Preface: In our rural western Ireland farming community of seven families, our lives intertwined. Anne Costello was my closest friend and my mentor in adjusting to life in Ireland. The Mannions lived nearby.
Our first Christmas in our own wee cottage was quiet and lovely. Neighbors nearly filled St. Andrew’s, our village church, for the 8 o’clock Mass Christmas Eve night -- women on the left and men on the right side (with some exceptions). We received Holy Communion and visited the manger, sang traditional hymns of the season, and shared in the joy of the occasion.
Walking home afterwards, the crisp air was so clear stars seemed to jump out of the sky. Sleeping cows lay in fields opposite the tiny church. Back home, Bob and I watched TV the rest of the evening -- a concert from Vienna featuring Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras and Diana Ross -- until just after midnight when we tore into our little mound of gifts and went to bed.
The next day, ushering in the day was my sister Kathy’s wonderful phone call from Minnesota; then, after a leisurely breakfast, we bundled up and walked the fields to check on the Costellos’ 54 sheep -- were they all in the proper fields, had any fallen into the swollen rivers, or had any pregnant ewes rolled over on their backs and been unable to right themselves? All was well with the wooly ‘ladies’, and the morning was glorious -- not a sound to be heard -- the hills seemed to be sleeping.
That chore finished in about an hour, we came home and Bob tried to make some amateur radio contacts with the States, but my efforts to call family members were met with busy signals. Finally, it was time to go to the Costellos’ for the Feast -- ham, turkey, stuffing and the trimmings. Tommie made the traditional toast that included, “...and may we all be here this time next year”. Lounging around after dinner, we dozed by the fire, chatted and tried to guess the clues in then-12-year-old Brian’s new “Addams Family” game.
Sometime after Anne left with Mary Mannion at 8:30 for their weekly Bingo game, music, shouts and laughter began to fill the night. Mummers had arrived to perform for us! Tommie Costello and Bob moved back the furniture while the wildly costumed dancers milled around and the musicians tuned up -- an accordionist, tin flautist and a bodhran (drum) player. In no time at all, skirts swirling, two pairs of black shoes stacattoed across the floor -- faces on the dancing couples ruddy and glistening. Five minutes or so later, one of the group passed around a metal cookie box for donations for their New Year’s Eve party, and before we knew it they were gone into the night. Next house would be Nevins’, just down the road.
Anne had only returned a few minutes (reporting no luck at Bingo) when the Deelys dropped in. Siblings John and Geraldine, who had grown up in the farmhouse between our cottage and the Costellos’ home, were marking their first Christmas as orphans, their father having died three months previously and their mother nearly 12 years before. Twenty-five-year-old Geraldine, a receptionist in a posh hotel about an hour’s drive away, had come to keep her 23-year-old brother company; they had spent the afternoon and early evening with older sister Marie and family in Galway.
Finally, at about 11:15, deeply content, we took our leave while the Deelys stayed on for an hour or so longer.
Note: When I went back to visit seven years later, Tommie and Mary Mannion had passed on, but the others (thankfully) were still there.
(This excerpt is from the upcoming “A Year in Lissaphuca”)