All wrapped up for the season

Swathed in ivy and decorations, and with a warm fire, Bride Park Cottage is open to visitors every year, says Charlie Wilkins.

ALTHOUGH unashamedly pagan, decorating homes is central to the celebration of Christmas. Even before the introduction of the Christmas tree, the Irish did as they had for hundreds of years — they brought indoors all available winter evergreens.

Indeed, fetching such greenery from the woods may have been responsible for the origin of the phrase ‘bringing home Christmas’.

Whether or which, holly was cut into great boughs, and swathes of ivy festooned fireplaces, kitchens, and even bedrooms. As evergreens, they represented the unchanging message contained within the promise of Christmas and our search for immortality.

Their presence today makes the message of Christmas relevant to everyone, but I am never sure, as I unwind the hanks of ivy from trees to lie along our mantelpiece, whether I am paying tribute to the true spirit of Christmas or to some darker creature buried in the subconscious layers of myth and legend. The two forces, pagan and Christian, are, indeed, a powerful and lasting combination.

So, as we decorate the rooms and light the Christmas fire, let’s spare a thought for those who have little to celebrate. We can help in many ways, and one of the more enjoyable is by visiting the ‘open home’ of DJ Murphy, at Bride Park Cottage, Killumney, Co Cork, over the final two weekends of November.

Every year for the past two decades and more, this unique dwelling is transformed with Christmas decorations, attracting visitors from all over Munster and beyond.

As I write, the red-berried holly and dark-green ivy is up, draped and scratching against the frames that hang from the long, varnished picture rails. Low winter light comes in through the open shutters of ancient windows, and it brightens a bowl of glistening red cherries overflowing a glass bowl. They lie there, fattening in their waxy skins, along with floral arrangements of every design and size.

The informality of Bride Park Cottage is also unique. Unlike stately homes, where you shuffle around rooms of pomp, portraiture, and roped-off rugs, one can sit, lounge, or adjourn to any room you fancy.

The gardeners, flower arrangers, home decorators, and the inquisitive who visit this annual spectacle (which is in aid of two charities), have the chance to view everything at leisure, partake in seasonal fare of mulled wine and mince pies, and listen to seasonal songs sung by one of the choirs that voluntarily attends each day.

A visit to this dwelling-full of charm, attitude, and delightful quirkiness will fill you with memories, which can be recalled as you sit with your family before the fire — the crowning glory of Christmas.

Whether real or artificial, the Christmas fire is, and always will be, the representative of our warm emotions and bright thoughts.

Bride Park Cottage is open from Thursday to Sunday, Nov 15, 16, 17 and 18, and again on the weekend of Thursday to Sunday, Nov 22, 23, 24 and 25. Admission is €10 (which includes refreshments) and all the proceeds will be shared between Marymount Hospice and Cork Simon.

Reminders, directions, and opening times will appear in Notice Board over the coming weeks.


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