|CHRISTMAS ON CAPE!
‘An Samhradh gach sín go Nollag’
Christmas in Cape is unique! It is one of my favourite times of the year! Christmas worldwide is about celebrating it with those you love, your family and your friends. It is that and more. In Cape we celebrate Christmas like we do so many things – as a community.
In Cape, Christmas is not confined to the usual three obligatory days – before, during and after! It begins many weeks before the 25th. Living on an island dictates that one must be organised in many aspects of one’s life – Christmas is no exception. Weather can change in the blink of an eye so there is none of this last minute Christmas Eve-panic, shopping for presents (well except for my brother Conor!), getting the turkey etc.
As a child I remember excitedly preparing for our Christmas shopping expedition to Cork city ~ invariably on the 8th of December! Catalogues would be scoured through, weeks in advance, pocket money saved and lists made out with military precision ~ you had one shot at this so you had better get it right! A trip to the cinema that evening was an added treat as ferry times dictated an overnight stay.
The turkey and ham has to be ordered early and if the weather looks like it could break, these items must be brought in and stored in the freezer until necessary.
Meanwhile in S.N.Inis Chléire, rehearsals for Dráma na Nollag/Nativity play are carried out with as much professionalism as that found in the West End!! The world’s most famous agent might not be there to spot your talent but the rest of the island would be! And if the star studded drama is a success as it invariably is, the cast are rewarded with a cóisir ~ sweets, chocolates and fizzy drinks ordered in from Field’s of Skibbereen & Siopa Beag Cléire, and of course no obair bhaile! Mmmmmmm!!
Here in Cape, Christmas is a community affair. Santa comes to visit a week before the big event and young and old descend on Club Chléire to give him their wish lists. A meitheal comes together to put up the Christmas lights in the harbour, the club and put up the crib. As a reward for all this hard work, from lunchtime onward on December 24th, people convene in An Siopa Beag, the local grocery shop and restaurant, to be treated to our annual Christmas bevie or two! The kids play outside on the strand, hyper with a mixture of excitement of the day that is in it and also from the surge of sugar from the free sweets. The chatter is lively and the atmosphere relaxed and cordial, and as always, we enjoy it immensely with hot toddies in hand and friends at our elbows!
Later Christmas Eve sees half the island population down on the pier to welcome everyone home off the last ferry, while the other half, stay at home doing the last of the finishing touches. There is always a buzz on the pier Christmas Eve. This year I didn’t have to wait for the ferry as my two brothers came on their own steam, along with my uncle Martin, aboard Conor’s new boat, the” MV Atlantic Freedom.” Ciarán has just arrived back from Boston for a short break home. It’s a cold crisp evening and the sea is calmer than days it had been in the heart of the summer. Christmas is perhaps one of the few times during the year when everyone is together on Cape, and so everyone makes the most of it. The crowd disperses from the pier, only to meet a short few hours later for Christmas Eve mass in Séipéal Ciarán.
Rounding the cross-roads this Oíche Nollag past, we were met with the most spectacular of sights! In the distance, the bright lights of Schull twinkled gently in the night air, while closer to home, the two red and green circular patterns of the lights, of the new helipad, shone sky-wards. This was the first Christmas that Santa had these lights to guide him safely to Cape and they were switched on especially for him - much to the delight of the younger islanders, who were expecting special deliveries later that night.! How appropriate the red and green Christmas colours of these helipad lights were! From the West , another light flashed from An Charraig Aonair, the majestic Fastnet Lighthouse, and dotted along the island roads flickering candles in the windows of the houses added their own joy and magic.
We make our way to a packed Séipéal Naomh Ciarán, where Fr.Peter Queally is ready to celebrate Christmas Eve mass with an extended island community and we remember absent friends and neighbours on this very special night. Outside the Church after Mass, the excitement of the children awaiting the arrival of Daidí na Nollag is palpable and infectious. One could almost be 8 years old again! Its time for children to be tucked up in bed! The next day will bring with it magic and wonder.
After morning mass, we hopefully see Fr. Queally crossing the North bay on the bright yellow rib that is Baltimore Sea Safari or if weather dictates, the MV Gaisceanáin – he is on his way home to Rockwell to be with his community for Christmas dinner and all going well will be sitting at the table for 1pm after his Trojan efforts on icy, snowy and flooded roads. Of all years we could definitely agree with this Irish saying –“Ní fuacht go Nollaig”!!
Meanwhile back in Cape the gang are gathering in the harbour for mulled wine and brunch in Club Chléire, the community owned and run bar. The Christmas swim, if anyone dares to battle the cold takes place off the pier at 12ish. Some poor soul jumps in while the rest of the congregation look on with their hands wrapped around the steaming glasses of mulled wine and hot toddies! Where is the justice! Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately!!), there was no Christmas swim this year as the tide was too low. I must admit I was quietly relieved as I had unwittingly agreed to do the swim a few weeks previously. Maybe next year!!
The kiddies showed off their pressies in the Club and challenged the not so little kids to master the latest hi-tech gadgets! The morning always passes with joviality and good humour until once again we each go our own way for our turkey and ham. A small snooze after dinner to allow the turkey to digest sees us ready and replenished for the annual Christmas night party in Helen and Fachtna’s! Usually a late one, always a great one!!
St. Stephen’s day brings with it many sore heads and as traditional, An Dreóilín! These colourful characters dressed in the traditional wren boy paraphernalia bring with them laughter and song and leave behind much straw, when they descend on each household! But pray you are at the start of the day as the standard of singing can wane as the day nears its end ~ tired voices of course!! Although some would argue the group is far more entertaining at the end of their tour than at the beginning!! This year, along with Seamas, Máirtín, Kevin, Steve, Aisling and Aoife, saw two new recruits, Treasa and Faye, moonlighting from their posts as altar servers!
The next few days passed by in a whirl of visiting the neighbours, each home having its own night as host! It was perhaps even more appropriate this year than any year previous due to the icy and sometimes, impassable roads around the island.
Oíche Cinn Bhliana came upon us quickly. Many enjoyed a four course meal in Séan Rua’s restaurant beforehand and then we all reconvened in Club Chléire. It was quieter than usual this year due to poor travelling conditions – for once on the mainland and not on the sea! Nonetheless, with a lively seisiún, courtesy of our resident musician Danny, the night was a roaring success with much merriment and mirth. And so the New Year was rang in to laughter and cheer, surrounded by friends and family, it was perhaps one of the top new year’s we’ve had in recent years.
It was time then to begin the slow and painful process of returning to normality! But not before Nollaig na mBan was duely celebrated. Traditionally this is done on the 6th of January, but this year it was done so on the 9th with a meal and a sing song in the Club.
We may not have had a white Christmas, but it seems we’ll have a white new year. And so from all in Cape, aith bhliain faoi shéan ‘s faoi mhaise. Seo siar an Nollaig, seo siar an bolg!