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Nollaig na mBan

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No matter where we go, visit or wander we’re met with traditions, traditions are part and parcel of our heritage, handed down to us from one generation to the next. They’re found within our homes, family gatherings, communities, counties and country. If we emigrate they come with us, the Irish are known to value their traditions and look after their own. Look at the celebration of St Patrick’s Day worldwide. My brother-in-law Eamonn who emigrated to Australia in 1969, recounted how the Irish marched proudly behind their county banner, some counties had more followers but he quickly joined the Longford contingent, swelling their number by 50%, the flagbearer and Eamonn.

Nollaig na mBan is such a tradition for it celebrates Mna na h Eireann, the women who were central to keeping Ireland afloat over the decades. Women like my grandmothers' Mary Kenny and Jayne Doyle who stoically looked after their families and extended families. They were feisty women, well read and aware of the comings and goings in their homes and neighbourhood. Mary Kenny was a competent home manager as well as a beloved wife, mother, grandmother, big sister and confidant of neighbours who needed advice. 62 Manor Street was a three-story building housing 3 generations of the Kenny/Dunne family and my grandmother looked after everyone, the door was always open and the visitors knew there was always a cuppa and advice available.

Jayne Doyle was also a remarkable woman, she had the finest copperplate handwriting, a skill that was passed to many of her children. Jayne Smullen Doyle was born and raised in 44 Seville Place and together with my Grandad Doyle they spent their early married life in no 44. My own mother’s description of 44 Seville Place was as follows “our house had eight big rooms. The front door had steps and railings up to it. We never used that door, we always entered by the side door. The ground floor had a parlour with three steps down to the kitchen. The first floor had 2 bedrooms in which the Doyle family, 12 in total, slept. The next floor housed bedrooms for Grandad Smullen and his sons, while my aunties Mary and Maggie shared the smaller bedroom on this floor.” The Doyle family relocated to Great Western Square, Phibsboro after the North Strand bombings as this had been a traumatic time for them. Here Grandma Doyle continued to look after her own family but also provided dinner each evening for members of her extended family. We, the Kenny children, were equally welcome in both homes.

Mna na hEireann traditionally celebrates January 6 by honouring the women of the household, women who historically held the main household duties such as cooking and cleaning and looking after the children. Women today have no objection whatsoever to sharing these duties with their partners. Today it is more a celebration of women and womanhood. Women today continue to make their mark in every facet of our society, in politics, in business, in theatre and entertainment.

In conclusion may I quote Maya Angelou:
Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women

mgm 2024