As a city and a country we are regularly concerned by anti-social behaviour in society generally but more especially in its most acute form which often finds violent expression when late pubs and clubs spew out their contents onto our streets. The knock-on effects of these regular weekend bashes is a bloody awful inundation of the already hard pressed A&E’s at hospitals throughout the country. There is a general sense that something needs to be done, even calls for a return of the birch which apparently is still all the rage in the Isle of Man where regular doses of six of the best are dispensed. But our own history and traditions may hold an effective solution in stamping out unacceptable behaviour. Surely you are not going to suggest something all too predictable like the stocks on the Hill of Ballybricken? Much better the solution practised in the past, as recorded by Daniel Dowling in his telling of the development of Waterford’s Kays, or Quays.
Ancient instrument of punishment
I quote from his wonderful book: ‘In September 1705 the Corporation agreed to the proposal of Mr. Graves, to be allowed enlarge the east end of the quay (opposite Reginald’s Tower?) adjoining Ducking Stool Slip, and to build a new slip, the cost of which was to be allowed out of his rent. This must have been where the city ducking stool was situated. This was an ancient instrument of punishment which consisted of a strongly made wooden armchair fastened to the end of a long wooden beam fixed as a seesaw on the end of a pond, or river as in this instance. The culprit was seated in the chair, protected by an iron band to prevent falling out during the immersions. It was mainly used for the punishment of scolds, shrews and prostitutes, but at times also for unruly beggars, dishonest bakers and brewers of bad beer! ‘
A motley crew, indeed. But if the practice was revived today who would be on the list and in need of a good ducking? I bravely, or should I say cutely, resist the temptation to give you my list ? But therein might lie the solution to anti-social or any form of anti-personal behaviour.
Let’s call it a cooling-off period! It would make a great spectacle indeed. Imagine great swarms of the citizenry assembled on the south-eastern quays in the Millennium Plaza area and the great blue crane given a whole new lease of life and raison d’etre as a latter day Ducking Stool. Each Sunday evening, circa 7 o’clock, the offending dollop of miscreants would be brought forward and one by one would be named and shamed and then well and truly ducked before the assembled multitude. An added value/indignity quotient to the proceedings would be that with the river much more polluted than in days of yore, God only knows what might be swallowed along with their pride. And let’s hope that there is plenty to go around.
I could see this developing into a ticket-only event and videos of celebrity miscreants being in huge demand. Another benefit of the location here is the city council’s WebCam, so those being ducked off can be viewed all over the world! An opportunity for Waterford to lead the way in matters of crime and punishment and showing the world that we will not duck the issues – we will willingly duck the lot of them!
Little Christmas is also referred to as Women’s Christmas (Nollaig na mBan in Irish or sometimes even Women’s Little Christmas). It is so called because of the tradition, which is still very strong in Cork, of Irish men taking on all the household duties for the day and giving their spouses a day off. Most women will either hold parties or go out to celebrate the day with their friends, sisters, mothers, aunts etc. Bars and restaurants usually have a majority female clientele on this night. Children often buy presents for their mothers and grandmothers and it closely resembles Mother’s Day in this respect. While originally a rural tradition, in recent years Women’s Christmas is enjoying something of a revival, both in Ireland and abroad. It is becoming popular in the Irish emigrant communities in Britain, North America, Australia and New Zealand. For the Irish Women’s Network of British Columbia, Canada, for example, this event is the highlight of their social calendar. In Spain it’s the main time for present giving associated with the presents brought by the Magi or the Three Wise Men. This, like Bonfire Night tradition in June on St. John’s Eve, the 23rd, may have come from Spain to Cork. Of course, in religious terms the day has long been celebrated as the Epiphany. Another name for the day is 12th Day of Christmas and as such marking the end of Christmastide – and so the day the decorations came down, which is the clearest signal that it’s well and truly over!
Nollaig Na mBan
“Nollaig na mBan” is an old custom that’s still celebrated by women all over Ireland. It goes back to the days when large families were the norm. Men never lifted a finger in the house to help, nor were they expected to. If a man washed the dishes, he would be called an “auld woman” by other men. No full blooded Irish man was prepared to risk that! But each year, after the Christmas holiday, tired women finally got a break – for one day, at least. Therefore, on January 6th (the same day as the Epiphany), men would, as we said, take over the housework, offering women a chance to go out to relax with each other.
Here, Cork actress and playwright Sheila Flitton spoke interestingly of her observation of the traditions of this female festival both nowadays and in yesteryears. Never one to break with tradition, she returned as was her wont, she said, to her hometown of Cork a couple of years ago to join her sisters and women friends to celebrate La Nollaig na mBan/Little Christmas. As they sat overlooking the River Lee from Cork’s Metropole Hotel dining room, she reflected that they kept the tradition alive but, not in the same way their mothers did. During her childhood, she remembers excited, shawled women hurrying to the local public house. On Little Women’s Christmas, they would inhabit this man’s domain without shame. Sitting in “the snug,” a small private room inside the front door, they would pool the few shillings they’d saved for the day. Then they would drink stout and dine on thick corned beef sandwiches provided by the publican. For the rest of the year, the only time respectable women would meet for a glass of stout would be during shopping hours, and then only because it was “good for iron in the blood.”
After an initial chat about the worries and cares of the old year, a pact would be made to leave them outside the door (something that was easier to do before the advent of cell phones). They’d be as free as the birds in the sky for the day – and well on into the evening. Late at night, with shawls dropped over their shoulders, words slurred and voices hoarse, they would always sing. In her memory, I still here them bellowing the unofficial Cork City anthem, The Banks of my own Lovely Lee:
“Where they sported and played
‘neath the green leafy shade
on the banks of my own lovely Lee.”
Some say this tradition is dying. But Sheila said she was surprised to see how many women of all ages still uphold the tradition. Like her own sisters and friends, most women no longer gather in the snug of a public house. Wine and lunch has replaced the bottle of stout and corned beef sandwiches. And of course, today’s new man, no stranger to the kitchen, is home trying his hand at cooking and spending quality time with the children (or so they say). We can’t stop progress, but it’s a pleasure to see Little Women’s Christmas survive.
A Tragic Loss
The New Year was barely a day old when death bereft us of the finest of fellows – Brian Fitzgerald. Every one who knew Brian was shocked and saddened to learn of his untimely death – a man who was ever full of life and laughter. We express our sincerest condolences to Susan and the family.
Go seachtain eile, slan