Monday 24 December 2012

Christmas Eve in Ireland

Frontispiece to The Irish Christmas (Dublin, 1917).

Today is Christmas Eve and as a child I remember hearing that on this night we should leave a light shining in the front window of the house. This was to act as a signal that even if there was 'no room at the inn' elsewhere, Saint Joseph and Our Blessed Lady would find shelter with us. Katharine Tynan in her poem 'Christmas Eve in Ireland' alludes to this tradition and also to the fact that people not only displayed lights but kept their doors unlocked. Obviously it was an earlier and more innocent age!


NOT a cabin in the Glen shuts its door to-night,
Lest the travellers abroad knock in vain and pass,
Just a humble gentleman and a lady bright
And she to be riding on an ass.

Grief is on her goodman, that the inns deny
Shelter to his dearest Dear in her hour of need;
That her Babe of royal birth, starriest, most high,
Has not where to lay His head.

Must they turn in sadness to the cattle byre
And the kind beasts once again shake the bed for
Not a cabin in the Glen but heaps wood on the fire
And keeps its lamps a-trim.

Now the woman makes the bed, smooths the linen
Spreads the blanket, soft and white, that her
own hands spun.
Whisht! is that the ass that comes, on his four
little feet,
Carrying the Holy One ?

Nay, 'twas but the wind and rain, the sand on the
A bitter night, yea, cruel, for folk to be abroad.
And she, not fit for hardship, outside a fast-closed
And her Son the Son of God!

Is it the moon that's turning the dark world to
bright ?
Is it some wonderful dawning in the night and
cold ?
Whisht! did you see a shining One and Him to
be clad in light
And the wings and head of Him gold ?

Who are then those people, hurrying, hasting,
And they all looking up in the sky this night of
wondrous things ?
Oh, those I think be shepherdmen, and they that
follow close
I think by their look be kings.

Not a cabin in the Glen shuts the door till day,
Lest the heavenly travellers come, knock again
in vain.
All the night the dulcimers, flutes, and hautboys
And the angels walk with men.

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