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Garden GateFáilte
Welcome to Irish Culture and Customs, a labor of love we began several years ago. What started as a surprise milestone birthday trip to Ireland became the beginning of a journey through time. A 2,000-year voyage on a quest to learn as much as we can about everything Irish. So here's where we are so far - more than 700 pages that range from Irish poetry, superstitions , Kids Stories and recipes to specific Irish calendar celebrations such as St. Patrick's Day , Beltane, Samhain and the Feast of St. Brigid. Whether it's an Irish symbol such as the shillelagh, the Shamrock and the Book of Kells or an Irish craft like Aran Isle knitting, you'll discover a wide range of topics in our index. We hope you find the little bit of Ireland you may be looking for and we encourage you to share what you discover with your loved ones on your family website, blog, or social network.

Today's Irish headlines
We comb the newspapers and web sites to find news to start your day with a positive spin. In this section you will also find links to stories from the past two weeks as well as links to the major Irish newspapers, the current time in Ireland and a link to the weather forecast.

An Irish Christmas - Then and Now
by Bridget Haggerty

If it snowed on Christmas Eve, Irish children were told that geese were being plucked in heaven. A new moon was a lucky omen. And cold, frosty weather was welcome, because this meant a mild spring and an absence of illness. On the other hand, mild weather on Christmas Eve was cause for concern because, according to the old Irish proverb, "A green Christmas makes a fat churchyard."

Regardless of the weather on the day before or on the day itself, the weeks preceding Christmas were spent in great preparation.

In the old days, the menfolk would be responsible for cleaning everything outside of the house and the women everything else inside of it. All of the structures would receive a fresh coat of whitewash, and linens, furniture, pots and pans would be washed, scoured, scrubbed or polished until they were spotless. It was up to the children to scout the countryside for appropriate decorations to be cut and brought home on Christmas Eve. Holly was especially prized because of its bright red berries and so were long tendrils of ivy and boughs of laurel which could be made into garlands. Mistletoe was rare in Ireland, but a child lucky enough to live near Limerick or in South Co. Wicklow, might have been able to add this ancient symbol of good fortune and fertility to the gathering of the greens.


Irish Superstitions for the Christmas Season
by Bridget Haggerty

This article was inspired by a reader who asked us if we knew about an Irish superstition that said it was lucky to receive a Christmas card which pictured the Three Wise Men. Our research led us to a veritable cornucopia of beliefs...

...but we never did find one related to the Magi. We're still looking - and if you're familiar with this superstition, please tell us about it. In the meantime, here are many beliefs which have not been included in our other Christmas articles - at least, if memory serves, they haven't!

In the old days, children were usually charged with the responsibility of gathering the Yule-tide decorations and finding a holly bush loaded with berries was considered very lucky. Holly is a symbol commonly associated with Christmas and has been used in Yule-tide celebrations for almost two thousand years.


Beannachtaí an tSéasúir (BAN-ock-tee on Tay-zure) - Season's Greetings
by Bridget Haggerty

In Ireland, one of the most commonly used phrases around the holidays is "Happy Christmas." We thought you might enjoy learning how to say it in Irish as well as a few other phrases you'll hear this time of year.

If you were to say Happy Christmas to just one other person, you would say:
"Nollaig Shona Duit"
(NO-Lihg HO-nuh ghwich).
However, if you were to be addressing the same greeting to two or more persons, you would say:
"Nollaig Shona Daoibh"
(NO-Lihg HO-nuh JEEV)
This literally means "You have a Happy Christmas."


An Irish Christmas - Ding Dong, Merrily on High...
by Bridget Haggerty

One of the contemporary traditions in the Haggerty household is that no-one is allowed to play Crosby's Christmas in Killarney until after Santa pulls up outside of Macy's at the end of the Thanksgiving Day Parade. Not that it would ever come first on the play-list anyway. It's more likely that you'd hear Manheim Steamroller's Hark the Herald, or Leon Redbone's Frosty, the Snowman. Perhaps I've lived in America for far too long.


Time at this Point of the Year
by Cormac MacConnell

Time changes at this point of the year. These are Limbo days, hours, minutes, seconds. Time elasticates itself. It seems to stop. Or to move jerkily forward like an old clockwork grandfather's minute hand. Or to even run backward on a silent tick-tockery of Memory. Or to fast forward to a Christmas we may never see. Or to pulse feverishly on some frequency not related to our Time at all.


An Post at Christmas
Edited and adapted by Bridget Haggerty

For well over a hundred years, there has been in the public mind a particularly close association between the Post Office and Christmas time. Christmas cards, letters from abroad, turkeys, geese and parcels of every description are happily linked with the image of a heavily-laden but cheerful postman. Despite great changes in technology in recent years, the link between Christmas and the Post Office survives and Santa Claus himself still depends on An Post to bring him the many thousands of letters written by children throughout the country.


The Irish Kitchen: An Irish Christmas - Food for the Feast
by Bridget Haggerty

Every Christmas, my parents put the same delectable dinner on the table - delectable that is, if you don't count the parsnips. When we were old enough to serve ourselves, the rule was that you ate whatever you took; my dad loved roast parsnips, so mum would mix in a few with the roast potatoes. Only problem was that, when they were all nicely browned, you couldn't tell them apart.

There would be at least one groan of dismay as a sibling bit into what he or she thought was one thing and it turned out to be the dreaded other. However, while the folks usually held fast to the rule, on Christmas they relaxed it and allowed us to trade with Dad. Phew!


Basic Irish: Words and Phrases for the Holiday Season
The Holiday Season covers many days. St. Nicholas day, then Christmas, Boxing Day, New Year's and last, Epiphany(January 6th, we exchange our presents then - what's good enough for the Three Wise Men is good enough for us).
With all that, there are many words, and one lesson turned out to be too little. Here is the first batch and we will go on to another (and maybe another) before the holidays run through.
Photo Credit: Small-leaved Shamrock


Kids' Ireland: The Nightingale and the Rose
Edited and adapted by Bridget Haggerty from a story by Oscar Wilde.
Oscar Wilde was both unhappy and unlucky in love and this had a great influence on his work. This beautiful story is from his collection of fairy tales for children. But it has such a sad ending that we thought young readers might enjoy it more if it ended on a happier note.

It was winter. The student leaned on his elbows and stared out through the window on a garden that was bereft of flower, leaf or fern.

"She said she would dance with me if I brought her a red rose" cried the student; "but in all my garden there is no red rose."

From her nest in in the old oak tree the Nightingale heard him, and she looked out through the branches, and wondered.


Music Review: The Bells of Dublin - The Chieftains
by Bridget Haggerty

We've owned The Bells of Dublin for many years and it remains one of our favorite Christmas recordings. The Chieftains are impeccable as always but, in addition to their traditional Irish sound, they team up with a group of contemporary vocalists; for the most part, the mix works well. In fact we like every cut except one.

We have a couple of Rickie Lee Jones CDs which we play often, but we always skip over her rendition of O Holy Night on The Bells of Dublin. We'll never understand why The Chieftains allowed this cut to remain because Rickie's voice just can't handle it. That said, the rest of the CD is a thoroughly enjoyable combination of popular carols, toe-tapping instrumental medleys and inspirational choral pieces.


We receive many lovely letters from visitors to our web site and subscribers to our newsletter. As we’re fond of saying, your feedback helps to make all of the time and effort worth while. While we have a Readers Write Page where we post comments from time to time, we’ve decided to also select a Letter - one that, for whatever reason, tickled our fancy.

This past spring I went to Ireland with my son and his wife & her family. What a wonderful experience - way too short a time. I would have loved to sit and plan my days in a much more leisurely fashion but what we saw was all too wonderful This was my first time there - did a bit of checking on my grandmother's birth place: Roscommon. I would so love to return.

Thank you for this opportunity to be a part of your wonderful home page. Thank you, too, for "Irish Culture & Customs" - it gives us the chance to know more about Ireland and its people.

Bonnie Hirschler
Photo Caption: This is Bonnie and her son Michael Hirschler at the Cliffs of Moher.

ED. NOTE: When we asked Bonnie to send us a photo, she very kindly sent us two. We choose the one of her and her son at the Cliffs of Moher because it is such an iconic image of Ireland and one that is immediately recognizable. Standing more than 500 feet at the highest point and ranging for for nerly five miles over the Atlantic Ocean, on a clear day one can see the Aran Islands, Galway Bay, as well as The Twelve Pins, the Maum Turk Mountains in Connemara and Loop Head to the South. The cliffs take their name from a ruined promontory fort “Mothar” which was demolished during the Napoleonic wars to make room for a signal tower

Live Music from Mayo

A link to the internet service from Midwest Radio out of Mayo. Broadcasting from their state of the art studios; Midwest Irish Radio plays nothing but the best Irish music. No matter where you are in the world, you are never too far from Ireland when you listen in.
Click here for: Irish Midwest radio.

Shop for the best of Irish products from the comfort of your home

We combed the internet to find reliable resources for the most popular Irish products: Aran Isle sweaters, Guinness glasses, Waterford Crystal, genuine blackthorn walking sticks, the flag of the Republic and more. Some of these shops have become friends; others we trust from their reputations and some offer products that are completely unique. We hope you enjoy browsing through what's on offer and we are confident you will find gifts for any occasion or person, all with an Irish flair.


Did you get your Newsletter?

We try to send one out once or twice a month. If you aren't receiving it, something is wrong. Let us know and we'll try to solve the problem. Note: subscribers are automatically deleted from the data base if the newsletter bounces back multiple times. Full or disabled mailboxes will also cause a subscription to be cancelled. If you have any questions, please contact Bridget.


Sat, Dec 20, 2014

Holly and Ivy hanging up and
something wet in every cup*

Not so long ago, Irish Christmas decorations were much simpler than they are now. The children gathered holly and ivy for adorning, windows, doorways, mantles and pictures, and the father would carve out a turnip in which would be placed a large red candle. This would go in the window to light the way for the Holy Family on Christmas Eve. Only in relatively recent times did an Irish family have a Nativity scene and a decorated tree in the house. As for Mistletoe, it's quite rare in ireland and is generally associated with ancient Celtic and Druidic fertility celebrations; this is most likely where the custom of kissing under the mistletoe comes from.
*Old Irish Christmas toast
Image: Pashley Manor Gardens.

Click for More Culture Corner.

Sunday Blessing

During the coming
Christmas season
May you be blessed
With the spirit of the season,
which is peace,
The gladness of the season,
which is hope,
And the heart of the season,
which is love.

Weekly Quote

Christmas weather forecast

According to the old folklore, if Christmas falls on Sunday,
it means a warm winter and a hot dry summer.
On Monday: a foggy winter and a windy summer.
On Tuesday: a snowy winter and a wet summer.
On Wednesday: a hard winter and a very good summer.
On Thursday: a soft winter and a very good summer.
On Friday: a moderate winter and a moderate Autumn.
And on Saturday: a windy snowy winter and a good summer.

A Christmas candle is a lovely thing;
It makes no noise at all,
But softly gives itself away;
While quite unselfish, it grows small.
Eva K. Logue

And Winter Came

This seasonal offering from one of the world's most successful yet enigmatic artists was originally envisioned as a Christmas album,but evolved into a more general winter theme. That said, there are some lovely "Christmassy" tracks which are sure to be played over and over during the holidays.
Click here for And Winter Came.
For more Christmas music plase click Xmas.

"For almost twenty-five years, all my Christmases were dominated by the sea that flowed between the island of Inis Mór and the mainland. No matter how early the Christmas fare was ordered on the mainland, there were certain things that could only come on the boat that sailed on Christmas Eve." Brendan Ó hEithir - Christmas Time.
Celebrated Irish writers, including John B. Keane, Seamus Heaney, Eamon Kelly and Brendan Kennelly, remember Christmas past in this special collection of 25 stories, reminiscences and poems.
Click for Christmas in Ireland.
For more Christmas books please click Xmas Books.


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March 4, 2011
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This Web Site Bashed, Kicked & Glued together by Russ Haggerty.