postman used to come on Christmas Day and bring those letters.