21 October 2023

A Dublin launch
for a book that
is a ‘must’ for every
Christmas stocking

‘Christmas and the Irish: a miscellany’, edited by Salvador Ryan, is being launched in time for Christmas

Patrick Comerford

There was good news earlier this week in advance of the publication next month of Christmas and the Irish: a miscellany. This new book is to be launched officially in the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, on Thursday 30 November by the Wexford folklorist Michael Fortune.

This collection, edited by my friend and colleague Professor Salvador Ryan of Maynooth follows the success of his three-volume series, Birth, Marriage and Death and the Irish (2016-2021), and it has been a privilege to have been invited to contribute to all four volumes in this collection.

I know there are still two months to go to Christmas, but it is worth thinking of adding this new book to your list of Christmas presents this year.

This book examines the celebration of Christmas among the Irish, from the seventh century to the present day. The 75 chapters or articles range from the serious to the light-hearted, The writers are drawn from a range of academic disciplines and professions, including anthropology, Celtic studies, education, folklore, healthcare, history, journalism, literature, media and broadcasting, pastoral ministry, philosophy and theology.

In their papers, the writer reflect on what Christmas has meant to Irish people through the ages, whether living at home or abroad.

The topics covered include: the theme of light in early Irish texts; festive feasting and fighting in the Middle Ages; the Kilmore carols of Co Wexford; the history of Irish Christmas food through the centuries; crimes of Christmas past; Christmas on the Blasket Islands; the claim that ‘Santa’s Grave’ is in County Kilkenny; why Irish missionaries in Zimbabwe regularly missed out on their Christmas dinner; the origins and early life of the ‘Late Late Toy Show’; a Christmas surprise among Irish peacekeepers in the Lebanon; Christmas customs among the Travelling Community; Christmas and the Irish Jewish community; the Wren Boys; ‘Women’s Christmas’; Irish links to popular Christmas carols; Christmas and James Joyce; the curious custom of reciting 4,000 ‘Hail Marys’ in the lead up to Christmas; and why it became an established tradition for the Viceroy to send a woodcock to the British monarch every Christmas.

This anthology promises to be a fascinating read for all who are interested in the social, cultural, and religious history of Ireland, and undoubtedly it will delight everyone who loves Christmas.

Many of the contributors are my friends and colleague. In her essay, another Wexford historian, Dr Ida Milne of Carlow College, recalls her mother being the organist at the Christmas carol services in Ferns Cathedral.

Other contributors include Ian d’Alton of TCD, Seamus Dooley of the NUJ, the Limerick historian Seán Gannon, Crawford Gribben and Laurence Kirkpatrick, both of QUB, the singer-songwriter Max McCoubrey, Miriam Moffitt, John-Paul Sheridan of Maynooth, Clodagh Tait of Limerick.

In this latest venture, I have three papers in this new Christmas volume:

• The ‘Wexford Carol’ and the mystery surrounding some old and popular Christmas carols;

• ‘We Three Kings of Orient are’: an Epiphany carol with Irish links;

• Molly Bloom’s Christmas card: where Joycean fiction meets a real-life family.

Salvador Ryan is also planning some regional ‘launches’ of sorts in the weeks leading up to Christmas:

• National Museum of Ireland (Country Life), Castlebar, Co Mayo, Saturday 2 December at 3 pm. There, Salvador Ryan will deliver a talk on Christmas traditions and their origins, followed by a small launch of the book afterwards.

• Cavan County Museum, Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan, Wednesday 6 December, at 7pm. Once again, the editor will deliver a presentation (through song and story) on the origins of Christmas, and there will be an opportunity to pick up contributor copies of the book on the night.

• Source Library and Arts Centre, Thurles, Co Tipperary, Tuesday 12 December at 8pm. This will be a launch of the volume by the local poet Larry Doherty.

Salvador Ryan is Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Saint Patrick’s Pontifical University, Maynooth. He writes on religious and cultural history from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. His other published titles include Death and the Irish, Marriage and the Irish, and Birth and the Irish (Dublin: Wordwell Books, 2016-2021); We Remember Maynooth: a College across Four Centuries (Dublin: Messenger Publications, 2020); Northern European Reformations: Transnational Perspectives (Palgrave, 2020); Material Cultures of Devotion in the Age of Reformations (Peeters, 2022), and Reforming the Church: Global Perspectives (Liturgical Press, 2023).

Copies of Christmas and the Irish: a miscellany will be available to buy at each launch event. It is also available to order in time for Christmas through local bookshops.

This exciting new book can be ordered HERE.

Christmas and the Irish: a miscellany, ed Salvador Ryan (Dublin: Wordwell Books), €25, ISBN: 978-1-913934-93-4

The Royal Irish Academy, Dawson Street, Dublin … the venue for next month’s book launch

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