Christmas at Abbeyview, Ballybeg, Clarecastle by Eric Shaw
I grew up in the old family house in Ballybeg and my memories of Christmas there go back to the early 1950s. The house had not changed in over 100 years and there was no electricity or running water. Cooking was done over an open fire. Preparations for Christmas began months beforehand, with the incubation and rearing of a large flock of geese. In later years, bronze turkeys replaced the geese as the fare for the Christmas dinner. The fowl had to be ready for sale from a horse and car near Carroll’s Bridge in the Bank Place area of Ennis on the 8 December. A number of the geese or turkeys were held back to be used in the house and as gifts for other family members. The Christmas cake was baked in pot oven, a large flat-bottomed, three legged circular pot with a handle for suspending it from the crane above the flames. Turf embers were placed on the lid of the oven to ensure an even baking. Frequent testing had to be made to ensure that the cake was baking, using a steel knitting-needle to probe deep into the cake in the oven. The Christmas pudding was boiled for days and the level of the water in the pot had to be watched to ensure that the pudding did not burn.
There was a large holly tree in the front lawn of the house. Twigs of holly from that tree were placed behind pictures, on the dresser, behind the over-mantles, the hall-stand and in the timber hooks of the clevvy in the kitchen. Red and green crepe-paper streamers were twisted by us and pinned up from corner to corner in the front room. A stand for the big red Christmas Candle was made from a cross-piece of blackthorn, with a hole bored with a hand auger.
If we were lucky, my brother and I and our sister were brought in to Ennis by our Grandmother to buy a toy or two. Two shops that I remember there as our favourites were Bakers in Abbey Street and Nono’s in O’Connell Street. I recall a Meccano Set from Bakers one Christmas. Then we would pay a visit to the Crib in the Friary and have tea in the Cafe Iris or Tuttles.
On Christmas Eve, the Candle was lit in a simple ceremony by the youngest in the house, a prayer was said and someone would make the wish that we would all be together at the same time next year. The lighted Candle was placed in it’s holder on a table in the bay window in the front room. Oil lamps and candles were the only source of light in the house and these added to the magic and we were told the story of Paddy Brogan. Paddy worked in Abbeyview in the 1890s for many years. On Christmas Eve, Paddy insisted on sleeping in the cow house, wrapped up in hay, in memories of the First Christmas.
A collection of Christmas cards addressed to the Perry and Shaw families of Abbeyview, dating from the early 1900s to about 1930 is shown below.