Christmas Eve

Every year on Christmas Eve, I make a point of taking the kids out away from the house so that my wife can get doing what Santa is really supposed to do. In Belfast I would take them to my sister’s on the other side of town as well as to the homes of a variety of friends. Since leaving the city, we have returned to it every year on Christmas Eve to visit the same people. It has become a well established tradition.

Today we broke with it but only at the last minute. Everyone we spoke to in Belfast advised us against making the journey. Getting there by bus would not be a problem but getting back could prove to be. A last minute phone call to my sister settled it. Although the kids were dressed and ready for the road she cautioned against travelling. Too icy all round.

If we had any thoughts of feeling sorry for ourselves they were quickly dispelled by the scenes from Dublin Airport where stranded passengers faced the prospect of a Christmas separated from the people they most wanted to be with.

When young, Christmas Eve was my favourite day of the year. After that the season slipped into anti-climax mode. My last enjoyable one in those days, when I had not yet been initiated into the dubious joys of prison life, was in 1973. I got blocked out of my mind and rolled into the house and into my bed sick as a poisoned pig. At that point it was something to be endured rather than enjoyed. My mother thought I was ill and blamed it on the cops who had arrested me on a trumped up charge of disorderly behaviour a few nights earlier. She thought they had ill treated me and I did little to dissuade her of her suspicions. Handy to have the auld cops take the blame for my night on the town.

The following Christmas Eve was spent inside in a cold and windswept Magilligan Prison. At 17 I found it horrible and lonely although the place was packed with fellow republican prisoners. I still recall the strangeness of being isolated from my family. The next one was spent outside but was hardly any better. I ended up brawling in the street with a Stick who had earlier, during one of the crazy feuds that beset 1970s Belfast republicanism, shot in the leg the woman I happened to in the company of when we came across him in the local pub. He was sitting with a colleague from his IRA who our IRA had shot. At first it was a clash of the crutches, as both sides poked the other with hospital equipment. Then it became a full blown fight in the street which only stopped when the British Army came along. Both pugilists thought better of waking up in the cells on Christmas morning. The Brits could truly claim to have brought peace to Essex Street.Surreal now but then it was par for the course. The petty hatreds and tensions that once drove us to murderous rage no longer have the remotest relevance to our lives.

Today, fighting with political opponents has been displaced by playing with children. Christmas Eve is no longer spent brawling, but bawling at kids to behave as we took our seats in the cinema in front of Megamind. When we failed to get to Belfast we all took the bus to Balbriggan where we settled into our seats in front of the big screen. Beats brawling, beats boozing.

Merry Christmas to all at the Quill.


  1. Mackers,
    Wishing you and the very lovely and irrepressible Mrs Mc Intyre a very happy Christmas.
    Kids make Christmas, however you sometimes wish you could box them and put them in the cupboard with the toys. Only I think there is now laws that prevent that sort of thing.
    I would just like to take this opportunity to wish, Marty, Tain Bo, mise eire, michaelhenry, Larry, MartyDownUnder, Robert, Graycrow, Interested, Alfie, Simon, Stefan and the ladies StMary?Hedgehog and Helen a truly lovely Christmas. Forgot the Professor, God only knows who he is off upsetting on this festive. season.
    Mackers, thanks to you and Carrie for providing us with this platform to air our views, annoying as they must seem at times. Hope the georgeous McIntyre children have a wonderful day.
    Hope ,Marty stays sober and I hope Robert acknowledges that us Taigs got more snow than the Prods inspite of all the money we spent on our Pontiff.
    Think he is on today same time as the Queen, michaelhenry will be in a tizzy wondering who to listen to.
    I'm away to open the wine. CHEERS EVERYONE!

  2. Nuala,


    The toys are everywhere, the kids engaged. They make it of course.

    the 'irrepressible Mrs McIntyre' has to take credit for getting it all pulled together.

    'I would just like to take this opportunity to wish, Marty, Tain Bo, mise eire, michaelhenry, Larry, MartyDownUnder, Robert, Graycrow, Interested, Alfie, Simon, Stefan and the ladies StMary?Hedgehog and Helen a truly lovely Christmas. Forgot the Professor, God only knows who he is off upsetting on this festive. season.'

    I would subscribe to that. The professor is fine. Should hear from him today some time.

    It is great to have so many views aired here Nuala. Platforms are the use people put them to. Voices that refuse to be censored will fins an airing here regardless of what they hold to be true.

  3. I have been converted to religion and have on this Christmas morning just discovered a church to suit me

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  6. I hope everyone has had a very Happy Christmas so far and will enjoy the rest of the holidays. Thanks for making me feel welcome on this blog as a commenter.

    Anthony you said to Fionnuala, "It is great to have so many views aired here."

    I agree- I know that the Freedom of Speech isn't absolute in any country but The Pensive Quill has allowed it to flourish more than it otherwise would.

    I think we should be grateful that we live under the Crown where Freedom of Speech is not a luxury but is the norm. Ho ho! Only joking! As soon as the South cleans up it's politicians we can have somewhere to aspire to join with some day. What was it Connolly said about that?

  7. Simon,

    Merry Christmas to you also.

    I am pleased you derive satisfaction from the Quill allowing so many views to be aired. It is what we do. While no where near as active or as prominent as the Blanket, it has continued in the same spirit of free inquiry. As restricted as it may well be in terms of audience every manner of view is aired here.

  8. Alfie,

    happy Christmas you redoubtable atheist skeptic!! My turn on the whiskey tonight - to be technical, bourbon!

  9. I can see why the new church appeals good craic.
    Hope the kids and the dog enjoyed Christmas morning.


    Thank you best wishes to you and Albert.

  10. Tain Bo,

    we enjoyed it indeed.

    My church is as good as the next guy's!

  11. I was aware of the blanket and I read it a few times and thought it was a valuable resource. However, I don't believe I commented at all.

    I know some of the prisoners in the mid 1990s were gently jested that they were on the quilt what with the open door policy and all (I mean the practice of absolute freedom of association not the Liam Averill type of open door policy!) The conditions for prisoners were a lot better but it was still prison after all, there were still harsh beatings and the like by the screws.

    At the end of 2010 I believe politics aside and the method of gaining peace and the imperfect results of the process put aside for another debate I am glad few civilians are dying and few Republicans are dying or going to prison.

    I don't think it was worth dying for but it's a lot better than it was and maybe it was worth stopping dying for.

  12. Glad to hear that the laughter of children (and the "very lovely and irrepressible Mrs Mc) triumphs again. Beannachtaí na tseisúin agaibhsa go deo.

  13. And there’s a hand my trusty friend !
    And give us a hand o’ thine !
    And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
    for auld lang syne.

    I trust your Christmas day was as pleasent as mine Anthony and heres wishing you every success with this fine blog for the new year.

    Anyone happen to see The Adoration of the Christ Child
    by Fra Filippo Lippi on BBC Two.
    Bhí sé ar dóigh.

  14. Anybody not got a sore head

    Fionnuala- missed the crown queens
    speech, i was in no tizzy over lizzy- i saw some of it on sky news
    the same old yearly crap-

    another group of ass-holes waiting
    for their obe's or lower mbe's to come- but the class system makes them simple- in the end the ass-holes will do what their crown says
    any way- cheers back to you and yours.

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  17. Michaelhenry,

    a bit queasy but no sore head. Had a go at the Jack Daniels last night. What are you reading over Christmas?

  18. Anthony,

    "happy Christmas you redoubtable atheist skeptic!! My turn on the whiskey tonight - to be technical, bourbon!"

    Thanks, Anthony. Best wishes to you and your family. I love Christmas even though its premise is, as you say, a con. There is enough hardship and misery in life, so people should celebrate when they can. Enjoy your bourbon!

  19. Mise Eire, Connolly was gifted with a great foresight and he knew that unless you change the system we'll be just as oppressed in a Republic by the Irish leaders. There'll still be greed, graft, corruption and harsh treatment of the vulnerable.

    I am sorry I can't remember the exact quotation, perhaps someone else can, but it was one that concisely summed up this tenet of Connollyism. That there's no use in changing the government if the people are still going to be downtrodden.

    Donal Nevin's books are great on Connolly. He planned to compile a many volumed set of Connolly's works but as he started at 83 I fear we will not have these. There was a separate 12 volume set published years ago perhaps they'll be re-printed.

    I just re-read my last post from yesterday and it wasn't meant to be a slight on anyone. I just meant that if there wasn't such hardship there is no guarantee we would be as moved on as we are now. I know things are far from perfect but at least it's not as bad as it was. I am just thankful there is peace and a chance to further things without the same hardship.

  20. Simon,
    I don't understand what you mean by things have improved? Improved, politically, economically or both.
    The poor people's lot has not improved, economically people are worse off, politically we are just being shafted.
    They (our British politicans) have created a false utopia and named it the 'lesser of two evils' the truth being the greater evil.
    They have manufactured a belief that if you follow the mumbo jumbo they spout then all will come good in the end.

    michaelhenry, fine today inspite of a continual flow of wine and black russians, must be the steely dissenting spirit.

  21. AM-

    A few baileys down my neck last night then it was up the bushmills

    Usually at holidays i go over some
    of the books that i have read before- over the years i sometimes
    forget what i fell in love with-

    The last few days i re-read a couple of sven hassel books about a
    german penal unit in world war 2
    once this unit called for reinforcements whilst they were figting the russians- along came a
    ss regiment- both the german penal
    unit and the russians opened fire on the ss- when the ss were killed
    both sides started to fight each other again
    there's a message somewhere in that

    Re-reading john le carre's tinker
    tailor soldier spy to-day today a
    few chapters at a time- only started this internet carry on a year or so back- im now hooked.

  22. Simon,
    If you remove the English army tomorrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organization of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in vain. England would still rule you. She would rule you through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individualist institutions she has planted in this country and watered with the tears of our mothers and the blood of our martyrs.

    As you said Connolly summed it up perfectly there.

    Jack Daniels isn't a bourbon it's a corn whiskey, true bourbons like Jim Beam and Wild Turkey aren't or weren't that easy to get hold of there. I know as used to be a connoisseur of the stuff, never touch at all now, stick with the odd beer. Bourbons tend to be much sweeter than JD and are usually made more so by people drowning them with coke. Glad to hear you had no hangover anyway as that's why I won't touch it now! You should try the Jim Beam some time and you'll see the difference, Wild Turkey is superior but can't imagine it'd be easy to get there.

    Hope everyone had good day yesterday and conditions improve, that great flying spaghetti monster has sent some of that cold weather here highly unusual for this time of year.

  23. MartyDownUnder- That's the very one!! Thank you, I was struggling to find it.

    Fionnuala, I really meant there are a lot less people shot or tortured by the state and less civilians and republicans are dying before their time or going to prison. I believe it's not only a quantitative but a qualitative change. I know a lot of people are living in poverty. We need huge change to combat this but at least people who would otherwise be dead are alive and where there's life there's hope and a chance to achieve better things for everyone.

    I know many people will disagree with me but I think nothing can be gained now by armed force since it didn't gain it's main goals in the past and we are in a position now to try to achieve change that would have been impossible previously.

    Trying to achieve things by violence is only excusable when you live in a non-democratic state. But when the state is arbitrarily created and you're dealt a fait accompli and that de facto means that you are living in a non-democratic state it doesn't necessarily mean that violence is the best way to achieve change.

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  25. Mise Eire- Your thinking is curiously like my own. We both know the country is messed (both parts), we know why but nobody knows what to do about it. Socialism is perhaps the best option but is it available?

    Those are startling figures you produced.

    It looks like an impossible task, something hard not to get despondent about.

  26. Simon,
    Everything that Connolly advised against has been embraced by our politicans here in the North.
    If change is to be measured by the absence of deaths through war, then yes there has been quantitative change, qualitatitive change is a very different matter.
    Few people apart from the wealthy who have benefited from the (no holes barred get rich schemes)
    would cite that there has even been a semblance of qualitative change here.
    All we got in terms of change, was line drawn under the past and the justification for everything that had gone before reframed as an inter-communal rift.

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  29. Fionnuala,

    "All we got in terms of change, was line drawn under the past and the justification for everything that had gone before reframed as an inter-communal rift."

    That was really well put. It never occurred to me any other way apart from subconsciously that this was the case. I suppose it has happened so gradually that I missed it. You are absolutely right, the way the Historical Inquiries Team focus on loyalists/republicans and seriously constrained inquiries focus on the British government's role as an "impartial overseer" of some kind. The work by ex-prisoner groups from both sides to have some sort of understanding and to work together on projects is laudable but it's downside is that it makes the conflict look like a war that the British oversaw in the same way the British oversee the projects.

    The historians and other academics fall into the same trap. "Inter-communal rift" is all you can see. Partly because studies on ex-prisoners leave out the security forces. Perhaps because so few were charged let alone imprisoned. But I suppose that helps the "inter-communal rift" revisionism.

    Mise Eire- The two books by Donal Nevin are quite expensive and only available from second-hand and specialist on-line sellers.(last time I looked) I hope you can track down a bargain. I would start with the biographical "A Full Life". It goes for around the £45 mark because it is out of print. It helps to shop around. "The Workers Republic" book is a smaller book with all Connolly's pamphlets and articles for the paper of the same name. It is good also but mostly focuses on labour. It not expensive and can be had for about £4-£6.

  30. Anthony,
    what happened to Essex St and your childhood home? Still standing today or has it like much of old Belfast been razed to make way for new housing?
    Just curious.

  31. Simon

    The Blanket took letters but had no comment facility.

    ‘I don't think it was worth dying for but it's a lot better than it was
    and maybe it was worth stopping dying for.’

    Not much to disagree with there.


    ‘There is enough hardship and misery in life, so people should celebrate when they can. Enjoy your bourbon!’



    I read Sven Hassel a long time ago. I think I read every one he wrote.

    Only read one Le Carre one – The Russia House.


    So I wasn’t on a bourbon then! Have drank Beam but not Wild Turkey. It only seems to appear in Ireland if somebody brings a bottle back from the States.


    Essex Street as I knew it is long since demolished and been replaced with a newer version. The last time I was in the area our old home on the Ormeau Road was still standing but the earlier one in Bagot Street had been demolished along with Essex Street.

  32. Aa usual, I'm always a wee bit behind in my readings and postings, but I wish you all at the Quill a very healthy and prosperous new year.

  33. Helen,

    happy new year to you and yours also.