Even after all these years together the Dutch Nation still constantly amazes and surprises me.
We were watching the unbearably sad and senseless classroom slaughter on the TV news together the other evening, the unbearably horrific massacre of beautiful innocent babies and their teachers and, because I am still hobbling around on my afflicted ankle, she drove off to bring home the cottage Christmas tree.
Shannon town is only five minutes away, and you can buy neatly cut and trimmed trees there for about €15. She should have been back in about a half-hour, but she phoned to say she would be delayed.
It was more than an hour before she arrived home with the Christmas tree. She had driven all the way to the special Seedsavers project in Scarriff to purchase a living Christmas tree growing out of its own pot! It looked vital and young and bright as she brought it into Maisie's front room.
There is enough killing in the world these days, she said, without us adding to it. After Christmas, she said, we will plant it out in the garden in memory of those little lost ones in Newtown.
There were tears in my old eyes. I was touched to the quick.
I'm looking at the little tree now as I write, and surely it is some kind of symbolic thing rather than a mere seasonal decoration. She has an angel atop with golden wings and a face exactly like any one of the lost little girleens of another world. There’s some kind of consolation in that.
An hour ago my friend and neighbor Paddy and I shared a whiskey and a conversation in front of the little live tree. We were talking about the local news and your horrific news and the death the previous day of the fabled Clare balladeer Robbie McMahon from Spancilhill.
Robbie was an old friend of mine, a great talent in his field, the man who made the ballad about his home parish internationally famous. Robbie sang away to the end, often in his local pub Duggan’s, and, unlike the little innocents of Newtown, he made a good age.
Paddy told me he was 86 or 87 years old. He neither looked it or sang like it. The voice held up intact until the last ballad.
My Christmas peace song is played again on the national airwaves, and that cheers me up after Paddy leaves. It is a song about the miraculous soldiers' truce on the front line in the first World War when the troops fraternized in No Man's Land on Christmas Eve after a German tenor sang "Silent Night" in his own tongue and all joined in:
"O Silent Night, no cannons roar,
A king is born of peace for evermore,
All is calm, all is bright, all brothers hand in hand,
Midst gas and rusty wire in No Man’s Land..."
It gets played a lot over here during the Christmas season and, frankly, I'm very proud of it, especially the original golden-voiced version by Jerry Lynch from Kilfenora.
I join in the chorus in front of the little live tree whose transplant site has already been selected close to the apple tree in the front garden.
"In the morning all the guns boomed in the rain
And they killed us and we killed them again,
With bayonet, bomb, bullet, gas and flame,
And neither we nor they at all to blame,
There was cruel fighting right throughout that day,
For one night's peace we bloodily did pay,
At night they charged, we fought them hand to hand,
And I killed the boy that sang in No Man’s Land...”
Enough of that. I'm invited out to The Honk for a few libations tonight, and the lovely Dutch Nation has promised to drop me down there and bring me home too when the night is over.
When we get back home the only lights in the front room will come from the flaring black stove and the wee live Christmas tree in the corner with the golden angel on top. A small symbolic thing.
A peaceful Christmas wish to all of you. And a better New Year than the one ye have just survived. God bless.