A Childhood Christmas

One side of the potato‑pits was white with frost—
How wonderful that was, how wonderful!
And when we put our ears to the paling‑post
The music that came out was magical.

The light between the ricks of hay and straw
Was a hole in Heaven’s gable. An apple tree
With its December‑glinting fruit we saw —
O you, Eve, were the world that tempted me

To eat the knowledge that grew in clay
And death the germ within it! Now and then
I can remember something of the gay
Garden that was childhood’s. Again

The tracks of cattle to a drinking‑place,
A green stone lying sideways in a ditch
Or any common sight the transfigured face
Of a beauty that the world did not touch.

My father played the melodeon
Outside at our gate;
There were stars in the morning east
And they danced to his music.

Across the wild bogs his melodeon called
To Lennons and Callans.
As I pulled on my trousers in a hurry
I knew some strange thing had happened.

Outside the cow‑house my mother
Made the music of milking;
The light of her stable‑lamp was a star
And the frost of Bethlehem made it twinkle.

A water‑hen screeched in the bog,
Mass‑going feet
Crunched the wafer‑ice on the pot‑holes,
Somebody wistfully twisted the bellows wheel.

My child poet picked out the letters
On the grey stone,
In silver the wonder of a Christmas townland,
The winking glitter of a frosty dawn.

Cassiopeia was over
Cassidy’s hanging hill,
I looked and three whin bushes rode across
The horizon — The Three Wise Kings.

An old man passing said:
“Can’t he make it talk” —
The melodeon. I hid in the doorway
And tightened the belt of my box‑pleated coat.

I nicked six nicks on the door’post
With my penknife’s big blade—
There was a little one for cutting tobacco,
And I was six Christmases of age.

My father played the melodeon,
My mother milked the cows,
And I had a prayer like a white rose pinned
On the Virgin Mary’s blouse.


Note : 'whin' = ‘gorse’ or ‘furze’.


Patrick Kavanagh
(1904 – 1967)


The author of this most quoted of Christmas poems from Ireland was born in County Monaghan (one of the three counties of Ulster now in the Irish Republic) in 1904 and lived there as a farmer, a cobbler and a poet until he moved to Dublin in 1939. He died in 1967.

His best-known books are The Ploughman (1936), The Green Fool (1938), The Great Hunger (1942) and a novel, Tarry Flynn (1948).

There is a splendidly lifelike statue of him seated on a bench on the bank of the Grand Canal in Dublin of which at least one visitor has unwittingly begged its pardon!

It is said that one day he and his fellow‑writer, Brendan Behan, went out for a drink in Dublin. Eventually they were forced to buy from an ‘off‑licence’ and go off to drink in a room somewhere because one or the other of the rollicking pair had been banned from every pub they tried!


Christmas Box

Home