JOHN CORBETT presents a selection of memories of life in the Irish countryside during the month of December
Advent, as most of you know, is the four week period leading up to Christmas. In the early part of the century, it resembled Lent because people fasted and denied themselves luxuries when it arrived. References to this can be found in Patrick Kavanagh’s poem entitled Advent in the following lines:
Where dry black bread and the sugarless tea
Of penance will charm back the luxury
Of a child’s soul…
Fasting, eating dry bread or drinking black tea didn’t happen locally in our childhood but Advent was regarded as an opportunity to prepare for the coming of Christmas, which was considered to be the most important period of the year.
There was less farm work to be done at this time so that gave an opportunity to parishioners to attend Mass more often.
Going to Confession was an accepted part of the penitential rites of Advent. Adults and children alike conformed to this practice. Even outside of Advent and Christmas, one was expected to go to Confession and Communion on a regular basis.
If someone was ill or infirm, the local priest would bring the sacraments to them and this continues to be the case up to the present day, even though it’s probably more difficult now due to the decline in the number of priests.
Letters, cards and parcels were sent to relatives at home and overseas in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Our postman, Mick Ryan, paid welcome visits to all the parishioners. Mick was a mild mannered man and was the soul of integrity.
Dad used to say that if someone had been killed next door, Mick would keep the information to himself. On the other hand, he was quite sociable and liked to discuss folklore, especially material that related to the weather. He was interested in sport and used to give us tips for the Galway races.
I believe he was a star goalie in the local hurling team in the twenties and thirties.
Christmas Eve was the only time that he allowed himself the luxury of delivering mail by car. On all other occasions he used his bicycle no matter how bad the weather was. He wore an oilskin overall to protect himself from rain. It was long and as well keeping him dry, it extended out over the front carrier of the bike, thereby protecting letters and parcels.