Thinking Back

by Thomas John Mulvey, PhD

shamrock Childhood reflections of rural, 1870s Ireland and Celtic history. shamrock
Edited by Eric C. Biemiller and William L. Mulvey
Grandsons of Thomas John Mulvey, PhD

Copyrightę William L. Mulvey, all rights reserved

Old Stories


Chapter Nine

The rest of that year crept slowly by as though on leaden feet. Not until December did we begin to look forward to Christmas. That Day and Season held for us children no such expectation as it does now for young and old alike. We never heard of Santa Claus and a Christmas tree was a thing unknown. But there was something connected with Christmas that loomed just as large in our expectations, namely, raisins and raisin bread!

My mother did her Christmas marketing about a week before the day itself. She bought plenty of raisins and a few other things for the table. She killed a fat young goose, and then we knew that Christmas was nigh. She gave each of us a handful of raisins a day or two before Christmas when she was preparing the batch of Christmas bread. On Christmas Eve she and my grandfather and grandmother went to Confession in the parish church in the town of Drumshanbo and on Christmas morning they went to early Mass and received Holy Communion. Of course ever since the midnight before they did not break their fast, for Holy Communion must be received fasting.

When they came home from Mass, my mother went to the dresser, took from it a glass half full of water in which she had previously put a teaspoonful of salt, gave it to grandfather and grandmother who took a sip of it, and then gave it back to my mother who did likewise. My mother later explained to me that it was a pious practice after Holy Communion of Christmas morning to take a little salted water to remind one of the bitter suffering of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the foot of the Cross and also of the prophecy of Simeon the day of the Circumcision when in the temple, he foretold to Mary that her own soul a sword should pierce.

This tasting of the salted water after Holy Communion on Christmas morning could not have been a universal practice among Catholics, for I never heard of it outside of my own family.

We enjoyed a big dinner on Christmas Day with plenty of raisin bread, roast goose and gravy, and other fixings, for my mother was a good cook.

My mother lighted candles in the windows in the front and rear of the house on Christmas Eve and relighted them for awhile each night until Little Christmas, or the Feast of the Epiphany on January sixth. As that name of Little Christmas implies, the sixth of January was second in importance only to the feast of Christmas itself, for on that day is celebrated the finding of the Child Jesus by the Three Magi, or Wise Men from the East, and therefore his manifestation to the gentile world, which they have been made to represent. It is also called Twelfth Night because of its incidence in point of time twelve nights later than the conventional date of December twenty-fifth. Twelfth Night, or the Epiphany, or the Little Christmas of the Irish, has, of course, been made familiar to the English-speaking world by Shakespeare's play of that name.

That winter of 1879, the last I was to spend in Ireland, moved quickly to a close, for toward its end my mother began preparations for our going to join my father in America. First of all, she had to outfit six children and herself in new clothes, shoes and stockings and sundry other things. I tell you, it was a job of no mean undertaking, for each of us had to have, from the pelt out, new things that she considered suitable for the journey and suitable for our appearance when we fell under the critical eyes of my father, as well as things fittings for our new environment.

She must have been a brave and resourceful woman just to contemplate the task, but William Mulvey, her husband, wished it, left its execution to her, and that settled it. She never once thought of complaining or bemoaning; she just settled down to doing the things expected of her. That was her way when my father's wishes were in question. And she did it cheerfully, gladly. My father was to her as an idol; it was her pleasure but to do his will. I heard her say at different times through the years that, "William Mulvey's little finger was more precious to her that the whole world besides." His wish was her law. Her compliance with that slightest wish was not regarded by her as a duty or an obligation, but rather, it sprang from a deep and abiding devotion that brooked no abatement.

My father in his way reciprocated that devotion. I often heard him call her "The flower of the flock" when friends were present. Usually he was not demonstrative in public or even before us children, yet he always showed her the greatest deference. He always consulted her on every move of his involving finances or on any change that was likely to take place in their economic status. My mother had control of the purse and, later on, received every last cent of his pay-envelope, doling out to him a weekly allowance, varying according to his needs and according to the social obligations which he was expected to meet. Sometimes he looked to me like a young lad asking his mother for extra spending money of a Saturday night. It is amusing to me now as I look back on that financial relation between my father and mother when of a Sunday he and she were going on a visit to a relative's house. My father, for all his imperiousness, had to ask her for something extra wherewith to meet unexpected contingencies.

They always had that same mutuality of interests, that same oneness of ideas shared equally by each. She always took his part in an argument, always defended his actions when any of us thought he had a grievance. However, he seldom interfered between our mother and us when it came to correction. Indeed there was very little need for correction: we were brought up to obey. A word was always enough to ensure compliance with her directives, and if not, then a look from Father was always sure to settle the matter, for he took obedience on our part for granted.

Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five
Chapter Six Chapter Seven My Father Leaves
For America
Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
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