Date Published: 24-Dec-2009
Tradition is a vital part of our Irish Christmas, with cribs, candles in the window, midnight Mass, cake, pudding, and of course Santa Claus being a core part of the annual celebrations. But other countries where Christianity is also the norm – such as Poland and Uganda – have other traditions, which are equally important to them, and members of Ireland’s immigrant community have brought those to Ireland with them. Then there are other people, for whom December 25 is just another day – people who follow the Muslim faith being among them.
Judy Murphy spoke to three Irish residents who tell what Christmas means to them.
MIRIAM Birungi Omoro, from Uganda will be spending her second Christmas in Ireland this year. Currently living in the Eglinton Hotel in Salthill, she is seeking asylum from Uganda where a bitter civil war has torn the northern part of that country apart.
Miriam who was reared as a member of the Church of Uganda, now worships in the Church of Ireland and has recently joined St Nicholas’s choir, where she is a welcome addition given the wonderful singing traditions of her own country.
As in Ireland, Christmas in Uganda was an occasion for families to gather, says Miriam who was reared in a rural part of West Uganda, where her father had a banana and coffee plantation, a eucalyptus forest and also ran a small shop.
For those people living in the cities, who had to travel home for Christmas, the journey would often begin two weeks before the feast day for women and children, with the heads of the family arriving home later, she recalls.
Some gatherings featured extended families, especially in the case of polygamous husbands – two of Miriam’s maternal uncles were polygamous and had two wives each. Mostly it was Muslims who were polygamous, but sometimes Christians were, too, although it breached church teaching.
For family gatherings, farmers would kill a goat and chickens, and if there were large families, cows or sheep. Those families who had their homesteads around the village, would spend Christmas Day at home and the following days visiting aunts and uncles having “lunch here and lunch there”.
Miriam’s family were relatively prosperous, living in a cement house with a corrugated roof and it was traditional for neighbours to visit their house after service on Christmas Day.
On Christmas Eve carols were a big tradition and sometimes “you would be woken up by people outside, with lanterns and African candles, singing carols”. African candles consisted of a small tin, with a cloth pulled through, onto which paraffin was poured. This was lit and the paraffin kept the flame alive.
There was no Santa in Miriam’s childhood years, although when they went away to boarding school, they heard of his existence. But there were gifts.
“My father would give us presents according to how we performed in class, to encourage us to do better.”
These were always books or clothes, never toys. In her youth there were no decorations or cards, although both became reasonably common subsequently.
Christmas Day saw people getting up at daybreak and Miriam has happy memories of breakfasts with bread, butter, jam, queen cakes and tea. Before going to church, the dinner would be prepared in the banana plantation and left in the kitchen for later.
There were local, parish and main churches in their community, and at Christmas all worshippers would go to the main church. This was a half an hour from Miriam’s house, but some people had to walk for hours to get there and one of the best things about Christmas was meeting the many people she hadn’t seen for ages.
Since moving to Ireland, following a difficult time in her life, Miriam has become involved in local charity groups, including Cope and various women’s groups. She has also been involved in a project, supported by the Dublin-based Akidwa group which published a book of children’s stories from Africa entitled Horses and Tortoises.
Since that was published, Miriam has been involved in storytelling workshops, and gave one to teachers during the Baboró Festival for children. She is doing her best to integrate and hopes she will get asylum here. But for the moment, her life is not easy. On Friday, Miriam will attend service at St Nicholas’ Church, and after that, she will return to the Eglinton Hotel where she will spend Christmas Day in an environment as far away from her childhood as it would be possible to imagine.
- From fasting to feasting is the Polish tradition
- We don’t celebrate but we are part of the community so people visit friends
The way we were – Protecting archives of our past
People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.
Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.
She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.
Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.
Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.
When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.
Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.
And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.
All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.
“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”
That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.
For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here
Macnas for shows in China and Australia
Date Published: 24-Jan-2013
Community Theatre Group Macnas has a busy couple of months ahead as company members prepare for performances in China in February and Australia in March.
They will premiere Chaosmos, a newly devised piece at the Chaoyang International Spring Carnival in Beijing from February 10-15 while their Boy Explorer heads to the WOMAdelaide festival in Australia from March 7-11.
Initiated in 2002, the Chaoyang International Spring Carnival is a highly anticipated event taking place over the Chinese New Year Holiday period with an attendance of more than 400,000 visitors. This year Ireland has been awarded ‘Country of Honour’ by the Festival and with the support of the Department of Foreign Affairs Macnas have been invited to showcase Irish Street Theatre and celebrate Chinese New Year in an uniquely Macnas way.
Choasmos is an exciting, ethereal performance with vivid and stunning costumes, bespoke imagery, stilting beasts, masked performers, musicians, suitcases, lotions, potions, a music box and a bag of curiosities, according to General Manager of Macnas, Sharon O’Grady.
Meanwhile, the well-travelled Boy Explorer, who began a Quest for Brilliant Ideas in Ireland last year, will continue his journey Down Under with an appearance at Peter Gabriel’s International Music and Arts Festival, WOMADelaide, in South Australia. The Boy will rub shoulders with music legend Jimmy Cliff as well as some of the world’s leading music performers and over 15,000 visitors each day.
Although he tested his sea legs on a trip to Scoil Ronáin on Inis Mór in December, this is the Boy Explorer’s first time going overseas and casting his net further afield.
It’s a very exciting time for the company, with so much new work in the offing and many requests to present at home and abroad. “This will be one of the most exciting years in the long history of the company”, says Sharon.
In the early years of Macnas, the company toured extensively at home and abroad, and most famously supported U2 on their international Zoorapa tour. However in subsequent years, there were problems in the company, largely due to the lack of a permanent Artistic Director.
Since city woman Noeline Kavanagh took over that role nearly five years ago, Macnas has entered a new era of creativity and its invitations to China and Australia, following successful outings to festivals in the UK in 2012, reflect that.
London snow the perfect preparation says Gabriels camp
Date Published: 30-Jan-2013
Killimordaly manager Tom Monaghan agreed that the deteriorating conditions in the closing stages of his side’s All-Ireland intermediate club semi-final defeat to London champions St Gabriel’s made the outcome of the championship tie in Birr a lottery.
Highlighting it was a gloomy end to their campaign, especially given all the hard work they had put in over the winter, Monaghan – a former St Gabriel’s player himself – added: “It is disappointing. In fairness to our lads, they showed great character and they kept going at Gabriels and they never surrendered.
“Even when we went down a man in the opening minutes of the second half, we coped well with it and came back and finished out to get extra-time. I thought we might have an advantage when it went to extra-time but then we conceded the [second Gabriel’s] goal from a free in the second period of extra-time and that was it.”
Monaghan believed the unfortunate sending off of Killimordaly’s Niall Earls for a second bookable early in the second half had an adverse effect as his 14-man side had to work even harder in energy sapping conditions to remain in touch.
“When you lose a man on a day like today, and the conditions that were in it, an extra man was always going to be a huge advantage. I think you are always going to have to give a player the benefit of the doubt on a day like this because conditions didn’t lend to good hurling. Unfortunately, though, that didn’t happen,” he concluded.
Meanwhile, most Londoners may have bemoaned the Arctic temperatures that almost brought their nation’s capital – and country – to a standstill last week but, as it transpired, the St Gabriel’s camp said it proved to be the perfect training environment ahead of their All-Ireland intermediate club semi-final win over Killimordaly.
Having had to train in snow and sub-zero conditions was not conducive to good hurling but, in saying that, both Gabriel’s manager Tommy Duane and team captain Aidan Ryan believed it helped to steel the London champions for similar weather conditions – with a little thunder and lightning thrown in – during last Sunday’s epic clash.
Given Irish people just love to talk about the weather, it was not a surprise it would become the hot topic of discussion throughout the afternoon in Birr. “You know, we have trained in all kinds of conditions and the last couple of weeks we have been training in snow,” said captain and Craughwell native Ryan.
“There were some awful days there in Northwick Park where John Kearney from Oranmore came over and trained us. You know, those conditions were worse than what we dealt with today. So, we were ready.”
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.