Tuesday 21 January 2020

Billy Keane: 'Jesus and Mary were refugees who brought us a message of peace and prayers of love for all'

Keane's Kingdom

'The Christmas message of love to all is as valid today as it was 2,000 years ago' (stock photo)
'The Christmas message of love to all is as valid today as it was 2,000 years ago' (stock photo)
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

The street we lived on is so quiet on Christmas night. Not a creature stirs, not even a mouse. But there were always a few lonely old boys looking for a drink.

Some were just odd and wouldn't even consider going to the pub on St Stephen's Day. There was the quest for the thing they couldn't have which was a pint from the barrel.

Mam and Dad were deadly strict about Christmas Day. We had Mam and Dad to ourselves. The pub was eerily quiet. Our family lived up over it and we loved every minute of the day off. My mother used to envy the people who lived in what she called "the private houses".

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"They had this every day," she said. But looking back on it now, maybe we appreciated Christmas all the more because for us it was a one off. A day of days. A family day and a holy day.

As I think up how I am going to write out what I'm thinking right now, it dawns on me this next bit is more like a homily than a column.

Later we will tell you how a Cork man from the Butter Exchange Band played the fanfare for the end of the world and in so doing exorcised a hitherto incurably cross dog, in what was freely acknowledged in these parts as a Christmas miracle.

Christmas is a holy day and sometimes the holiness is forgotten. Jesus gave us the most important message and it was to love one another. He was a little baby who was forced into leaving home. Jesus was an asylum seeker. He didn't end up in direct provision. The little baby was born in a stable because if he stayed at home in Galilee then Herod would have had him killed.

The story goes on. Isil is still slaughtering the innocents in the Middle East and some kids end up here in Ireland as a result. I'm thinking now of the lines by Barry McGuire from his Sixties protest song 'Eve of Destruction':

You can bury your dead, but don't leave a trace/

Hate your next door neighbour, but don't forget to say grace.

Someone said to me lately if there were no black people or Arabs or Jews in the Christmas crib, all you would have left is a donkey and a cow.

The Christmas message of love to all is as valid today as it was 2,000 years ago.

Jimmy Boylan was my landlord for a time in Cork when I was a student in UCC. Jimmy was my dad's pal and he stayed with us every Christmas and for a couple of weeks in the summer. As Donald Trump might say, it was a quid pro quo.

He played 'Panis Angelicus' at Mass on Christmas Eve on his shiny French horn at a time when midnight Mass was held at midnight. The drunks put paid to that and now most midnight masses are held at around 8pm, except in countries where the locals do not go mad for the drink on Christmas Eve.

When I was a young lad, midnight Mass was siesta from the drink and a sobering-up time before you went home to face the mother.

The drunks were woken from their slumber by Jimmy's French horn and one man started to roar it was the end of the world as he ran from the church out on to the town square, to witness the second coming.

Deano was secreted under his coat. The Church took the view that seeing as dogs weren't Christians, per se, well then they shouldn't be allowed into the church.

Deano was barking his head off. He was a vicious little devil so he was. Deano was always in bad form and bit several people over the years.

Well, he never bit anyone ever again after the Miracle of the French Horn.

We still miss poor Jimmy. He is dead a good few years now and my parents too have passed on.

You could let all the sad parts of Christmas get to you but I have come to the conclusion that those who have gone before us are still around in some form.

I was in Cork this morning to do the 'Today Show' with the so-good-to-me Dáithí and Maura. I often go to St Peter and Paul's Church just across from the RTÉ studios, where I have spent a very happy year working under the direction of the genius of Gerry Reynolds. I said a little prayer for all my loved ones, both living and dead.

For all my brave talk about spirituality, I was unbearably sad for Mam and Dad. I lit or, rather turned on a couple of electric candles for them both and there above the candelabra, framed, was the prayer Mam always said for us.

The sign was a reassurance that if we say our prayers, well then we are in contact not just with Holy Mary, my favourite, but Jesus and our loved ones too.

The first line of the prayer is: "O sacred heart of Jesus, I put my trust in you."

I'm enjoying the thought of the expression on my friends' faces as they read this. They know me as a man mad for the party. But I was born only the once. I was always a prayer, especially when I was in trouble, which was quite a lot.

Someone up there is definitely looking after me, as I could never manage to survive on my own.

So many of us gave up on our faith during the scandals of the Church, but Jesus and Mary never wronged anyone.

They were the victims in so many ways and we should not be deflected from their message of love and tolerance because of the misdeeds of others.

Good luck to those of you from other religions.

The message from all the great religions is all about love. To those of you who are not believers, may you continue to do all the good you do.

Every Christmas Eve, ever since I was a very small boy, I sing 'Silent Night' on my own, in my old room, upstairs over our pub.

I sing in the dark and I sing on my own. I sing for the love of those I love.

The saying and the singing of these prayers and hymns is an antidote to sadness, grieving and loneliness. For we are never alone when we are praying.

Those we love are kept in our thoughts, and our deeds and thinking reflect the them that is in us.

To each and every one of you I wish a happy and, yes, a very holy Christmas.

Irish Independent

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