How times have changed!? Re-creating the diary of her ten-year-old self growing up in Athlone in the 1960s, Farrell illustrates how times have changed, so very much. 

Dec 5, 1961. Only 20 days to Christmas and we can’t wait. I’m 10 and three-quarters now and my money box is getting really heavy. It makes heaps of noise when I shake it. But I haven’t heaps of money. There’s only pennies in it and I have to buy presents for my three sisters and my three brothers.  

Baby Mary is nearly one. She’s getting teeth and one side of her face is mad red all the time. So is her poor bottom. Mammy sent me up to Farrell’s chemist today to buy zinc ointment for it.  

Mrs. O’Grady was there talking to the chemist, across the big high glass counter. She was telling Mrs. Farrell that her chilblains have her crucified, but she offers it up for the Holy Souls.

She said, “Can I have three packets of Mrs. Cullens powders for the pain and three bottles of Buckfast Tonic wine for me nerves.”   

Our Michael, who’s six, has ringworm and I had to bring him down to Liam Macken. That’s cos Mrs. Macken’s new baby is a boy and she had six other boys too, so her new baby is the seventh son, and has the cure. Mrs. Macken took the tiny baby out of his cradle and dipped his tiny hand into Holy water. Then, holding the baby’s hand, she drew a cross on Michael’s ringworm, with it.  

Dec 11, 1961: The minute I came in from school today I got two lovely smells. I could smell brown bread baking in the kitchen, and I could smell turf in our living room. Mammy had a big fire lit cos it’s freezing outside now. 

Mammy helped me with my homework. She heard me out my Catechism answer.

She asked, “How are we to honor our parents?”

I said, “We are to honor our parents by treating them always with respect, by showing gratitude to them, and by bearing patiently with their faults and weaknesses."

Mammy smiled and said that I am to remember that when she’s old. But, sure, she’s old now. She’s 35.  

Dec 15, 1961: We’re doing our Christmas shopping today with Mammy so we spent ages taking out the money out of our money boxes, with a knife. I had 17/6. 

First, we went into Kennedy’s clothes shop. Inside the door, they had a clothesline hanging up with lady's handkerchiefs on it. Ursula picked out a lovely one and bought it for Mammy.  

Cases store, Athlone, 1960s. (via Jean Farrell).

Cases store, Athlone, 1960s. (via Jean Farrell).

Sheelagh bought Daddy a shaving brush in Rouse’s chemist. I bought Mammy vanishing cream and Sheelagh bought her 4711 perfume. 

I bought Daddy three blades for his razor and Ursula bought him a comb. 

Then we went up to Cases cos their toys are cheap. I bought Greg some caps for his gun and I got Michael some marbles. I bought Eddie a yoyo. 

Dec 17, 1961: After Mass today we came up to our bedroom and wrapped all our presents. We loved doing that. Mammy has the almond icing on our Christmas cake now and tomorrow she’s going to put on the white icing and I’ll help her.  

A horrible plucked turkey is hanging upside down in our back hall. Blood falls out of his mouth if you bump into it.  

But we don’t care, cos it’s NEARLY CHRISTMAS DAY.  

Jean Farrell aged 9.

Jean Farrell aged 9.

Dec 23, 1961: After breakfast, I brought Greg and Michael and Eddie down to Cheap Jack’s, in the market, cause they had to buy their presents for us. The square was full of people and turkeys and geese and ducks. We walked around and around and looked at everything.  It was GREAT.  

We go to Confession every Saturday but we didn’t have to go today, cos we went from school, on the day we got our holidays. 

After dinner, I went up to Carr’s drapery shop with Mammy. Lovely frocks were hanging up and stiff slips too. Mammy talked to Mrs. Carr and I listened. Mrs. Carr was wearing a smock like Mammy used to wear before our Mary was born. Her new baby is due soon, she told Mammy, and she’d kilt, she said, with heartburn and not sleeping. “Oh, I know, I know, I know,” Mammy said.  

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Dec 24, 1961: We have to go to Mass, cos it’s Sunday and we have to go again tomorrow, cos it’s Christmas Day. We didn’t have to wear our Sunday clothes today cos they’re washed clean for Christmas.

We go to Benediction every Sunday evening but we didn’t have to go tonight.  

Bedtime was GREAT. None of us could go to sleep. We laughed and talked for ages, and the boys shouted into us from their bedroom and we shouted, “Go to sleep,” and laughed more. And Greg said, “I can hear Santy on the roof,” and Ursula said, “I can too,” and we all nearly burst with excitement. 

We must have fallen asleep because when Mammy woke us up for Mass it was CHRISTMAS DAY! 

* Originally published in December 2021. Updated in December 2023. 

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