Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Advent Stitch a Day (24th December, Christmas Eve)

Below is the last house for our town. I will until mid January or so not post regularly, but I'm definitely here on New Year's Day to announce the winner of the contest.

I remember as a child, when I attended mass I was always disturbed by two things in the Christmas gospels. The first was that the couple had to travel somewhere else from where they lived for a census. I understood a census is something where they were counted, and I didn't understand why they couldn't be counted where they lived.

The other thing obviously was that they found no place to stay in town, but were just lucky to find a shed (or cave) somewhere outside the town with a manger, and that was were Maria gave birth. I was always relieved afterwards by the nice stories with the shepherds, angel, kings and animals. And certainly influenced by the romantic cribs I got to see at home, church and elsewhere.

Now, in this context I remembered that the one-room house, where people and animals lived together, was still a frequent type of dwelling in Ireland in the early 20th century. Whilst similar to the crib scenes, it definitely was not romantic. E. Estyn Evans in Irish Folkways (1957) wrote

"In the crowded clachans limitations of space and the fact that diarying was mainly practised in the summer booleys go far to explain the absence of separate byres or dairies. Sanitation was of the crudest and closest unknown."

"One writer humorously observes of Co. Galway that the cow had to be tethered lest she should eat the bed-straw, but that pigs ansd poultry were free to roam."

And in a debate in the Dail about the Housing(Gaeltacht) Bill in 1929 the following was said:

"Dr. Tubridy: I think that the Minister has made a few misstatements that I can contradict. He said that the custom of keeping cattle in the houses in the Gaeltacht does not exist now to any great extent. I [2285] come from the Gaeltacht, and it is my duty to inspect houses and to send sanitary reports. The reason perhaps why the idea may now be held by the Local Government Department that cattle are not kept in the dwelling-houses is due to the fact that when a sub-sanitary officer finds cattle in a house it is his duty to report it to the local sanitary officer, and it is then the duty of the local sanitary officer to report it to the chief sanitary authority of the county. By the time that is done, the cattle have been removed from the house, with the result that no report about it goes to the Local Government Department. For that reason the Local Government Department may have intimated to the Minister that cattle are not kept in dwelling-houses to any great extent. But in the area from which I come most of the families keep cattle in the dwelling-houses. All over the area from Galway out towards the islands, and through the islands, the people do keep their cattle in the houses during the winter time, and I think that Deputy Mongan can confirm that. In the islands especially the custom is to do that.

Mr. Lynch: During the winter time?

Dr. Tubridy: Especially during the winter time.

Mr. Lynch: Have they alternative housing?

Dr. Tubridy: No, they keep them outside during the summer. I am sure that Deputy Mongan can confirm this, because he comes from the same area as I do. I would urge on the Minister that the necessity for stabling is acute because the cattle are kept in the dwelling-houses to a large extent. The Minister gave the impression that he believed that people who have a few cows or calves are the type which would be rich enough to have stabling of their own. That is not so. The fishing industry in Connemara is dead and the people there have now to depend principally on cattle, plus whatever income comes to them from America. [2286] The cattle industry is their only industry at present, and they are as particular about the health of the cattle as they are about their own health. They will not risk the health of the cattle, because if they did they might be taken up for land annuities, or if the shopkeeper came down on them they might be left derelict. They take very good care, consequently, that the cattle will not suffer any inconvenience and that their health will not be endangered. For that reason they keep them in the dwelling-houses during the winter, and they let them out in May or June. I had in my own experience a few years ago about eighty cases of typhoid fever in an island in the Rossmuck parish, and in every one of these cases the cattle were kept in the houses. What is the use of building new houses for the people if you do not give them some means of housing their cattle? I know for a fact that no matter what houses you build for these people they will put their cattle into them. They are not going to risk leaving their cattle out for the winter and having the shopkeeper or the Land Commission coming down on them.
It was suggested that the old houses could be used, but you must remember that most of the people will not build new houses; I suppose half of them will improve the houses that they already have. They will not want a building grant; they will want an improvement grant. The people who build new houses are actually coaxed to demolish their old houses, which they will do if they get a grant, but they will put their cattle into the new houses. I think that Deputy Mongan, or any other Deputy who lives in the Gaeltact, will agree that it is very essential to have some arrangement made for the housing of cattle, because otherwise you will not get rid of the dirty conditions you have at present."

It's interesting to look as well at the current situation, where, after houses where built en masse in the last years, mainly outside towns, and prices had gone way up, there are now ten thousands of empty houses that no one has the money or interest to buy, even after prices did come down already. Whilst ways different from the one-room houses, their quality is still questionable, they were not built to last for long, and it remains to be seen how they withstand the Irish climate.

Now, before I show you my house with the last seasonal pattern, I want to wish all of you, wherever you live, a happy and content Christmas time!

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