It was beginning to look a lot unlike Christmas – 100 years ago this week!

December 25th, 2022 8:00 AM

By Southern Star Team

Skibbereen’s many shops advertised their various wares in the pages of the Star in 1922.

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War weariness and lack of money didn’t dampen festive celebrations in West Cork in 1922 … even if unseasonable rain and mud caused a fair bit of havoc

AH! Those magical Dickensian Christmas card images of snow carpeting every field and rooftop, softly falling flakes, and gleeful children racing down hills on sledges.

Memories, too, from our own childhood – of crystals crunching beneath boots, shovels scraping pavements, deep tyre tracks on a snowy road.

Forget it! Christmas 1922 in West Cork – its first since Ireland gained independence – was nothing like that. Unrelenting rain, raging gales, and seas of squelchy mud plagued the region. ‘It sticks like glue,’ grumbled The Southern Star on December 23rd, ‘it plays the dickens with long skirts, and it makes a holy show of polished boots.’

Nobody could remember a Christmas like it.

With the Anglo-Irish War barely over, most people were tired and facing ‘the most nerve-racking uncertainty’. Some businesses had closed down and buildings lay in ruins.

For many, money was tight, business was slack, and traders insisted on full payment in cash. A joy shortage, we might say today.

Rector Sheldon N Dudley of Baltimore asked for donations towards poor fishermen’s families ‘to tide them over the winter months’, and enable their children to have a few Christmas presents. The Society of St Vincent de Paul in Skibbereen held its annual charity sermon in St Patrick’s Cathedral to raise money for the most needy. Clonakilty ratepayers provided the poor with coal to make their homes ‘cheery and warm’ during the festive season. Mrs ‘Anne Ottaway’, born in Clonakilty but now living in London, had sent her annual cheque for £20.

For those able to afford presents, shop windows glistened with tempting possibilities – and far more awaited customers inside!

Wolfe Bros in Skibbereen boasted a ‘Big Xmas Show’ of fancy ware, toys, and ‘a fine assortment of picture and story-books for all ages. T Lyons’ ‘Great Christmas Bazaar’ supplied anything from travelling rugs to tea cosies, and Denis Collins recommended lovely initialled handkerchiefs in fancy boxes, perfect for posting.

A wonderful collection of dolls and toys – just arrived from Paris – was included among 5,000 ‘useful Xmas presents’ cramming the shelves in M&C Healy’s, Bridge Street, Bandon. So were ‘exquisite Bavarian china breakfast and tea sets’, that would make any Christmas table much more attractive.

And how could you resist a Barry’s hamper, bulging with bottles of spirit, plum pudding, slabs of cake, biscuits and, of course, tea – in a fancy tin. Shopkeepers advised customers to choose their presents early to avoid disappointment. Some things never change!

Christmas was a time for the family to get together at home. Avoid the new fad of scooting off to Switzerland or congregating in hotels, protested The Southern Star (December 23rd, 1922). It is ‘unthinkable’ that an Irish home would be deserted at this time.

Christmas is the moment for families to light their candle and gather around the hearth, or the tree, which was lit with small naked candles, and tell one another what they’ve been up to all year.

Come the day itself, the more fortunate could choose from a mouth-watering range of Yuletide food and drink: fresh turkey and geese, bacon, ham and spiced beef. For afters: plum pudding, and mince pies (‘they must be eaten hot to be fully appreciated’, said FH Thompson & Son Ltd of Cork).

Before the day was out: Christmas cake, fancy biscuits, nut, mint and cream toffees, crystallised fruit, and chocolates – notably Thompson’s rich dessert range. All washed down with port and sherry, Pat Sullivan’s JJ seven-year-old Clonakilty whiskey (‘why buy inferior?’), and the town’s sparkling dry ginger ale at fourpence per bottle.

As families settled into their Christmas dinners around the fire (only one room was heated in those days), thunder rumbled overhead, lightning crackled, and rain lashed against windowpanes.

Should you venture outside, quipped The Southern Star (December 23rd 1922), you didn’t need to travel far to ‘enjoy the luxury of a mud-bath’, for speeding motorcars would happily decorate you with a right splattering. The mud continued to stick to ladies’ furs and men’s trench coats, ‘laughing the clothes brush to scorn’.

Still, help was at hand. Storm lanterns were available at Healy’s, Fitzgerald’s stocked high-leg boots, and Denis Collins had waterproofs and umbrellas galore!

All for quick sale with ready cash, of course. Here’s mud in your eye – Happy Christmas!

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