Friday, 6 January 2012

Nollaig na mBan

  "Bhí fuinneamh sa stoirm a d'éalaigh aréir, aréir Oiche Nollaig na mBan"

Some of you will be familiar with Seán ORiordáin's lines. Anocht Oiche Nollag na mBan when all us women folk come out to party.

Today is traditionally a day of rest for the hardworking womenfolk so today I've stolen a delighful account of January 6 in Corcha Dhuibhne from a fellow blogger, Felicity Hayes McCoy who blogs about Irish traditions here

Her account of life in the old days on the Corcha Dhuibhne peninsula could just as well describe life in Listowel back then.

Corca Dhuibhne rears powerful women. I have elderly neighbours here who grew up living lives that would flatten me in a week. They kept house, looked after kids and old people, milked cows, made butter, cared for calves, raised poultry, grew their own food, and cooked it in iron pots over turf fires. As children they walked barefoot to school. As adults they often went barefoot too, and worked in the fields with the men; a friend of mine remembers women with legs and ankles cut raw by the stinging wind.

Electricity and piped water didn't come to the houses in this village till the nineteen sixties. In the days before they got here, women washed everything by hand, carrying water from the spring, and boiling it on the fire. Last winter, during a week of power-cuts, I got an inkling of what that meant. And I just had to wash dishes. They washed laundry too, for households of up to fifteen people, and dried it on lines or on bushes.

Living miles from help, and often too poor to pay a doctor, women were their own healers. My neighbours remember how stinging nettles were used to treat rheumatism and people drank hot milk with onion juice for a cold. Women here still remember those cures, and they still trust in bone-setting and midwifry skills passed down from mother to daughter across generations.

Nobody here wants the hard times back. But I've often heard friends envy their mothers' and grandmothers' spiritual and emotional strength, and marvel at their resilience. They call them 'mighty women', and they love their feistiness and self-respect.

And those qualities are celebrated each year here, at Nollaig na mBan.

Nollaig na mBan means 'Womens' Christmas'. It's a traditional Irish occasion, held on January 6th, when women of all ages get together and party. They meet at home, or go out in groups, to eat, sing, drink, dance and generally hang out together. The pubs and restaurants are full, and the celebrations often spill onto the village streets. Grannies and aunties dance with little girls and teenagers, friends get up and sing songs together, pubs lay on karaoke, and houses are full of music.

As I write this, texts are flying all over the peninsula as people get ready for Nollaig na mBan. 

Like the mighty women it celebrates, it's a tradition that's still going strong.

Traditionally there are 12 days of Christmas and the 6th is the day when we take down all the decorations, drink up the remainder of the Christmas booze and hold the final party to see out the season. After the 6th. It’s back to reality for us all.

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