What made me think of carol singing in the run-up to Christmas? Whatever it was, my thoughts turned to Ireland in 1968 when I was a student at the Missionaries of Africa’s Saint Augustine’s College in Blacklion, Co Cavan and we continued the tradition of walking the local lanes and the village streets, calling at every house, including the Protestant pastor’s down by the lake.
Away from the village, Blacklion had many small farms with big dogs; there were dark skies and hedges to darken the way further, but we went everywhere and no-one got bitten. We had a couple of good farm lanterns but others were candle ends in jars, slung at the tops of poles. It was a challenge to read the words on the sheets, but we knew all of them and often enough in four voices.
Patricia Hawkins de Medina was living in the village;
My father, Dr. William Hawkins, was medical officer for St. Augustine’s in Blacklion, all those years ago. I have fond memories of attending some of the Christmas pantomimes as a child way back then, and I can remember many of the Fathers. And the students carol-singing at Christmas in the village, and all coming into the hall of our house in Blacklion. So many memories.*
We were creating memories for ourselves as well as the villagers. We were bearing witness to the coming of the Lord, both to our neighbours and to ourselves, as a community of committed young men. But this witnessing brought us face to face with the local families, good, hard-working, struggling people as well as those who were better-off, like the Hawkins family. It is good to be told how special it was to have a male voice choir singing under Patricia’s roof well after bedtime.
Not quite a band of Angels, but we were proclaiming peace on Earth, a grace that certain people in Ireland turned their backs on for years, as they still do in so many parts of the world.
We enjoyed our carol singing, and so did our audience: feasts are given to us to enjoy. Let us not yield to cynicism this Christmas, but pray for peace in our land and peace within our homes and families. Amen.
* See The Pelicans Website
Photograph: Children and staff at Brocagh, a local school, in 1968; some of them will have heard our singing.