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Time at this Point of the Year
by Cormac MacConnell
Time changes at this point of the year. These are Limbo days, hours, minutes, seconds. Time elasticates itself. It seems to stop. Or to move jerkily forward like an old clockwork grandfather's minute hand. Or to even run backward on a silent tick-tockery of Memory. Or to fast forward to a Christmas we may never see. Or to pulse feverishly on some frequency not related to our Time at all.
Time, at this point of the year, is as much of images as of fractions of our realities. It is a mewling Infant, cold and with dead yellow straws sticking to newborn arms and legs. It is the harsh, hard, metronomic breathing of an exhausted young Mother, the perfect circle of the muzzle of an Uzi this night in Bethlehem, the measured throbbing of great bronze-throated bells, the sharp prick of the holly leaf born in the dead Autumn, the ruby perfection of its berries, the whorling of turf smoke from a cottage chimney, the blanched spiked frozen spines of December'd hedgerows, green Atlantic breakers killed on Moher flagstones in their own good tidal Time; their eternal whitespray Resurrections.
Time, at this point of the year, is wound up by ghosts and spirits. Of long dead Mothers laughing, floured fists busy in bowls. Of Fathers, long gone too, filling doorways with their chilled bulks and deep voices. Of those long dead and gone into Time, somehow, again being there, in these Limbo days. Here a white hand flicking back a strand of raven hair. There a child's voice, like a silver bell. Over there a golden bright window in a home long stilled, emptied, its back broken by real Time. Somewhere, on an eddy of air, a single white feather from the wing of an Angel, old men wearing the wide innocent eyes of children, childfaces brimming with eyes as wise as Time itself.
Time, at this point of the year, is tinselled, is tangled, is dangled with dreams. It is the slow, hot mysterious heart of the fire. It is Adeste Fidelis, Sláinte, Happy Christmas! Happy New Year! It is Silent Night, the aromatics of cloved whiskey, mulled wines. It is millions of dead little trees. It is a Star. It is a Lamb. It is Magi-c, of mysterious wise Kings, it is a Trinity of wonder. It is a Family. It is solistic, fantastic, a manger, the reek of camels of the desert, a wiry shepherd on his staff, a Lost Sheep, a neighbour with a gift, November's workplace enemy an enemy no more. It is Holy Night. It is lost days, dreamily disappearing on no clock at all. It is a frosty afternoon walk over whispering leaves, a lover's kiss, a child's warmly trusting fingers, the aftermath of incense in chapel shadows, a wan smile from a hospital pillow, trains, boats, planes, coloured chains and baubles. It is a busker's kerbside rough and ready voice. It is the parasite of Ivy, the parasite of Age, the end of Innocence, the beginning of painful Knowledge, a single cruel comma of a kestrel's predatory head against the emptiness of Space populated only by lost Time.
Time, when the Old Year is on its knees, is a merciless scourge. It is You, it is Me, it is Us, in some way past articulation. Time is my wrinkle, is your silvered hair, glinting its truth of Time. Time, here and now, is the Fifth Horseman, the Guardian Angel, both the promise and the reality. It is the shedding needles from the little trees. It is the extra brightness in the smiles, in the eyes, in the handshakes, in the hugs. It is a mossed tombstone, it has almost rubbed away the names; it is the new golden curl on the child's white neck, the sparkling engagement ring on the flying finger, the soaring spire whose cross seems near Paradise itself, the river whispering psalms into the gentled eyes of its old bridges, footsteps making precise percussions on old streetstones, sunsets like Old Masters, winds with the edges of razors, raindrops like the jewels of a queen.
Time, at this point, belongs to the mewling Infant with the yellow straw stuck to newborn arms and legs. Somehow it does not belong to us in these Limbo days. We do not control it like we will again in a week. We do not manage it. It manages us, makes itself into a mirror in which we can see ourselves, wraps itself all around us like an invisible cloak. It makes us sad. It makes us happy, at a moment's whim. It dangles us anywhere in between. We open our eyes and we may see little. We close our eyes and we can see a thousand days, a thousand ways. The bells ring the mornings and the evenings. Our hearts go tick and tock.
Time, at this point, to wish all of you all the best of Time ahead.
ED. NOTE: This article originally appeared in the December 21, 2002 issue of the Irish Emigrant. We'd like to thank Cormac and the Irish Emigrant for granting us permission to reprint it here. If you would like to read more of Cormac's columns, please click Irish Abroad.
In his own words: "I was born in Fermanagh and survived that. I worked for the Fermanagh Herald as a cub reporter and survived that. The Roscommon Herald and the Munster Express and the Irish Press Group and a magazine called This Week most enjoyably stole away the years of my prime. I actually killed The Irish Press in the end! Then I went freelance. I write for everybody that thought I would be dead long ago, from The Irish Examiner through Ireland of The Welcomes and Ireland America magazine to The Irish Emigrant. Irish Emigrant Publications is the first organisation I ever wrote for where everything is high-tech and electronic and for that reason it's probably the most enjoyable of all. Nice readers are constantly e-mailing me from all over the world. I've written a football novel called Final Moments and songs which include Silent Night-Christmas In The Trenches and The Leaving. I also sing my own songs in dark pubs and for this reason they are seldom appreciated! I now live ten minutes away from Shannon Airport in County Clare. In my time as a hack I've probably slept at least one night in every town and village in Ireland except Dowra in County Cavan. And that's another story".
Image: Winter Waves and Shorebirds in Ballyhiernan Bay, Fanad Head, Ireland
Artist: Gareth McCormack From All Posters and Prints.
For more of our Holiday Stories click on the following links.
Time at this Point in the Year
An Advent Memory
Yes, Kelsey and Maddie, there is a Santa Claus
Waiting for St. Nicholas
Christmas - Preparing the Puddings
Christmas - Food for the Feast
An Irish Christmas - Then & Now
An Irish Christmas - The Day Before
Memories of Christmas Eve Past
An Irish Christmas - Ding Dong Merrily On High
Seasons Greetings in Irish
St. Stephen's Day to New Year's Eve
New Year's Day to Epiphany
Many Years Ago by John B. Keane
Rowing to Christmas Mass
Burying the Baby Jesus
White Washed Walls
An East Cork Christmas
Thu, Dec 7, 2017
Holly and Ivy hanging up and
something wet in every cup*
Not so long ago, Irish Christmas decorations were much simpler than they are now. The children gathered holly and ivy for adorning, windows, doorways, mantles and pictures, and the father would carve out a turnip in which would be placed a large red candle. This would go in the window to light the way for the Holy Family on Christmas Eve. Only in relatively recent times did an Irish family have a Nativity scene and a decorated tree in the house. As for Mistletoe, it's quite rare in ireland and is generally associated with ancient Celtic and Druidic fertility celebrations; this is most likely where the custom of kissing under the mistletoe comes from.
*Old Irish Christmas toast
Image: Pashley Manor Gardens.
Click for More Culture Corner.
A compilation of some of the best of his weekly columns in the Irish Voice and other publications, Cormac offers an often wickedly accurate insight on life in the west of Ireland. Alternately witty, funny, and sometimes achingly sad, it's an absorbing collection that we promise will be hard to put down.
Click here for Cormac - UK and here for Cormac - USA.