History · Politics

How I’m spending Easter 2016 – you never know where life will take you!

To explain firstly for those of you who don’t know, I live in Ireland and Easter 2016 is a huge event here as it marks the centenary of the Easter Rising in 1916. I won’t go into all the debates, discussions and arguments here as to whether or not the Rising was a good thing, if you want to read that there are millions of words written on that very subject. Irrespective of anyone’s opinion on the Easter Rising it is irrefutable that it set in train the long, painful and bloody list of events that led, eventually, to the creation of the Irish Free State. Again, opinions on the rights or wrongs of that are not what I am considering here today.

What I’m remembering today is a conversation I had over 20 years ago in Liverpool when I was an undergraduate. It was in the student common room of the Institute of Irish Studies at Liverpool University and somehow we found ourselves taking about the Easter Rising. I vividly remember saying that whatever else might be going on, I fully intended to spend Easter 2016 in Dublin, nowhere else.

Well today is Easter Sunday and I’m not in Dublin. Instead I’m ensconced on the sofa in our living room in Oldcastle, Co. Meath with the television on – telly NEVER goes on here this early in the mornings (9.45am) unless there is a major event happening. RTE (our state broadcaster) is giving full coverage of today’s State Commemoration. So am I disappointed not to be in Dublin this weekend? No, not really. Oh, I imagine the atmosphere in Dublin today and tomorrow will be great and it would be great to be there but with a wheelchair using child, hordes and hordes of people and a LUAS strike, its not the most appealing combination!

But I’m marking Easter 2016 in my own way. Yesterday I gave a paper on ‘Women of the Rebellion and the War of Independence’ at a seminar in Trim. Today is a day to follow it on the telly (I’ll see more anyway!!) and tomorrow, Easter Monday (the day the Rising actually started) I feel very honoured to have been formally invited by the government to attend the official State Commemoration at Ashbourne in Co. Meath, site of the Battle of Ashbourne. Over twenty years ago I never imagined I’d be living in Ireland and not only watching the commemorations but contributing to them in a small way.

You never know where life will take you!

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Bits and Bobs · History · Politics

RTE’s Rebellion – final thoughts

The first big TV programme of RTE’s 1916 commemorations finished on Sunday night. I watched all five episodes with decreasing enjoyment as the weeks went on. So here’s my final thoughts. It wasn’t complete garbage, but it wasn’t great either.

My main problems with it:

* the inaccuracies throughout – I accept that a lot of viewers would not have been aware of them but as the whole drama was about one of the major episodes in Ireland’s history I don’t think it was unreasonable to expect that the details could have been sharper.

* the whole storyline with the character of May was appallingly lame and hackneyed and added nothing to the drama, if anything it took from it.

* while I felt the acting overall was good, there were some rather weak portrayals and in particular I felt Camille O’Sullivan’s portrayal (betrayal??) of Countess Markievicz was little short of hammy.

* the character of Lizzie – while generally I liked her – was just a bit too gushy and times and no way would she have spent days (weeks?) in an armed rebellion looking like a glammed up Virgin Mary in that coat and dress. (Although I did LOVE the coat)

I think RTE overhyped it and hence expectations were high. It does seem to have inspired some viewers who wouldn’t know much about the personalities involved to go away and read up on it which is most definitely a good thing. Or maybe they said that just to shut me up from saying “But the Countess wasn’t like that!!” !!!

Feminism · General Election 2016 · History · Parenting · Politics · Special Needs

#GE2016 part one: what kind of voter am I?

Here in the Republic of Ireland we have a general election looming. It was finally declared this morning and will take place on Friday February 26th. Consequently I will be glued to the TV on Sat 27th, Sun 28th and quite possibly Mon 29th depending on how long it takes for all the counts to be concluded and the results finally known. (For readers unfamiliar with our system, we have multi seat constituencies and vote by proportional representation so it can take awhile. For political nerds like me that’s part of the fun.)

Along with the various candidates clamouring for our attention and promising us the sun, the moon and the stars, or least promising that they aren’t as bad as the other lot, a number of organisations have campaigns running either asking candidates to make various pledges or asking voters to highlight the issues that matter to them. Reading through some of these made me think about the issues that will decide how I use my vote this month. I WILL use my vote – I have voted in every election I have been eligible to vote in – but as yet, I am uncertain which way it will go.

In an attempt to tease out some of my thinking, I’m going to look at some of the issues/ideas/ways in which my vote might be influenced. A lot of psephologists and political analysts talk about there being certain ‘types’ of vote – so what kind of voter am I?

I’m a woman. I’ve often wondered if there really IS such a thing as ‘the woman’s vote’. It implies that women will vote the same way or at least be influenced by the same issues when deciding how to vote. I don’t know if that has ever been true. The National Women’s Council of Ireland have asked candidates to sign up to their Breakthrough Manifesto for Women, all of which I agree with. At time of writing none of the candidates declared for my constituency of Meath West have signed up for this. I know women who will not agree with all of the points in this manifesto, but we are all women voters – so is there really a ‘women’s vote’? Should a woman vote for a candidate simply because she is a woman? No – there are some women candidates who, if they were running in my constituency, I would not give any vote to, because their policies and beliefs are so far removed from mine that they would not be representing me.

I have a child with special needs, and am her carer. This will be one of the biggest deciding factors for me when using my vote. I wholeheartedly support the Disable Inequality campaign to end discrimination for people living with a disability. In case you think such discrimination does not exist, ask yourself do people with disabilities have the same access to education, training and employment as everyone else? (The answer is no by the way). Ask yourself, do people with disabilities struggle financially? (That’s a yes – the burden of paying for extra heating, housing aids and transport means many families with a member with a disability are struggling) This week when the country has been shocked by the terrible story of alleged abuse of children and adults with intellectual disabilities, Inclusion Ireland has released its manifesto for the election. It makes sobering reading.

I’m middle aged (and proud of it! Think of the alternative!) – is there a particular voting trend or voting appeal that should apply to me? I can’t think of one. Does being 44 (nearly 45) mean I think and hence vote a particular way?

I live in rural Ireland, on the edge of a small town with a rural hinterland. I am not originally from rural Ireland but have chosen to settle and raise our daughter here. That surely implies a commitment to rural Ireland, I could have just as easily chosen to live in a large town or city. I have no connection to farming, I don’t follow GAA (ok I like to see Meath win), I’m tired of hearing about ‘blow-ins’ who don’t understand the community they live in. Surely a community is not something set in aspic, surely it changes and adapts to those who live in it whether or not their families have lived there for generations. Those who wish to represent rural communities would do well to remember that these communities are not homogenous. Yes, many of the so-called rural issues are important to me – better public transport, the effects of the economic downturn and how long it is taking to see the promised upturn in some areas, employment, migration etc. But these are not the only things that will determine how my vote is used.

I want full equality in education, and support the campaign by Education Equality for the ending of all religious discrimination in State-funded schools. I would be delighted if the Education Equality campaign would also look at the issue of special schools and religious ethos.

To sum up then, I’m a middle aged woman living in rural Ireland with a child with special needs. I want to see full equality in our education system, an end to the inhumane system of direct provision and the repeal of the 8th Amendment. I care about where our food comes from and what we are doing to our planet. I’m not motivated by the acquisition of wealth and am passionate about making our history and heritage something that can be appreciated and cherished by all. What kind of voter am I then? I suppose what I’m trying to say here is that voters don’t fit into easy little boxes for canvassers and pollsters to tick off. We are more complex and have a range of issues that will affect our votes.

So, candidates of Meath West, what can you do to win my vote? You have 24 days including today and polling day. It’s over to you!

2016 Reading Challenge · Books

2016 Reading challenge – book two

February has rolled around and its blowing a gale out there this morning. My second book as part of the Modern Mrs Darcy reading challenge is one chosen for me by my husband. He has selected Dr. Swee Chai Ang’s From Beirut to Jerusalem, the account of an orthopaedic surgeon who volunteered to help civilians in Beirut in the early 1980’s. From Beirut to Jerusalem He chose this because “it was the first book I read about Lebanon after serving there and it started me reading more and more about the Middle East.” I should explain that my husband did two tours of duty with UNIFIL while a member of the Irish Defence Forces and his time there made a lasting impression on him.

Its non fiction, history, politics, a combination which I probably read more frequently than anything else, but I have never read anything about Lebanon or the wider Middle East conflict. So let’s see what I think of this one. Happy reading!

History · Politics

RTE’s Rebellion – initial thoughts

I’ve just watched the first episode of RTE’s Rebellion series and overall I enjoyed it. My main thoughts:

Great to see women characters to the fore, I wonder if the Elizabeth character is a composite of Helena Molony and Countess Markievicz?? I’m not sure about the storyline with May – the idea that she took the document from Dublin Castle because she had been thrown over by her married lover. I’m not really buying that. The Frances character – I was delighted to see her wearing a Cumann na mBan brooch 🙂 – I started off liking her portrayal, but not sure how they will develop her. The moment when she said to Pearse (incidentally I thought the actor resembled Willie rather than PH) that she was happy to play her part and he then dismissed her was good to see. Not good that it happened but good to have that shown early on. Let’s see how that develops.

Very good that the different groups involved are being flagged up – Irish Citizen Army, Volunteers, hints of the IRB (although I don’t think they were named – I might have missed it) – I know for those of us who have read and studied this period, such highlighting isn’t needed, but for people who didn’t know the rebels’ backgrounds, it was probably useful. Making the main real-life protagonists into background characters works well I think, I see some people commenting on social media that they wanted to see more of the Countess or more of Connolly, well I like the idea of focusing on those who are lesser known. Good to see some slight nods to social history as well, mentions of separation money etc.

It is a dramatisation not a documentary and so can take licence with some things that an account claiming to be strictly factual cannot. I will continue to watch it because even though I know how the story ends, I want to see how they show it. Verdict on episode 1 – good, generally well acted, mostly looks good (Dublin could do with being so clean today!), not perfect, but main thing is its not one dimensional.

Bits and Bobs · Books

A space of one’s own – soon to be a room

Like many other women I know, I have a place in our house where a lot of my work gets done. I’m not talking about housework or cooking, no rather the researching, reading, campaigning, blogging, organising, writing, tiny bit of crafting and big pinch of staring out of the window daydreaming that makes up my average working day.

My workplace – unsurprisingly – is my kitchen table. That will largely change at some point in the next few months when the office that my lovely husband is building for me is finished. He has done all of it by himself and is now at the point of roofing. I am getting rather excited by it now. But back to my kitchen table. Its nothing unusual or special, a maple (I think) table, 4ft by 2ft. Not terribly big but then neither is our kitchen.

This table is where we eat breakfast – which apart from weekends is a staggered affair, DH and DD have theirs at 6.45 and 7.20 respectively, and then I sit down to mine in perfect peace at 8.15 when they’ve gone. Its where DH and I generally sit with a cuppa when he gets in from work and chew over our day. Its where DD likes to play her toy piano – loudly. Its where we generally eat dinner, not always, And for me its where I spend a sizeable chunk of my weekdays.

I’m the first to admit I’m not the tidiest person in the world and while by and large I keep the house clean, it often resembles an explosion in a paper mill with wool, needles and pens thrown in for good measure. Most mornings my beloved husband has to move newspapers, books and notepads of mine before he can sit down with his breakfast. Is it any wonder he suggested I might like a dedicated office space?? Once everyone else has left for the day I generally give the kitchen a quick tidy up and going over and that includes ‘sorting’ out everything that has ‘somehow’ ended up on the table over the last 24 hours.

Our little girl has been off school the last couple of days with a bit of a dose so I’ve been largely confined to barracks and have spent a lot of that time curled up with her on a sofa. Today thankfully she seems to be on the mend and so I’m back at the table a bit. It occurred to me earlier that a glance at our kitchen table on any given day would give a good indication of what I’ve been up to or where my mind is. So here’s how it looks right now:
Kitchen table

What do we have? The laptop I’m writing this blog post on, the last two days newspapers, the ever present cuppa, my sewing box, my knitting bag, Roy Foster’s Vivid Faces, a notebook and my hairbrush. I think the presence of the latter is thanks to my daughter who likes to play with hairbrushes.  So, what do you deduce from that?  I finished knitting a wee hat earlier, I am a news junkie, some days I practically mainline tea, and I love history (and I’ve cooked up an interesting research project too but more about that another day).  Just an average day for me.  Other days there might be piles of posters to be distributed, or forms to be filled in but the basics would be much the same.

I am rather attached to my little workspace, even if I do have to clear it all off so we can have dinner.  But I’m REALLY looking forward to my new office where I can finally use the big desk (about 6ft by 3ft) that came out of a solicitor’s office in Liverpool many moons ago and has languished in our storage space for 12 years.  I can organise everything how I want it and I will know exactly what is in each pile and what I will do with.  I can finally get the two filing cabinets, two small desks, two printers and three bookshelves out of our daughter’s room and set up my work space to suit myself.  And you know the best bit of all?  I won’t have to clear it away at the end of the day!!!

Books

What I’ve been reading lately – April 2015

I love books as some of you will know, and I read a lot. There’s always at least two books of mine on the go in this house. A friend asked me recently if I’d read anything lately that I would recommend, so I suggested a few things I’d enjoyed and thought she might like. That got me thinking about how much I actually do read, I don’t know if there’s any kind of average of number of books read in a month but it made me sit and jot down what books I’d read most recently. And that naturally led to a blog post. Now this may or may not become a regular feature here but here’s the books I read in April and what I thought of them.

Women of the Irish RevolutionLiz Gillis Women of the Irish Revolution This is a photographic history of many of the women who  took part in various ways in the revolutionary period in Ireland, roughly from 1913-1923. Its a superb book, with so many photographs I have never seen before. Gillis explores each woman’s role and activities and also gives a synopsis of what they did afterwards, much of which I had no idea of. It is an easy to read, beautifully presented book which I would recommend as a good starting point for anyone interested in this period and most especially in women’s political and revolutionary activities.

Secret Diary of a Demented HousewifeNiamh Greene Secret Diary of a Demented Housewife I had never heard of Niamh Greene but saw this in a charity shop, fancied a light read and it was only a euro. Thankfully it was only a euro. I couldn’t finish it and it is very rare I can’t finish a book. Awful. I only managed 20 pages before I threw it in the bag for the charity shop. Poorly written, no likeable characters and after the 20 pages were up I realised I couldn’t care less what happened to the characters and that there was surely something else I could do with my time. I hate to be bitchy but that is my honest opinion of this book. Greene clearly has a market out there for her books, but I’m not part of it.

John Taylor In the Pleasure Groove: Love, Death and Duran Duran Ok, cards on the table. I LOVED Duran Duran asIn the Pleasure Groove  a teenager, my bedroom walls were covered in pictures of them. I lost interest in them around 1988 and the pictures all came down. I didn’t keep up to speed with what they were doing unless they were mentioned in some magazine or paper I was reading. Kept most of the vinyl though. So I wasn’t aware that John Taylor had written his autobiography until I saw it in a charity shop (there’s a recurring theme here with my reading). It gave me a bit of a trip down memory lane, and also brought me up to date on what the band had been doing. (I wasn’t sure if they were still together or not…..they are) Its a light enough read in most parts, and I got through it quickly. The section where JT (well I have to call him that really, we all did back in the 80’s) details his alcohol and drug addiction and his struggle to overcome them are, for me, the best and most moving part of the book. I enjoyed this far more than I really expected to if I’m honest. If I’d been reading this as a Duran-mad teenager I wouldn’t have appreciated it at all. But as a woman in her 40’s, I found this interesting, enjoyable, and surprisingly moving in parts. Taylor’s honesty about his relationship with his parents and then with his own child and what he calls his blended family takes this out of the realm of the bog standard pop biog.

Easter WidowsSinead McCoole Easter Widows The latest book from Sinead McCoole explores the lives of the seven women whose husbands were executed in May 1916 in the immediate aftermath of the Easter Rising. McCoole has an impressive list of works on women in the revolutionary period in Ireland and this book added hugely to my knowledge of that period. I knew the life stories of Maud Gonne, of Kathleen Clarke, of Muriel MacDonagh, I knew something of the story of Grace Gifford Plunkett, but I knew very little of Lillie Connolly, of Aine Ceannt or Agnes Mallin. This book took years to research and write and while reading it I got a real sense of how engrossed McCoole must have been in these women’s lives. I did find it a little unbalanced at times – I got a much clearer sense of some of the women than of others – but that may be due to the sources that were available. One issue that would have improved my enjoyment of the book is that I found it hard at times to keep track of the various people owing to McCoole’s use of their given names without a surname. Many of the lesser characters share given names with the women or their children and that got confusing at times when no surname was used. However, I found this an excellent read, very well written, and would highly recommend it. Some of the stories are simply heartbreaking and it is clear that some of these women suffered for the rest of their lives, financially, emotionally, physically. A very moving book.

Audrey Niffenegger The Time Traveler’s Wife I saw a wee bit of the film of this on TV about a year ago and thought Time Traveler's Wife the premise was curious. I still haven’t seen the film (but will see it tonight when its on RTE!) but on finding the book thought it was worth a look. And yes, this was another of my charity shop pick ups. I’m not going to outline the plot here, I’m sure there are others out there like me who eventually get around to reading the “latest best seller” a few years after it was published. Its a mix of science fiction and love story and for me it worked on both levels. Henry can travel back and forward through time – at least through his own life – and meets Clare at various stages of her life. They fall in love and marry. If you want to know if its a happy ever after you’ll have to read it for yourself, and DO, its a great book and I loved it. But I wouldn’t read it again (and I have many novels I return to over and again) because I know how it finishes, so the sense of wondering how the story will go wouldn’t be there for me. I’m wondering now if the film can be as good, I’m often disappointed by film adaptations, but we’ll see.

Divas Don't KnitFinally, I read Gil McNeil Divas Don’t Knit Well I’m not a diva (ok maybe I have diva-ish tendencies at times) but I do knit, not briliantly, but I do and I enjoy it. So this was another attempt at a light read. This time it worked, I enjoyed this a lot. Sometimes you (or me anyway) just want a book that’s not challenging, that has a story, that offers a bit of entertainment for an hour or two. Divas Don’t Knit did that for me. Its the story of Jo Mackenzie who after the death of her husband (who had just told her he was leaving her for another woman), moves to a different town with her two small sons, and takes over her grandmother’s wool shop. She sets up a knitting group and gets involved with various local and national characters, some likeable others less so but utterly believable all the same. The plot moved along quickly – maybe a little implausible at times – but it never dragged and it was easy to switch off for a while and just enjoy it. Worth looking at if you need a light easy read of a wet afternoon.

So there you go, that’s what I read in April. Six books. I’d probably usually read more in a month but it was Easter holidays for the part of the month so reading time was much curtailed! If you’ve any suggestions or recommendations of books for me to try, please do send them on, I’m always up for a reading challenge! If you’ve read any of these I’d be interested to hear what you thought of them. Happy Reading!!

Books · Parenting · Special Needs

Be careful what you wish for! My book loving daughter

Anyone who knows me even a bit knows how much I love books and reading. Friends have been known to post things like this on my Facebook page: books

Anyone who has been to our house has seen the evidence of that for themselves as shown by the bookshelves in our room, our daughter’s room and our living room. Exhibit A m’lud:

books, reading, bookshelves
You can never have too many books
In my defence, not ALL of these are mine. Just most of them.

My husband suggested buying me a Kindle or similar for my birthday a few years ago but I wasn’t keen. He was surprised, having thought (quite logically) that I would love to be able to have loads of books literally at my fingertips anytime I wanted. But I like the physicality of a book. I love to turn the pages (and I will admit I am terrible for dog-earing books) and curl up with a book on my lap. Somehow an electronic device just doesn’t feel the same. Yes I have definite Luddite tendencies too. I’ve always loved books and was able to read independently from a young age. It does occasionally cross my mind that maybe I use books as a way of blocking out the rest of the world – but then again maybe that’s just so I can have more time for reading!!

I’ve never had much interest in clothes/fashion/make up etc and the idea of spending a day shopping as a pastime fills me with dread. Unless of course its bookshops. I genuinely find it hard to pass a bookshop, especially one I’ve never been in before. I have library cards for Meath, Westmeath, Cavan, Fingal and Dublin City libraries. And at present I have books from most of these on my desk….

books, library, libraries
The current stash of library books

So as both of us are book lovers and read voraciously as children, we fully intended that any child of ours would be encouraged to love books and reading too. As regular visitors here will know, our gorgeous little daughter has intellectual disabilities and cannot read yet. But she adores books and being read to and will ‘read’ to herself in her own little way. Naturally we are delighted by this, apart from the sheer enjoyment she gets from it, this also helps with her speech and language development as well as her fine and gross motor skills. Oh yes, any activity can be counted as part of the home therapy programme 😉

When we moved into this house, I quickly identified two favourite spots for reading. I will read anywhere, but there are two favourite spots I have. One is on the landing at the top of the stairs right under the window. This gives me lots of natural light and also easy access to the books upstairs. The other is on the sofa under our living room window. After our daughter was born my reading time inevitably dropped dramatically for a good while but thankfully as she settled into a regular nap routine, I was able to get back into it. As she got bigger and eventually began to sit up on her own and then progress to moving around a little bit, my reading again became more confined to a few snatched minutes here and there. It was at this stage my husband became accustomed to finding four or five books left open at various places around the house, this was so I could carry on reading wherever she wanted to explore. And no I was not being a bad mum by reading while she was exploring, its just that there are only so many times you can feign fascination with opening and closing the same drawer and besides she seemed to get more fun out of doing it herself.

About 18 months ago, our wee girl decided for herself that if she wanted to ‘read’ one of her books or have one read to her, then there was only one place that should happen. On the sofa under the window, i.e. one of my favourite reading spots. This has now progressed to the point where the first words she says every day when she gets home from school are ‘book’ followed by ‘sofa’. I fear I may have created a monster. So now I cannot sit and read on that sofa while she is in the room unless she is engrossed in something else. As she is now able to get to her books unaided, select one and then climb onto said sofa, I have increasingly found I am being asked to vacate sofa so she can have it. This either comes in the form of a gentle shove (which is a great game) or occasionally the ‘request’ “Get off”. Charming. At least when I go searching for a book, I put the others back on the shelf, not like a certain little person! children's books, books, reading

And then the other day I caught her. Sitting cross legged (v cute) on the landing under the window ‘reading’ the book that was on my bedside locker. I may have to accept this is a battle I will lose.

A Year of Living Seasonally · food

Hallowe’en baking

Part of my Year of Living Seasonally project is to cook ritual foods. Some people are spooked (how appropriate for today!) by the word ritual. Just stop and think for a minute though about the foods we only eat at certain times. I’m not talking eating that food which is in season, but rather those recipes, dishes that we usually only have on certain dates or occasions. Like Christmas pudding. Or hot cross buns. Or simnel cake. Or brack – barmbrack to give it the full name. These are dishes that for various reasons have become synonymous with these feast days and celebrations. The history and symbolism of ritual foods fascinates me and I thought it would be interesting to incorporate it into the project.

Barmbrack (in Irish bairín breac) would traditionally have some items hidden in it which if you found them were meant to signify something that would happen to you over the coming year. The items and their meanings vary from region to region and over time, but the best known one was a ring, which mean the finder would be married within the year. Other items that I have heard or read of being included were a rag, a holy medal, a thimble, a pea and a coin. The meanings of these vary considerably and I could probably write a thesis on that alone.

In my local supermarket today there were piles of round bracks selling at €1 each. I don’t know if people don’t eat brack anymore or if people still make their own but I did notice that there were very few of the packets of ‘Hallowe’en cupcakes’ and ‘Toffee Terror Treats’ left. I do have a sweet tooth, but honestly cupcakes with orange and black icing say precisely nothing about Hallowe’en and Samhain. At the risk of sounding like a grumpy middle aged woman, I think it would be a shame if we lost these food traditions.

I made two bracks today, one a traditional Irish recipe and the other is an apricot and orange brack. My lovely stepdaughter gave me a recipe for apricot and orange brack last year which was utterly gorgeous but I can’t find it now (sorry R!) so I followed this recipe here from Crafty Mums and the other one is from Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills of Cooking. Its the Irish Tea Barmbrack recipe rather than her Hallowe’en Barmbrack one which is a yeast recipe (I might make that one next year!) We’ve only tasted one yet but they both look and smell good! Apricot and orange brack on left; traditional Irish brack on right

Jack O Lanterns in Ireland and Scotland were traditionally made from turnips (pumpkins not being a native crop to either country). I haven’t made one this year, although I did buy a pumpkin…… I’ll make something from it on Sunday. Maybe. It looks gorgeous sitting on my table though! pumpkins nuts apples

Oh and if anyone has any ritual food recipes they’d like to share, please do get in touch 🙂

Uncategorized

Written in stone? Who decides what’s tradition?

As someone who is passionately interested in history, myth, folklore and ritual, I sometimes find myself musing on tradition. (I’m referring to what the OED calls its mass noun usage) Its a much used and abused word, it can be used to justify a certain behaviour or practice “well its traditional” or in an attempt to prevent sometimes much-needed change. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it thus: “the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way”

So in the way that I’m thinking about it here, a tradition is a custom or belief. Some customs/beliefs/behaviours do not survive terribly long in the whole of human history. Others persist and some that are generally perceived as being old and traditional are often a lot more recent than is widely thought. For example, roast turkey is widely considered to be the traditional Christmas dinner in England and Ireland (they are the only countries I’ve spent Christmas in so I don’t feel qualified to comment on others) but my readings tell me that it didn’t become commonplace until the eighteenth century, with goose or beef being the previously traditional dish.

The reasons why some traditions survive while others don’t are as varied as the traditions themselves but I feel that each generation should feel able to pick and choose from the assortment of traditions they have grown up with. Traditions can change and develop too and some elements of any given custom or practice may alter from how it was originally carried out. I’m thinking particularly this evening of an Irish tradition of Nollaig na mBan or Women’s Christmas. Debates pop up each year around this time on various social media as to whether or not it was practiced throughout Ireland, and as to what form it took. Needless to say there is never agreement! My understanding of Nollaig na mBan is that it was a day when the men took over all the household chores to give women a rest after all they had done to make the Christmas festivities happen. Nollaig na mBan, for those who don’t know, is celebrated on January 6th – the feast of the Epiphany, Twelfth Night. In more recent times, the celebration has consisted of groups of women coming together to have a meal – usually in a restaurant from what I can make out – and have some of what we would now call downtime. I’ve read reminiscences of women talking about their mothers greatly looking forward to this one night in the year when they got to dress up and go out with other women. (These mostly date from the 1960’s and 1970’s).

In my community, a group of us are keeping this tradition alive. A very dear friend of mine throws her house open for Nollaig na mBan, invites loads of women friends with the proviso that we all bring something from our Christmas leftovers to eat and drink. Often things are made especially too. Its always a great night, good food, lots of music and plenty of laughs. Yes we have altered that tradition somewhat but it works for us and we’ll pass it on to the next generation. And they can make of it what they will, if its not for them, so be it. Traditions should be living things, not something preserved in aspic. If a tradition isn’t right for any given person or group of people then they shouldn’t feel compelled to maintain it. I like traditions, learning about them and in some instances trying to live them, but I like even more that they reflect the community who developed them. If they can’t be adapted or even discarded if need be, then what does that say about society? That we never want anything to change? Perish the thought.

I’m off now to get ready for tonight’s Nollaig na mBan party. Yes its Jan 4th not the 6th, but hey, traditions can change, right? Nollaig na mBan faoi mhaise dhaoibh!