My mother was an outsider, having grown up in the Colonies – India and Jamaica, owing to the fact that her father, though Irish, was a doctor in the British Army. She married my father, a Tipperary farmer, in 1947, and having lived in many places, including London in the second World War, she brought a world-view to a community very much rooted in the rural tradition. It is said that she brought Christmas to our part of the country, and certainly there had never been a Christmas tree inside the old farmhouse before her time.
She celebrated every feast day with aplomb – Shrove Tuesday with specially prepared pancakes, Halloween with monkey nuts (peanuts in the shell), bobbing for apples and barn brack with its hidden treasures – the stick that forecast a future “old maid,” and the ring that signified marriage. Her most elaborate planning, however, was for Christmas. Throughout the year, egg money was saved, and a portion of the Children’s Allowance (a government subsidy) so that each child received a special present in addition to the stuffed stocking on Christmas morning. Christmas dinner consisted of the traditional stuffed turkey or goose, Brussels sprouts and a carrot parsnip mix, mashed with plenty of butter. Dessert was sherry trifle, and Christmas cake, which together with the plum pudding was baked early in the year and doused in the following months with whiskey to keep it moist until it was iced in early December with almond paste and white icing. The most important part of the Christmas ritual for us kids was the annual trip to Limerick City (30 miles away) to Todds department store for a photograph and present from Santa. Since it was the same Santa year after year (I have photos dating to 1955 below to the one above, in 1959, when we were seven), we had no trouble believing he was authentic. Eventually, there were too many of us, 13 children in all, to fit around Santa, or in the car for the trip, so the older members stayed home.
Merry Christmas to all Irish America readers, especially to all the big Irish families who will gather together to celebrate, and to you Mrs. Harty, who, presently living in San Francisco, and grandmother to 30, is still baking plum puddings and Christmas cakes, and saving her pension to buy presents.♣
– Patricia Harty