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I can't get around them all, but I try to get to about five houses. Once you get through them, it's the first step on the road of grief.Christmas Day can be a lonely day because you're not married, and you suddenly realise that even though you have family, you don't have family. When we look at our lives, we become very aware of what we haven't got, without recognising what we have got.Daniel Corkery wrote powerfully about this in The Hidden Ireland, first published in 1924.The tradition continues in Irish and English, among women and men.
It's probably the only time in the year when there isn't enough room in any church for all the people. As a young priest, I heard confessions in ballrooms in Dublin for 12 years, five nights a week. Mass starts at 8pm, but we have the blessing of the crib at 6.45pm. The place will be crawling with children and families. And at the end of Mass, I'm hoping that Santa Claus will arrive, and that he will have a present for every child in the church.
They still want Christmas to have a churchy effect on them. Everyone knew that I was there to talk to the bands - I was their chaplain. At Mass, I tell people that I'm delighted to see them here; that it has made my Christmas, and I hope that it makes their Christmas, too. I always have turkey in the monastery with them later in the day.
When people saw me smoking my pipe in the corner, they'd come up and say, 'I'd like to go to confession', and they did, in the ballrooms. In all my life, I have never once refused absolution - sometimes I might have had difficulty working out how I could do it. You take people as they are, especially if they haven't been to Mass all year. We chat and we say, 'Well, this could be my last Christmas, but we're here now, so we'll have a bit of crack today.' If it's a snowy morning, I'll put on my boots and salt the car park, so that people can get into the church.
In compiling this anthology, I wanted to reflect the passions and preoccupations of Munster women, men and children, passions and preoccupations that would be universal as well as local, passions and preoccupations that would reveal the heart and soul of the place.
Munster has occupied an important position in Irish poetry from earliest times.The daughter has written to see if I could get something to send to her, and not the mother, so that they will have something for Christmas. Anything I get goes into the order, and yet, people slip me a tenner here and a €20 note there. That, to me, is Christmas; from the sadness of dealing with families who wish that Christmas would never happen, to maybe being able to write a wee letter to them and send them a few bob, no strings attached.