By Fintan Quigley
We grew up in a small rural Irish town, not one-horse, but just about big enough for two.
One memorable Christmas Eve, after Mam was satisfied that she had enough supplies to see her through to Stephen’s Day, Dad mumbled that he was heading down for a couple of “after-tea pints” and that he wouldn’t stay long.
“Don’t forget we’re going to Midnight Mass,” she called after him. He waved a hand of acknowledgement, before disappearing down the street.
For the next few hours myself and my brother helped my mother out in the kitchen. I was in charge of the stuffing, the sting of the onions making my eyes weep, while my brother made an attempt at making a trifle.
Shortly before ten, I saw my mother cast an agitated eye towards the clock. “You’d better run down to Ryan’s and get him,” she said.
I found my father at the bar, telling jokes and letting anyone who would listen know why such a horse was a sure thing in the King George. I told him we had better be off, that we had a Mass to attend.
He slouched along the road, using me as a support every now and then, and told me what a great son I was, and how brilliant my brother was too.
He also told me how lucky he was to have such a wonderful and understanding wife – I hoped she would still be as understanding when we got home. She took one look at him when we reached the door, and laughed, “Sure, Christmas comes but once a year.”
We found a pew towards the back of the church; Midnight Mass always filled up early. Fr. Kelly came out and accompanied by the local choir, the Christmas celebration began. It was a heartlifting experience.
Sitting there listening to the enchanting hymns and the story of the birth of Christ, I felt a warm glow inside.
However, it was when they sang the most heavenly version of Silent Night I had ever heard, that my father started to add his own noises to proceedings.
By the time they got to the third verse he was snoring like a lion. All around him people were laughing, and my mother, God bless her, was mortified. I gave him a few shakes and he came to.
That was over twenty years ago. I am fully grown now, and have children of my own. I still make it home to see the folks on Christmas Eve. I even join my dad and brother for a pint or two before Midnight Mass.
Though I have yet to fall asleep during the service. And whatever my mother said to father in the early hours of that memorable Christmas morning, he has never had a snooze in The Lord’s house since.