Nollaig na mBan – a quiet Irish Tradition that needs reviving

Nollaig na mBan – a quiet Irish Tradition that needs reviving


The twelfth and last day of Christmas. An auspicious date in many cultures, with various associated traditions.

In Ireland Janruary 6th is Nollaig na mBan, or Women’s Christmas.

It’s an old tradition that women take a break on this day. There are not too many written accounts documenting this custom.

The date is also referred to as Nollaig Bheag (Little Christmas). It was the female answer to Nollaig Mór or Christmas day, when women worked hard serving and preparing food. This was a time when all of the preparations for Christmas both domestic and financial fell to the woman of the house.

After the men and children had their share of the goodies and celebrations the women would put aside their household responsibilities for an afternoon. As Christmas ended for another year they gathered to relax, to eat cake and drink tea.

Irish pubs were no place for women. On January 6th, however, it was not unusual to see women drinking stout together in a pub. The tradition was particularly strong in rural Ireland.

I spoke to many people to seek first-hand accounts of Nollaig na mBan, but they were very scarce on the ground. Women from Tipperary, Galway and Donegal had no recollection of their Mother’s celebrating this day. Ironically enough, the only two people who remembered were men!

One man, of 86 who grew up in Donegal could recall little except that his Mother ate cake with other women. When I asked him about Nollaig na mBan his reply was simple “sure that was the Mother’s day”.

The practice of women meeting to take a break after the domestic avalanche of Christmas is not, I believe, a bad one.

We have come a long way in terms of domestic and parental equality but for many women and mothers Christmas means a lot of extra work.

I find preparing for Christmas stressful. When the sun goes down on December 25th I breathe a sigh of relief. 

They may have been before my time but I understand why these women felt the need to get together on January 6th. Modern Christmas can also be overwhelming. With schools closed, lots of rich food about and no routine, things do get a bit hairy.

When I think back to my own childhood I remember all the Christmas dinners my Mam made.

The smell of fresh thyme still brings me back to Christmas eve. My Mam in the kitchen, trying to get the stuffing made before Mass, knee-deep in breadcrumbs and sausage meat and the Kenwood blender. The stress radiating from her like heat from a crackling fire.

I loved all the Christmas dinners she made and especially her home-made stuffing. Even now she makes an extra batch for my family to eat with our Christmas dinner every year.

That’s why I’m starting a new old tradition by gathering the special women in my life this January 6th. My family will be short a good woman this year, as my Grandmother is no longer with us.

If you’re free on Saturday, join forces with some other women who worked hard this season. Raise a cup or a glass, to women past and present.

Empty the biscuit tins and selection boxes before school starts. Create your own Nollaig na mBan.

After all, didn’t Christmas begin with one woman, labouring alone in the company of men?  It certainly doesn’t have to end that way.

Seriously funny stuff

Seriously funny stuff

Blindboy Boatclub (left) and Mr Chrome (right). Image courtesy of All-Nite Images


Time Out London describes the Rubberbandits as “hardcore gangster rap”. Having followed their songs and videos on YouTube I wondered how the boys would translate into a live gig.

They performed what looked like a near sell-out show in Vicar Street on Saturday night.

Following a short support act from Dublin rapper Kojaque, Blind Boy, Mr Chrome and Willie O’DJ bounded onto the stage. These lads were in their element, so much so that it was difficult to imagine the same stage had ever been occupied by another act.

Stand-up comedy is a fickle business. You need to be in good hands to enjoy live comedy. Once you get a hint that the performer is not in control or not funny enough, it becomes awkward viewing.

With reckless, raw energy the Rubberbandits held their audience from the beginning of the show. They might be hardcore, but from the get-go you knew you were in capable hands and an evening of quality entertainment was ahead.

A spoof on a “Get rich quick” scheme nabbed the crowd’s attention as they opened the show. The item being called to invest in no less than a loin of ham. This story-line comfortably threaded the entire evening together.

The running theme was fluidly interrupted by performances of the Ruberbandits well-known and some new, songs.

Just over half-way through the lads introduced their most famous song “Horse Outside”. They shared with us that they usually play this song at the end of a show. But on Saturday they wanted to “get it out of the way”. The audience reacted with expected delight and was livelier thereafter.

How, I wondered would they end the show on a high note, with their best-known tune now unavailable for an encore?

I had little time to worry as the tunes kept coming.

With a curious level of competence, the Rubberbandits addressed social issues such as bullying, pederasty and abortion. Tackling uncomfortable subjects using comedy as their medium the group epitomise the notion that tragedy lies at the heart of true comedy.

Using expert articulation and with endearing Limerick accents, the men with bags on their faces laid it all out for us. Videos corresponding to each hit were shown on a large screen and the sound was clear enough that the audience could appreciate the power of their witty words.

The finale did not disappoint. Staying true to form, the show ended with a powerful song about suicide prevention as the boys belted out the poignant lyrics of their latest single, “Sonny”. The dance-worthy beat and contagious lyrics brought everyone to their feet.

The experience was indeed surreal; Saturday night spent dancing and singing to an upbeat song about suicide prevention. This is serious comedy.

The Rubberbandits played Vicar Street on 30/09/17. Image courtesy of The All-Nite images


Feminism in a nutshell

Feminism in a nutshell

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Do we still need Feminism???

This great piece written by The Champ hits the nail on the head.   I follow The Champs Voice blog which is really packed full of insight and great writing

This was written in 2014 but still very pertinent. 

The Champ has this to say about Feminism..


Mostly in response to Emma Watson’s decision to step out of the feminist closet I decided to have a look at the main principles of the feminist movement and broke it down to the following three points:

1)      Equal Pay

2)      To ensure we have more female politicians

3)      Women should have control over their own bodies

On the first point the HeforShe campaign states Gender equality is not only a women’s issue, it is a human rights issue. I couldn’t agree more with this, in fact equality between genders is one of the fundamental principles of EU law and legislation for equal rights between women and men has existed since the very early days of the European Community. In Ireland to ensure we have fair pay amongst the labor force, ie to ensure that a man and woman get equal pay for equal work, we encourage the development of trade unions, in fact it is your legal and constitutional right to join a trade union and right now trade union membership across Ireland is at an historic high. There are now more people in unions than at any time in our history. Trade unions help protect their members and historically speaking they’ve helped improve working conditions as well as ensuring equal pay for their members.

The second thing most ‘feminists’ hope to achieve is to have more women in politics. The issue with this is that trying to reach a quota to satisfy a lobby group is not very democratic. Secondly everyone has the right to vote and everyone in Ireland has the right to enter politics, so really this is not something we can simply lobby for, it is something that must develop over time by having high quality female candidates. On this note Ireland has always had strong female leaders in politics from Constance Markievicz to Bernadette Devlin to Mary Robinson, the later of whom served as Ireland’s first female president and as a United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.              

The third point which does cause a some divide is the right to control your own body, ultimately this means that women should have the right to an abortion as they should be able to decide whether or not they carry a child. Now this is something I’m in agreement with also so that must make me a feminist right? Well maybe I’m just pro-choice and I am liberal enough to realise that there is a place for abortion in modern Ireland.

So from examining the feminist movement part of me has begun to develop the opinion that the main points are really just basic human & civil rights, and all feminism has really done is extract fundamental ideas from various movements, repackage them and slap some lipstick on it.

Now the danger with this is that perhaps feminism has detracted from the development of broader issues, for instance in the quest for equal pay for women are we ignoring the basic concept of equal pay for all? In the quest for more female politicians do we end up in world run by Sarah Palins? Is the pro-choice movement ignored by male society because it’s seen as a woman’s issue? Perhaps feminism has separated human rights and women’s rights to the point whereby feminists have excluded men from the civil rights process and thus feminism is synonymous with womanhood and is completely inaccessible to man. Perhaps feminists need to step out of the feminist closet and re-engage with the world.

Emma Watson I don’t believe you have declared yourself as a feminist so much as you’ve declared yourself as a woman who believes in civil  & human rights #heforshe.  

International women’s day 2017. I want to celebrate the unseen women.

International women’s day 2017. I want to celebrate the unseen women.


I read an article in one of our national newspapers listing thirty women that the reader “needs to know”. Thirty Irish women worth watching were described, all beautiful, all accomplished.

These women are going places and are worthy of the nation’s watchful eye. Powerful women, CEO’s, business women, famous women like the stunning Ruth Negga, sportswomen too were included on the list.

I’ve watched women like these. I’ve been inspired by them, I still am.

Several years ago, I became a full-time parent. Only then did I start to see something else. I started to see someone else.

I see you. The woman who is not watched by or will ever feature in a national newspaper.

I see you. The stay-at-home-Mum who “doesn’t work”.  You breastfeed your baby and chase your toddler around all day and somehow still manage to put a home-made meal on the table at dinner time.

I see you. The carer of your elderly parent. You drive your Mother to all her appointments, you coordinate her treatments and medications. You run from the geriatric ward of the hospital to collect your children from school.

I see you. The Mother who works tirelessly to fund-raise for much needed resources at the local primary school. You raised the money to pay for the computers that my children use every day at school.

I see you. Your children are at school now and you have some time to yourself. You volunteer with a children’s charity. You were there to entertain my children the last time we had to wait three hours to see a doctor at the A&E department.

I see you. The Mother of the autistic child. You fight for everything your child needs, none of it comes easy. You endure months of gruelling form-filling, endless questions from experts and personal reflections. You will do what it takes to have your child properly assessed. You have a path worn up and down to the school to meet with class and resource teachers. You are tired.

I see you. Your children are now raised, they are adults. You want your daughter to have the career of her dreams, the one you never had. She has a huge mortgage and cannot afford the extortionate childcare fees. You want the best for your family and if that means taking care of your grandchildren for little or no pay, you do it.

Women of Ireland you are unsung heroes. You have endured Magdalene laundries, Mother and baby homes, forced adoptions, limited access to reproductive healthcare and contraception. Yet you are still there to care for the young and the old.

I see you. Today I celebrate you.




Wimpy Pets

We have a goldfish who actually fakes his own death. He floats belly-up at the top of the tank. Every morning.

This upsets the little people at a critical time of the day. I tell them he’s faking and he’ll be fine by dinner time.

That’s how cruel I am “you don’t even care about the fish, you just want us to get ready for school”. I own it, that’s my main aim in the morning, getting them fed and to school on time.

Roll on bedtime, when we feed the fish. Faker-Fish is suddenly alive, he eats his dinner like an aqueous undead.

I remind everyone to remember Faker Fish is fine and no need to worry if same should happen tomorrow morning.

Next morning Faker Fish is up to his old tricks again. We appear to trapped in an Aquatic version of Groundhog day as the same conversation is revisited. Only this time I’m the cruellest Mother ever.

“Maybe” says my seven year-old, “he’s actually dead, but faking life”…

Faker Fish is swimming dangerously close to the edge with me.



Fifty shades of relationship inequality

Fifty shades of relationship inequality

rope-1092035_1280_1Fifty shades is back on the screen. This time around the fantasy is even more extraordinary. Marriage is now on the table.

Violent yet safe sex leading to a secure relationship and marriage. Hmm.

With over 100 million books sold, in 51 different languages, this is a popular story.

The books don’t aspire to be high calibre literature. It would seem that the unique selling point is the depiction of BDSM in a context that is appealing to women.

If you’re curious about kinky sex these books will give you a thrill. I’m guessing that many readers have never seen a butt plug or discussed the joys of anal sex with a female friend over coffee.

E.L. James lays it all out for us, the nipple clamps, the contract, the slave-master relationship revealed. The whole thing packaged neatly with a pink ribbon of romance and a sprinkling of love. How sweet. Bondage and romance, what more could a girl want?

But when the kinky sex is subtracted from this story what’s left is a pretty drab relationship. The bondage really is just a red herring.

It could even be argued that there is a disturbing aspect to this narrative.

In the first instalment of the Fifty Shades series we meet the handsome Mr Grey. The man who wants to begin a relationship with a written contract. Lovely.

Mr Grey wants a contractual partner for sex. He wants a woman who will come to his home on weekends. The way most of us would order a Chinese take-away on a Saturday night. After sex, Mr Grey does not wish to share a bed or even a room with his partner. No embraces or late night chats. There will be no dates, no flowers.

In this context, how relevant is the actual type of sex on offer? Let’s not kid ourselves – if you’re being used for sex you’re being used.

When our heroine Anna asks what’s in it for her, the delightful reply from Christian Grey is “me”.

We all know someone who fell for this trap. A woman who is emotionally attached to a man she sleeps with because sex is the only way she can be with him. E.L. James, uses the distraction of whips, feathers and a red room to make this situation seem exotic and romantic. The trouble is, it’s not.

The heroine submits (excuse the pun) to the sex in the hope of being rewarded with a healthy fulfilling relationship. The greatest fantasy of all is not the handsome rich and intelligent character of Mr Grey.  It is the dangerous idea that an exploitative self-serving relationship like the one being offered by Christian Grey could eventually lead to a happy marriage.

Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, the author of Venus in Furs, wrote that a woman “can only be (a man’s) slave or his despot, but never his companion. This she can become only when she has the same rights as he and is his equal in education and work”. Very forward-thinking for a man in the year 1870.

Yet here we are in the year 2017 when a woman can achieve companionship with a man through equal rights in education and work. One hundred million of those women aren’t interested. They buy into a franchise with a hero who doesn’t want a female companion but rather a slave. A heroine who submits because it’s the only way she can get her man.

What is so attractive about Christian Grey that his lame offer of a sub-standard relationship with absolutely no emotional value-for-money appeals to women?

Strength. Christian Grey’s strength of character is the answer. This attraction signals the death of the metro man, who is now extinct. No longer the appreciation of a man keeping in touch with his feminine side. No more the desire for a man who expresses his emotions and shows an interest fashion and personal grooming. He is a social fossil. Dead. The man’s man is back.

The appeal of Christian Grey lies in his self-assured, confident and independent ways. Here is a man who can think for himself, make his own decisions and money. He knows himself and knows what he wants. He is the ultimate alpha male and perhaps too much of a novelty for the 21st century woman.

Haven’t we seen an almost complete U-turn in the attitudes towards men and women in mainstream media and advertising? It’s no longer acceptable to portray women as helpless, weak or dumb. The image of the 1950’s apron-wearing blonde is not well worn by modern women.

But what about the image of the dumb man? You know the one I mean, the man who can’t multi-task, never listens and is perennially wrong? That image is all-too prevalent.

Parents of young toddlers who enjoy the children’s cartoon Peppa Pig know what I mean. In the classic family life of young Peppa Pig, Daddy Pig is ridiculous. Daddy Pig is chronically misled, repeating one misdemeanour after another only to be corrected by the all-knowing, all-wise Mummy Pig. In effect Daddy Pig is reduced to the level of the third child in the family. He is not a grown-up on equal terms with his wife.

This derogatory portrayal of men is widespread and damaging, to both men and women. As young girls continue to outperform boys in school exams and at university a new gender gap might be developing.

Young girls of the Peppa Pig generation can surely not be expected to have high expectations of a husband. Cue the novelty and appeal of a character like Christian Grey. A man who takes charge, a man who likes to be in charge. Clearly, he has the edge over the fumbling fool many woman see depicted in the media.

As far back as 1983 social scientists Marcia Guttentag and Paul F. Secord described the “man-deficit” among college-educated young people. Could the gender ratios of college graduates be a factor in women lowering their relationship standards?

In his book “Date-Onomics: How dating became a lopsided numbers game” Jon Birger explains that college educated women outnumber their male counterparts in the US. Birger points to the fact that 1981 was the last year that more men graduated from four-year university degree programs. Since then, it’s more and more women graduating every year.

Manhattan has 60 percent more female college graduates than male between the ages of 22-29. Bad news if you’re a young educated lady who seeks to be in a relationship with a man with a similar level of education. Very bad news if you believe in the principle of relationship equality. Could it be a shortage of available men, or a dearth of finding the good ones?

As the plot of Fifty Shades unfolds we see that there are no men available to match Christian Grey’s focus, strength and confidence. The other male characters who compete for Anna’s attention appear immature and unable to handle themselves, the Daddy Pigs of this world. So, Anna does what any modern girl might do, she settles.

Anna, like many women is so desperate to have a partner of equal strength to her own that she’ll take him on any terms. A partner of equal strength in a relationship of unequal terms.

Equality of the sexes is dead and gone, says E.L James, it’s in the grave.