Nollaig na mBan

I’d not heard of this. It’s Gaelic for ‘women’s Christmas’, traditionally falling on the 6th January – the feast of the Epiphany – when, after working hard for others through the rest of the Christmas season, women had some time for themselves:

“In rural and small-town Catholic Ireland, especially, women would gather in each other’s homes or local pubs for a few stolen hours of gaiety while the men looked after the brood.

Speaking to the Times, Irish scholar Alan Titley remarked that the tradition was most common in the west of Ireland in a litany of different ways. “Most women in west Kerry would have raised five or six turkeys for sale at the Christmas market,” he said. “They kept the money – like egg money – and if there was anything left over after Christmas they spent it on themselves.”

Nice article on the tradition here.

Nollaig na mBan

Pleasing billows of debauch

These debates about the Irish border in Northern Ireland reminded me of this poem from Seamus Heaney, written during the Troubles about the possession and repossession of his land by the rapist across the water.

What are these latest debates, but new inexpert fumblings from the old disabled debauchee.

OCEAN’S LOVE TO IRELAND

I
SPEAKING broad Devonshire,
Ralegh has backed the maid to a tree
As Ireland is backed to England

And drives inland
Till all her strands are breathless:
‘ Sweesir, Swatter! Sweesir, Swatter! ‘

He is water, he is ocean, lifting
Her farthingale like a scarf of weed lifting
In the front of a wave.
II
Yet his superb crest inclines to Cyntia
Even while it runs its bent
In the rivers of Lee and Blackwater.

Those are the splashy spots where he would lay
His cape before her. In London, his name
Will rise on water and on these dark seepings:

Smerwick sowed with the mouthing corpses
Of six hundred papists, ‘as gallant and good
Personages as ever where beheld’.
III
The ruined maid complains in Irish,
Ocean has scattered her dream of fleets,
The Spanish prince has spilled his gold

And failed her. Iambic drums
Of English beat the woods where her poets
Sink like Onan. Rush-light, mushroom-flesh,

She fades from their somnolent clasp
Into ringlet-breath and dew,
The ground possessed and repossessed.

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Pleasing billows of debauch