Author Alice Taylor lauds the community spirit that comes into its own this time of year, says Colette Sheridan
CHRISTMAS is bitter-sweet for bestselling author, Alice Taylor, whose latest book, the intimate And Time Stood Still, is about the people she has loved and lost. In the book, Taylor, 74, recalls her younger brother, Connie, who died after a short illness when he was a child, and her husband, Gabriel Murphy, who died in Nov 2005. While this calm, white-haired mother of five adult children, and grandmother of six, has grieved, she is philosophical. And Time Stood Still has a home-spun wisdom on life and loss.
“I think heaven comes very close to Earth at Christmas,” says Alice, who lives in Innishannon. “There is great peace. I’d say to anyone, who finds Christmas tough, to go for a walk on Christmas Eve and get away from the supermarkets and the shopping malls. Peace will come to you. But it won’t come if you’re in a rackety situation. There’s healing in peace and quiet.”
Alice’s rich inner life provides succour. She meditates and derives solace from the countryside, as did her farmer father. He was an environmentalist before it was fashionable.
Now that one of Alice’s sons has taken over the family business, a supermarket and post office in Innishannon, she can indulge her interests. Alice tends to her garden and practises yoga. “I suppose, the pursuits I have are solitary. But I don’t mind that; I’ve got used to being on my own. I’m never lonely, really. I’m in the middle of the village and people are always coming and going. There’s a fantastic community spirit,” she says.
Alice is involved in her community via Tidy Towns, Toastmasters, and the historical society. She is the editor of Candlelight, a Christmas magazine for the parish that has been in publication for 29 years.
“I’ve always been very aware of the spirituality of Christmas. My mother was a real Christmas person. She mightn’t have had an awful lot of money to play around with, but she was into the importance of the crib. In her world, the crib and the Christmas candle were the big things. She would gather red-berried holly to put around the candle. She fattened geese for Christmas, providing all the town cousins with geese and selling some of them at the Christmas market,” Alice says.
Alice says “the first thing I put up in the house for Christmas is the crib. It’s like a menagerie. Over the years, I’ve collected robins and various glass birds for it. I have a huge piece of driftwood that forms the base of my crib. I dragged it out of the river that goes into the water in Ballybunion, when we were there one summer when the kids were small.”
Alice says of her first Christmas without her husband. “I was in the house on my own and I wondered how I was going to manage the lights for the Christmas tree. Gabriel was always the electrical man in the house. I put up the lights very slowly; I actually enjoyed doing it and they worked. Great peace came into my soul. I felt that I was going to be alright for Christmas,” she says.
Every Christmas, Alice visits the graves of loved ones, and goes to midnight mass. “I go with a niece, her husband and their three boys. They come home with me afterwards for tea and cake and a chat. Often, it would be 3am before we’d get to bed,” she says.
Alice is comforted by the church. “I think churches are the last corner of silence. In the early days of a bereavement, I find that visiting the grave is good and going to the church afterwards, where I sit for a long time. When you’re bereaved, you need peace and quiet to heal,” she says.
While Alice’s mother was a devout Catholic, “my father was critical of the Church. I don’t think he liked all the power and the rules.”
Alice is curios about death. “Having been with a lot of people as they were dying, it’s such a big mystery. All the experts, the theologians and the scientists, have never cracked it. Nobody knows any better than anyone else,” she says.
One thing Alice knows is the importance of family. This Christmas, she will celebrate it with her daughter, Lena, her son-in-law, Vincent Angland, and their first born, Ellie, who arrived in October. Despite losing people close to her, Alice cherishes the cycle of life, especially when it involves a new-born child.
* And Time Stood Still, by Alice Taylor, is published in hardback by Brandon, an imprint of the O’Brien Press, at €16.99.
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