A Cashel Christmas in the 1920s and 30s

This snippet from Tom Wood’s family memoirs, ‘27 Main Street’ tells us what it was like at this time of year in Cashel, back in the 1920s and 30s...

This snippet from Tom Wood’s family memoirs, ‘27 Main Street’ tells us what it was like at this time of year in Cashel, back in the 1920s and 30s...

As children and teenagers the Woods did their best to uphold God’s Commandments, warnings about drink, cigarettes, and then there were many wonderful Christmases, its Catholic spirit capable of shining through given any sort of encouragement despite trade upheavels and economic depressions. For days before, they busily engaged in collecting holly, making festoons and decorating, the house resounding to hammer blows and the jingle of tools, of plane and chisel, and they only easing off at intervals to remove the perspiration, with everything possible being done to enjoy the nice things of the season. It was wonderful how it gave a new appearance to the place, making it all the more enjoyable on account of the painstaking preparations.

That week always meant extra work for Mam, as if it were really possible for her to do more work than she ordinarily accomplished all year round. With her capable management, good things pouring in from kind friends, the kitchen table well-stocked, Christmas Day and night were as good as the best in Cashel and better than in a great many homes that had the means but not the Christmas gift of sharing. And then, not forgetting the trouble taken to clean, tidy and polish, leaving everything as spick and span as formerly.

Christmas evening without Benediction was a boon especially for the altar boys, but last mass was special when William P Ryan of the hotel sang, ‘Adeste Fideles’ and Ernie Joiner of London sang ‘Bless this House’. Bills wish, though never realised, was that the soloists would be reversed, Ernie singing ‘Adeste’.

The drawing room, not always a room for everyday use, but rather a space where guests would withdraw to after dinner and children could occasionally be seen but not heard, had, however, provided everything necessary for a reasonable dwelling with comforting memories of all the family retiring to it on Christmas evening, each one brimful of merriment by the blazing fire, its dancing flames projecting interesting patterns across the walls, and the weather usually of such a kind as to make Dad say, if he put his nose to the window, ‘Faith we are better of here than there’. With games continuing throughout the evening, the air was sweetened by Jack’s singing of ‘Follow me up to Carlow’, Bill himself rendering ‘Jim the Carter Lad’, while the twins sang their Irish songs to the applause of Mam and Dad. Tom and Paddy had many a one up their sleeve, Dick would not let you down and neither would Jim if he got a chair strong enough to hold him up. Sometimes Mam contributed and, if given the note, Dad would try and produce ‘Dowdy de Dowdy Dow’. Then with the spreece just about warm in the grate, thanking Jesus for the blessings sent through His Blessed Mother, and after much pleading, eyelids closing, the clock well past midnight and two fine windows still radiating the warm glow of the gas lamp to the street below, they grudgingly crawled to bed.

Standing outside Burke’s, the well- stocked newsagents and fancy goods shop, Dick recalled that, come Christmas, it was special.

I once spent unending time gazing through this window admiring a little engine, a steam-engine to be precise, and wondering if the purchase price of one shilling and sixpence could ever be secured. That very same toy, albeit a different colour, took pride of place in Jim Dwyer Longpockets shop on Friar Street corner, allowing my already vivid imagination run riot on what might be, if only. Plucking up the courage I stepped inside to take a closer look. “And who might you be now”, asked Maggie, his wife. “Dickey Wood from Main Street”, I answered nervously, “and I’m here to see that steam-engine.”

Shuffling around a few boxes, she stood on a crate and, reaching for the engine, eagerly responded with enterprise, “And you came all the way up here, up to the top of Main Street. You’re a great fellow, so I’ll give it to you for three shillings”.

Instantaneously I was out the door, running helter-skelter in the full knowledge that Burke’s was my only bet. But could I ever reach that magical sum, one shilling and six pence?

Well, to cut a long story short, a few visits to Englishe’s window and Mrs gave me the beck to come in and share her goodwill. A call to Biddy Leahy’s mother in Grady’s Lane and the target was in sight and with two days to go, one and tuppence in my pocket, the steam-engine still in position, I besought Mam to see me out. Her soft heart saw the gleam in my eye and I scored, the four pence coming from that bag of treasure in the shop drawer.

Dick vividly remembered one Christmas Eve, when, late in the day, Mam anxiously wondered if Mickey Ryan had forgotten their Christmas box and reluctantly sent him over to the pub and general grocers to inquire. Having first explained that the town traders found the custom too expensive, Mickey softened his heart, giving him a big Going and Smiths barmbrack wrapped in brown paper. With the excitement of it all, he was back in the kitchen before leaving the shop, barmbrack being one of the highlights of Christmas in those days.