The hens, the pigs and everything else used to have the run of the whole village. What we used to have on Christmas Eve was fish, potatoes and milk. On Christmas Day itself there’d be big curranty cakes made by my mother. Once a year we would see the currants. She would make the cakes and bake them in the pot oven. She would cut it up on the table and we would have grand little jars of jam as well.
Every house would be churning cream for the butter and the buttermilk.
On Christmas day we would go to Mass. We had a mile of the road to go to get to it. You would have to go to Confession beforehand and at that time you would have to fast from midnight as well. You would not be allowed to eat any breakfast and even the water you washed your face with you would not want it to get into your mouth.
Now I have to tell you that there was very little money around in those days. I had five brothers at home with me and none of them could get a day’s work. There was no work going on.. Any stray little job that might come along there would be sixty on the look-out for it, and then maybe it wouldn’t last more than a month.
When we were young we would roam along the roads, dancing and singing songs. People would go and visit each other. They would be playing cards. My father, may God be good to him, used to make up packs of straw to put up against the doors when they were closed to keep out the cold blasts of wind. We used to have a lot of fun twisting the straw for these packs.
Everyone used to have cows, pigs, sheep, hens and ducks. So at Christmas they would kill two hens or a goose or maybe a couple of ducks. These would then be placed in a large pot to be boiled. Oatmeal and onions would be added to make soup.
In those days the potatoes would be poured out into a shallow basket, poured out, and everyone would be gathered around that basket. They would be eating and drinking and that’s how Christmas would be spent, without fighting or rancour.
There would be lots of poitín about as well but the guards were very strict about it. One year they brought in some barrels of wash and all the old timers around the place went blind drunk on the stuff. They had some of it in the barracks: they knew the guards very well. But if they did, there was no fighting or quarrelling, no, they all drank away just contentedly…