In the past, doors here in Ireland were always left unlocked on Christmas Eve, fires were kept burning on the hearthstones, and candles shone in the windows.
They offered warmth and shelter to Joseph and Mary, walking the world on their long road to Bethlehem. And they echoed even older rituals that brought light and warmth into darkness.
In the Irish folk tradition, Mary, the mother of Christ, and Bríd, the Irish saint, protect sleeping households until daybreak. They’re echoes of the Good Goddess - the ‘strongest and most energetic of women’ - and images of fertility, and hope. For thousands of years the same ideas have been shaped and re-shaped in their stories. The goddess breathes life into the earth in springtime; grass grows when Bríd’s cloak sweeps the hills; and when Mary hangs her cloak on a rosemary branch, the bush's aromatic flowers become sky blue.
And all three energetic women are linked with fire and light. The Good Goddess marries Lugh, the sun-god; Mary’s child brings light into the world; Bríd lights a sacred flame that’s kept burning for centuries (till, according to legend, a medieval bishop insisted it be put out!)
If you cross the mountains to Dingle this Christmas there'll be lights shining all around you. And as you drive back west along the peninsula, to the sound of the Atlantic waves against the cliffs, you'll see single flames glimmering high on the mountains.
In isolated cottages, villages and farms, ritual candles still burn here all through the Christmas season, welcoming the stranger and offering refuge from the dark.