My West Cork Christmas

December 25th, 2021 8:00 AM

By Emma Connolly

Louise O'Neill

Share this article

Some well-known local figures tell Emma Connolly their favourite way to spend Christmas Day


Louise O’Neill, writer, Clonakilty

MY parents own O’Neills butcher shop in Clonakilty so Christmas Eve is a busy one; the festive season doesn’t properly begin for my family until every last customer has collected every last turkey. I drop off presents to our neighbours – it’s always a lovely opportunity to catch up with people home for the holidays – and then we settle in for the night.

A family friend gifts us her delicious homemade paté every year so we have that on brown bread for supper while we watch an old movie (preferably A Muppet’s Christmas Carol or Home Alone).

For as long as I can remember, our house has been full of visitors on Christmas morning, with neighbours, friends, and family members calling for a glass of mulled wine and a mince pie. Obviously, because of Covid, that won’t be happening again this year. After opening presents with my family, I will work-out – either a long walk or a YouTube HIIT session, weather depending – while my parents go to Mass. My partner, Richard, will be spending Christmas with us as his mother and brother are immunocompromised and are still cocooning.

We usually have dinner at around 4pm and the only dish I insist on is cauliflower and broccoli in cheese sauce, and this amazing sausage stuffing my Granny Murphy always made. We play games after dinner – Cards Against Humanity has been a recent favourite –and there is always room for a slice of my dad’s incredible spiced beef as a bedtime snack!

2021 has been a long, draining year for many of us; I feel like we’re still collectively processing the trauma of the pandemic. I hope 2022 will be a brighter one, and we can begin to heal and move on.

County mayor Cllr Gillian Coughlan

WE’RE up early in our house on Christmas morning to see what Santa has brought, and there’s always great fun and excitement to be had.

We pop the turkey in the oven before heading to noon mass in Bandon, the same church where we got married, and had all our family christenings. Afterwards we visit the graveyard to remember our deceased. Next, our tradition is to meet Nana Nora and the Coughlan clan and exchange gifts. This year, that will obviously have to take place outside, but it’s a lovely occasion for us all to enjoy a chat during what’s a busy time of the year.

Then it’s back home and time to roll the sleeves up and get stuck into the vegetables! I’ll have the ham cooked from the day before and my husband Don is a great help. The five of us usually sit down a little after 3pm to a traditional spread. Before the next round of visiting I try to get out for a walk by myself (I’m not one for a festive swim!). I love the quietness of the town on Christmas Day, and the chance it gives me to reflect, on how marvellous the past six months have been as mayor. I’ve a lot to be grateful for and this gives me time to think about that, and also look ahead to the coming months. Our son Ronan will be making his confirmation in the spring and going into first year; Aidan will be finishing his chemistry degree and Maeve will be in sixth year.

Later on we’ll visit my family, the O’Mahonys, my mother, sister and brother, and spend the evening with them, chatting, and maybe watching a film.

I appreciate that time passes really quickly and I’m really looking forward to staying home with my family, and enjoying the simple things together this Christmas

Phil Healy, Olympian

WE’RE very much into tradition in our house at Christmas time – Santa still stops by even though my youngest sibling is 19 and there’s always presents for each of us wrapped under the tree! This year I’m hoping for an Adidas jumper, Puma shoes and a 4TH ARQ fleece.

The rule is that everyone has to be home by the 23rd, then on Christmas Eve it’s all hands on deck. Everyone has a job to do whether that’s doing the dessert, the stuffing, or whatever. I’m usually on desserts and depending on what the requests are, I’ll do cheese cake or chocolate cake.

Pre-Covid we’d have gone to midnight mass in Ballinacarriga, and we usually exchange our Kris Kingle with each other either before or after mass.

It’s always just the six of us for dinner, we eat around 3pm. My favourite dish is mom’s garlic potatoes, and I’d pass on the sprouts! We might take our two Bichons Freddy and Lily and Oscar our Alsation for a walk up the road, then it’s a movie, usually Harry Potter, and afterwards a board game – 30 Seconds is a favourite.

If anyone can manage it, there’s turkey sandwiches later on! St Stephen’s Day we do it all over again, and host our uncles.

The way Christmas is falling this year means I’ve Christmas Eve, Day and St Stephen’s Day off from training so that’s a massive treat – it’s the best present I could have hoped for.

Tim Houstoun, chief executive, Global Shares, Clonakilty

IT’S not Christmas in the Houstoun household until all the kids have returned home and the family is back together again. Our four kids are all grown up now – working or in college, and dispersed between Cork and London, but we have very fond memories of the 6am Santa excitement on Christmas morning when they were younger. I’m an early riser, but on Christmas morning my wife Máire is always up first, and we enjoy a big Christmas day breakfast. We always make an effort to go to mass as a family down the road in Timoleague village.

Everyone helps with the cooking and my daughters always take care of dessert. Then there are the traditional calls to our families in London and Donegal, made so much better since Skype video calls came along. One year I remember Granny in London had knitted a scarf for everyone in the family, which we all wore for the video calls! That was funny!

We wait until after dinner to open our presents, and then my sons take out the board games. We enjoy playing cards as a family and always play ‘Hearts’ (or ‘Chase the Lady’). We’re blessed where we live in Timoleague and can wrap up and go for nice long walks after all the festive indulging.

In the days around Christmas, we traditionally enjoy visits from friends, neighbours and our kids’ partners. It’s a wonderful time of year.

Fr. Tom Hayes
Pic: Brian Lougheed

Fr. Tom Hayes, Enniskeane Parish Priest

I WAKE up on Christmas morning with an awareness that it’s so good to be alive and well to mark the history-changing event that is the birth of Christ among us.

The parochial house is quiet in the mornings so it’s easy to find a time of reflection and prayer.

Soon after the porridge I leave for the first of three Christmas Day masses each with a different community and with little time between them.

The mood is uplifting and the gathering includes people who peek back in, maybe not having been for a while.

I’m deeply aware of the people at Christmas Day mass whose dinner table has been changed by the passing of 12 months for a range of reasons — from the joy of new arrivals to the parting of loved ones and perhaps of love.

Under the tinsel there are silent tears for those who are far away and those are in hospital or in care.

Parishioners literally pull out all the stops — not only on the organ but also in so many ways in the masses — all the while thinking of the planning for the table at home as well.

After the last mass people move away quickly but there’s always a chance to find out who got the gift of an engagement ring this year!

Where I minister now in Enniskeane is roughly equidistant from each of my siblings who never see me without a table to put my feet under at Christmas.

The formula for the following hours is simple: warm company, food, a glass or two of wine, exchange of gifts … and watch the first 15 minutes of whatever is on the TV before heads start dropping!

Then someone starts to recall the time when we …

Tags used in this article

Share this article