My Christmas childhood: Three celebs look back at their festive past

From using a turnip as a candleholder to eating the turkey a day early to a cowgirl costume mistakenly bought for a boy, three celebrities recount their festive memories to Richard Fitzpatrick

My Christmas childhood: Three celebs look back at their festive past

Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh

Gaelic games commentator and author. Dingle, Co Kerry.

A big thing, a phrase used a lot, was ‘bringing home Christmas’ — the day of the shopping in Dingle, before Christmas.

The turkey would be home-grown, but bacon would have to be bought.

The houses would be decorated — holly and ivy, and plenty of it.

Every window in the house — upstairs and downstairs — would have a lighted candle.

Candles that might be three feet in height and an inch and a half in diameter, and every colour of the rainbow.

The way you held them in place, you would cut a turnip in two halves, and make the bottom flat and make a hole in the centre, for which the candle would fit, on the basis that a turnip would never go on fire.

You wouldn’t have any flammable material around. We looked onto hills; across the way was the Conor Pass.

It was a magnificent sight, at Christmas, to see it all lit up.

Ling fish would be eaten on Christmas Eve.

The theory was that it came from the Arctic, where Santa Claus came from.

It might be two feet in length, and it would be hanging from the ceiling a week before Christmas.

It would have to be boiled several times to get the salt out of it, and cooked with white sauce, onions and flowery potatoes.

You wouldn’t get the like of it in a seven-star hotel in Dubai.

The custom of midnight mass had been done away with in my childhood.

It’s been revived again.

Seven o’clock mass in the morning was the mass.

It’d be pitch-dark at that time. You’d be up at five o’clock and the animals, horses and cows, would be fed.

There were eight houses in our village and there would be horses and carts setting off from every house on the road into Dingle, one after another.

As you went along, you’d be joining families from other houses and villages, until you came onto the main road. It was a procession.

Neil Delamere

Comedian and broadcaster. Edenderry, Co Offaly.

Controversially, we cook the turkey on Christmas Eve.

When I got older, you’d come home from the pub and mill into the turkey at one o’clock in the morning, and then eat it again the next day.

I would wholeheartedly recommend it — it takes the pressure off the next day.

I sang in the choir in national school. We’d sing at mass.

I always remember, when I was about 11, standing there and the teacher, who was a brilliant teacher, would walk around, as we sang, and he would tap certain lads on the shoulder, and go: “You — mime.”

There was always one lad who developed before everybody else, whose voice had broken and who’d be singing like Barry White.

He’d get a tap on the shoulder: “Maybe you just sit this one out.”

We had a fairly regimented day.

We’d have our dinner, and the obligatory row over Trivial Pursuit about an hour after that.

The two older brothers — who are about 10 years older than me — would have a go at each other over what is the capital of Papua New Guinea.

There is a picture of me in a Superman costume, and the next-door neighbour’s kid in a Batman costume, on Christmas Day.

The two of us are wrecked on the couch, about four o’clock in the afternoon.

We’d just been too excited for too long.

Neil Delamere is live January 23, Portlaoise Heritage Hotel, Co Laois, and February 20-21, Vicar St, 58-59 Thomas St, Dublin 8.

Claudia Carroll

Author and actress. Ballsbridge, Dublin.

We’d come down in the morning and get our Santa Claus loot, which was really exciting.

I was always terrified, because I was reasonably well-behaved as a kid but my brothers were dire. I used to think Santa’s going to judge me by them, and pass by our house.

I was always a knot of tension on Christmas Eve. What if he doesn’t come? It was always a relief when I saw the presents.

I remember a doll’s house I got one year, a beautiful Victorian doll’s house that I still have.

It’s survived several house moves.

It’s really intricate. I put it on my list, but I never thought I’d get it.

As a child, it was up to my waist.

I remember, one year, my brother wanted a cowboy outfit and there was a little bit of a mix-up with Santa and he got a cowgirl outfit. There was a lot of tears.

We had Christmas dinner in the evening and then there was always a row over what we’d watch on the telly.

We were a very telly-oriented family.

The big treat then was that RTÉ didn’t show ads on Christmas Day, so you could watch a movie without ads.

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