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Poorhouses and midnight mass: What Christmas was like in 1901 Ireland

According to the Intermountain and Colorado Catholic newspaper.
Dec 25th 2014, 9:15 AM 8,142 1

THE CHURCHES ARE thronged, poorhouses are “made gay”, and “everything is done with a kindly thought”.

Welcome to Christmas in Ireland, 1901.

Writing in Rosary Magazine, and reprinted in the Intermountain and Colorado Catholic on December 21 1901, Mary E Butler turns her misty eyes to the Ireland she remembers.

It’s pre-World War I, pre-Independence, pre-modernity Ireland.

christmas ireland 1901 Source: Library of Congress

Here’s the Ireland she describes:

“One of the first fruits of the Irish revival… has been the introduction of Christmas cards with greetings printed in the Irish language, into several Dublin shops. Last Christmas there was an enormous demand for these cards, so genuinely racy of the soil, and the supply was not equal to the demand.”

“The spiritual side of Christmas has always appealed more to the Irish imagination than the social side.”

“In the cities the churches are thronged with crowds of devout worshippers from 6 o’clock in the morning, when first mass is celebrated, and numbers make a point of attending three masses and taking part in other devotional exercises”

“…whenever permission is accorded to the public to attend midnight mass in any of the city churches the permission is availed of by as many as the sacred edifices can hold.”

xmas ireland 1901 2

“Hospitals and poorhouse wards are made gay, for the time being, with decorations, and tempting fare is provided for the patients. The staffs, aided by kindly visitors, provide entertainments in the form of concerts, dramatic performances, etc…”

“[In the country] For many a weary mile over rocky mountains and wet bogland, old and young will tramp to mass and wait patiently often in damp and scanty clothes, the coming of the priest.”

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“Unpicturesque, bare, draughty and comfortless, as too many of our modern Irish churches are, they hold unquestionably the most reverent and deeply devout congregations in the world”.

“The traditional white Christmas is not often with us in Ireland.”

“[O]ne may conclude that there are no distinctively Irish social customs associated with Christmas in Ireland at the present day.”

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Aoife Barry

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