Bairbre Power: 'As old Christmas traditions fade, I’m intent on starting brand new ones'
Last week, I headed off on a train journey I’d wanted to do for some time.
It wasn’t anything exotic or posh as the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, which I’ve been dying to try.
My journey was far more mundane — Dublin-Cork-Dublin on Irish Rail and I was way too excited to even allow patchy wi-fi get to me.
I was like a child boarding the Arctic Express laden with pressies I’d excitedly wrapped the night before when I announced to my offspring that I was boarding a ‘reverse Holly Bough express’. Let me explain...
My late maternal grandmother, Mary Crowley, had magically expanding bags like Mary Poppins and she would arrive up to Dublin laden down with all sorts of Cork exotica and specialities like Thompson’s Battenberg, bottles of Tanora and my dad’s favourite, The Holly Bough, a festive newspaper supplement packed with nostalgia.
I was thrilled to head back to Cork if only for a whirlwind 24 hours to see family and old friends, and drink some Murphys in the institution that is The Long Valley bar.
With this trip to the Independent Republic of Cork, my intention was to activate some new Christmas traditions at this stage of my life.
I’m not getting maudlin now, but it’s one of the sad things about growing older that you no longer have the Christmas set-pieces you clung to for years when the kids were small, like going to visit Santa and having your photograph taken with the bearded one, or going into town to see the lights and post your letter to Santa on the way home.
So I was heading to Cork to create a little modern nostalgia of my own. And what’s wrong with that?
Nostalgia can be good for us at any age, I say. It was time to reconnect with family and honour Christmases past.
One of the time-honoured Christmas traditions in our house was when my Auntie Daphne used to come to Dublin on her annual Christmas gifting expedition.
The dynamic Cork woman would whizz around the pals and former workmates and deliver all sorts of presents to them and their kids. A Christmas card just wouldn’t do. My mum would collect her from the train and act as her taxi lady as she delivered Christmas largesse, a lot of it knitted by her own fair hand.
I was always intrigued by the practical nature of my mum’s friends, one in particular who would gift her a big envelope of tights for the year.
At that time, I thought this was crazy but now, what I wouldn’t give for someone to gift me six pairs of Penneys Opaque tights in black and navy and set me up for the grey days of January. And a Lottery scratch card thrown in for good measure.
On the train heading south, I started to compile my list of things to buy in Cork, starting with a dress at Samui and spiced beef from the English Market.
My face broke into a smile and I actually snorted with laughter when I thought back on how many quarter weight of this Cork favourite my Granny brought up to us over the years like a culinary pack horse! What a diligent post woman in the service of others.
After music and the scent of fragrances, there’s nothing quite like the smell and taste of food to send you spinning back in time and, for me, the clovey smell of our kitchen filling up with the smell of boiling spiced beef was the absolute epitome of a Christmas Eve at home.
My loquacious taxi driver pumped me for information on my way to visit my granny’s grave. Two shared surnames, sure we might even be cousins, he announced as he charged me a tenner.
Now that I’m an orphan minus parents and godparents, visits to graveyards can be very sad but there was no chance of that today. The taximan left me chuckling and, as I walked to the grave, my spirits rose as I planned some genealogical research for 2019. Being proactive this side of December 31 is always good for the soul and helps you embrace the new year with a purpose.
Guess that means more visits to Cork. Good! I fancy more time in the Crawford Art Gallery, and after years of hating it when my mum used to make it, I’m developing a taste for Carrageen Moss.
Could I be morphing into a Cork woman for the second half of my life?