Tuesday, 3 January 2012
Nollaig na mBan - Another Great Irish Winter Festival.
Corca Dhuibhne rears powerful women. I have elderly neighbours here who grew up living lives that would flatten me in a week. They kept house, looked after kids and old people, milked cows, made butter, cared for calves, raised poultry, grew their own food, and baked and cooked with great skill over open turf fires on stone hearths. As children they walked barefoot to school. As adults they often went barefoot too, and worked in the fields with the men; a friend of mine remembers women with legs and ankles cut raw by the stinging wind.
Electricity and piped water didn't come to the houses in this village till the nineteen sixties. In the days before they got here, women washed everything by hand, carrying water from the spring, and boiling it on the fire. Last winter, during a week of power-cuts, I got an inkling of what that meant. And I just had to wash dishes. They washed laundry too, for households of up to fifteen people, and dried it on lines or on bushes.
Living miles from help, and often too poor to pay a doctor, women were their own healers. My neighbours remember how stinging nettles were used to treat rheumatism and people drank hot milk with onion juice for a cold. Women here still remember those cures, and they still trust in bone-setting and midwifry skills passed down from mother to daughter across generations.
Nobody here wants the hard times back. But I've often heard friends envy their mothers' and grandmothers' spiritual and emotional strength, and marvel at their resilience. They call them 'mighty women', and they love their feistiness and self-respect.
And those qualities are celebrated each year here, at Nollaig na mBan.
Nollaig na mBan means 'Womens' Christmas'. It's a traditional Irish occasion, held on January 6th, when women of all ages get together and party. They meet at home, or go out in groups, to eat, sing, drink, dance and generally hang out together. The pubs and restaurants are full, and the celebrations often spill onto the village streets. Grannies and aunties dance with little girls and teenagers, friends get up and sing songs together, pubs lay on karaoke, and houses are full of music and the smell of serious baking.
As I write this, texts are flying all over the peninsula as people get ready for Nollaig na mBan.
Like the mighty women it celebrates, it's a tradition that's still going strong.