Sunday, 10 January 2016

Nollaig na mBan and Other Seasonal Traditions

The Hunt is in the village today.
Sometimes we hear the hollow clopping of hooves on the bridge, or the steady beat of them streaming up the road, excited yelping, the sonorous call of the horn.
They are all very smartly turned out in their dark coats, the odd flash, here and there of a scarlet collar (or should that be pink?), the horses splendid, the hounds seemingly oblivious of anyone but the whipper-in. They certainly pay no attention to me, anyway, calling after them when they occasionally peel off through our gate and check out the orchard or the garden.  I worry for my hens and cats, and always keep the dogs firmly shut in the kitchen. I don't know what might happen if they met and would rather not find out, but there has - mercifully - never been a hound-incident.

The Hunt

I don't know how I feel about the hunt.
I don't condone killing creatures for sport, and by and large consider that everything has as much right to be on this planet as I have.Even when a fox ate all my chickens many years ago, I felt as sorry for the fox as I did for my poor hens. She took them, one by one during daylight hours and there was nothing we could do to protect them, other than keep them locked in all the time, which they hated and didn't understand. She was a mangy creature, and desperately thin, and her need was very great.

Anyway, I'm not really in a position to be judgemental about the hunt, as I have always kept lurchers.
They're not ever used for hunting, my dogs, but lurchers are lurchers, and I wouldn't fancy a hare's chances if SuperModel and the ModelDog caught sight of one whilst walking in the woods. They go like bullets out of guns, an unseen switch triggering my sweet, gentle couch potatoes into deadly predators. They cease to hear anything except the archaic call of the chase and their own blood thrumming in their eardrums.

Couch Potato One, aka Model Dog

Couch Potato Two - Super Model

In fact it was Top Dog and his brother who brought the poor fox to justice. The In-Charge had taken them for a walk in the fields behind the house, they saw the fox on the far side of the field and were gone before he could even summon a whistle to his lips. Less than a minute later the fox was dead, her neck cleanly snapped and not a drop of blood spilled. I have wondered if she even heard them coming.
It's how we know that our hen-thief was a vixen, and eaten by mange, and bone thin, the poor love. In many ways I felt it was a release for her, as mange in the wild is incurable, and passed on to the cubs. A terrible sentence: itchy, sore, debilitating and eventually overwhelming.
The dogs paid a price too for their un-planned kill. Inevitably, they both caught the mange, even though they had no more contact with her - the In-Charge brought them home and then returned to bury her. The cure for mange is a painful injection.

Top Dog and his brother, Under Dog, rolling on the beach in years gone by

Life in the wild is pretty merciless, as we all know from watching nature programmes.
You can't remove an animal's instincts, and although I have taught my dogs that our cats and hens are family, not food, that's about as far as I can hope to go.
Anyway, where is the border-line between killing for sport and killing for food? My dogs' instinct is to try and catch things in the wild, but would they eat them? Probably not, they are well fed at home, but if they weren't, then they would need to catch their dinner, so the line is blurred. And nowhere more blurred than with felines, as anyone whose cat has caught a bird or stalked a shrew knows.

So I make no comment on the hunt, except to say that I always hope they return home tired and muddy but bloodless and empty handed. And with all their hounds. (I long ago asked for a phone number to call if a hound gets separated and left behind, which does happen.)

The end of Christmas is a time for traditions, and some are more universally popular than others.

Epiphany is one. The 6th of January, means different things in different countries. Here in Ireland it is Nollaig na mBan, the Women's Little Christmas. It is the day when, having done everything for everyone else for the whole 12 day festival, women can finally sit down and enjoy their own little celebration. I don't know if they still - as in olden days - go off and leave the men at home doing the chores and looking after the children, but go off they certainly do.

Celebrating Nollaig na mBan

This year I went with them to a great evening at The Model in Sligo.
There was music, some great singing from Mary McPartlan, resonant poetry from Anne Joyce and Mary Looby, readings of letters from Constance Markievicz to WB Yeats, and a fiery and inspirational talk from Tanya Dean on 'Waking the Feminists'. And it all took place to a backdrop of charcoal portraits by the amazingly talented Emma Stroude who spoke movingly of her own journey in creating them. Her pictures, 'Women of the Rising', feature some of the women who played instrumental roles in the Easter Rising of 1916. Many of them became widows, some were arrested, one sentenced to death (a sentence later commuted) and as the centenary year kicks off, it was a fitting focus for the evening.

Much as I enjoyed all the entertainment on offer, one of the best parts of the evening for me was going along with two good friends and seeing - unexpectedly - so many others who I hadn't known would be there; lots of women I have met through so many different aspects of life.
I don't know if the In-Charge was doing any chores at home, I expect he was watching TV or online, but that part of it aside, Nollaig na mBan was a rich and sisterly way to start the year.
Thank you, ladies!

Two of Emma Stroude's portraits: Women of the Rising


  1. As always Lorely its a pleasure to read your blog, nature and the life of Ireland as it is lived. Happy New Year!

  2. Hi Andrew - thank you, what a lovely compliment! I saw Carol at the Nollaig na mBan celebration and was asking after you! Hope you are feeling fit again. Happy New Year to you too!

  3. You're very welcome Connie! Thank you for visiting, and for your comment.


Ah, go on! Make my day - leave a comment!