Big city Christmas with Daddy the Grinch

Magical for us kids — less so for our dad!

My Dad and Dublin city just didn’t get on. Especially at Christmas.

As a child,  I remember the special hatred he reserved for our annual *December 8 family trip up from our small town up to the Big Smoke. 

A quasi-traditional day for country folk to come up to the metropolis for the Big Christmas Shop

But here he was now, asleep in my bed in my Rathmines flat after a great night out in town with his old Garda buddies.

I had slept in a camp bed borrowed from a friend. It was early morning and in the gathering light filtering through the curtains I could discern the tousled track of white hair running around his bald head, and the red tip of Dad’s right ear above the blankets.

Muffled by the covers, his snores had moved down a few decibels and I found myself smiling. Thinking back to when I was a kid.

Thinking of  **Culchie Christmas, as the so-called big city Dublin folk called it, the Eighth of December. How much Mom and us kids loved it, and how much Dad hated it.

Us six kids squashed into the back of our black Morris 1000, with Mom and Dad up front, for the big shopping trip up in the big city.

Morris 1000 (1)
Can you just imagine four of us kids scrunched up in the back of this Morris 1000?

An abiding memory apart from getting up early and the buzz of the whole thing, was how tense my Dad would be already as he filtered the car into the thickening suburban traffic, telling us all to shut up to bloody hell, as we chuntered our way into the city centre.

That only made the six of us in the back worse. Here we were, four brothers and two sisters, full of the big city whoosh, arguing over who would see the most double-decker buses, all talk of Clerys on O’Connell Sreet and Santa and the mad dash from shop to shop to come, and best of all, the chips, the lemonade and the buns in the cafe when we  would put down our bulging bags at the end of our spree.

But before all that, after more than two hours squashed into a Morris Minor, we would pull into the Roches Stores car park, off Henry Street, where we would be leaving the car, and Mom would break out the sandwiches, and share them all out. They were always the same: plain ham or ham and tomato.

Loads of butter.

The tomatoes were all soggy by now but we loved them! The best sandwiches ever!

Washed down with great big guzzles of that wonderfully tangy red lemonade, the fizz going right up our noses, but what matter, sure it was all such a laugh.

All done, off we would set on our real Christmas mission.

My mother, in total contrast to Dad, was in her element amid the swirl and swoosh, chatting away and buttering up all the salesmen.

But Dad … I can still almost feel the white-knuckled scrunch of his huge hand on mine, and half my forearm, as we crossed the hectic O’Connell Street traffic, both cars and people.

The best part was the last couple of hours, when the evening descended and the magical Christmas illuminations came on …the lights and the sights of twinkling, dazzling O’Connell Street, and the glitzier glitter of Grafton Street, where the Christmas display of clockwork Santa and his helpers in Switzer’s huge windows attracted the biggest crowds.

GraftonSt3 (1)
Grafton Street Christmas lights in more recent times

The heaven-scent aroma of coffee from Bewley’s twitched our nostrils all the while — why did it never taste as good as it smelled?

There was no shuffle-shallying and no dilly-dallying as we bustled from store to store, the bag count mounting, us kids pushing past each in the door, and a puck from the loser into the top of the arm for the so-and-so who had made it in first.

Dad would be getting crankier and crankier, as the carol singers cranked it up, rattling their buckets and belting them out, full of manic Christmas cheer, and on our cavalcade would rumble and grumble, with one stop for sticky buns and lemonade in the Kylemore, while the adults had their sensible tea and scones.

Clery’s was brilliant with those brass cylinder cash pulleys for change which totally amazed us kids.

When Mom or Dad paid for their stuff, the money would be put into one of these cylinders and they would be sent whizzing up the wire line to the cash office. There, unseen hands would take out the money and docket, and place the change and the receipt into the cylinder and it would come whizzing back down the line to the salesperson in seconds.

And their Santa was the best ever, plenty of time to chat to you, as if you were the child he really wanted to talk to. 

It was the first time I ever experienced that trick of stepping inside this mockey-ya (fake) wooden carriage and thinking we were rattling along, like a real train, off to Santa’s den, when it was only the  “trees” outside the carriage that were moving, not us.

No trip to Dublin was complete without a visit to Moore Street. Squelching over the sticky oranges and broken wooden crates as we chased each other through the upturned carts and stalls, kicking burst apples under the stalls, as the adults ran the gauntlet of gimlet-eyed traders on the scent of a kill. Especially a moneybags culchie* family, as they saw us.

Dublin city’s Moore Street in the rare old times

“Get yer Santa hats”  … “Howya, love …” catching Mom’s amused eye, a full smile now indicating she was wavering, and on the brink of capitulation.

“Six apples for a shilling, love, go on, they’re only gorgeous …” Mom would have stopped walking now, and that was it … she was looking through the fare, hooked and landed.

The good auld Dublin charm offensive continued all the while as Mom selected her apples, bananas, and oranges.

“Are yiz after comin’ far, love? … Tipperary?  … It’s a long way, wha?” cackle, cackle, all the while watching Mom and her opened, bulging purse …

“Do ya want a few pears to go with them as well, love … massive, they are … six? … grand”.

All bagged in a jiffy, and as soon as the money was paid over, it was a cursory “thanks, love” and her attentions were transferred immediately to the next customer.

Dad would only begin to unwind as we tucked into our tea in Auntie Joan’s afterwards and become positively jovial as himself and Uncle Liam yarned away.

All too soon we would be in the car and beyond Newlands Cross as the full black of night descended once the city lights were packed away for another year behind us.

In the back, the conversation would soon dry to a jaded trickle as we kids succumbed to the tetchy torpor of the traveller’s quasi-sleep. The intermittent glare of streetlights on aching eyelids marked our passage through the largely silent villages that mapped the road to home.

Years of memories flowed by now as the shallower, irregular snores told me Dad would be awake soon.

Up to put on the rashers and sausages, and Barry’s Tea.

Barrys teaAh, the tea: the pot piping hot and the water scalding the tea-leaves. White bread and real butter.

Everything had gone so well last night. All the news I knew already as the bus headed in from Heuston; him chuffed about the free train as he showed me the dog-eared pass that meant only old age to me.

He was off to see his old Garda pals on a night out. I was to call for him at midnight. Me collecting my father. How often had I come out from hops to the discretely waiting unmarked blue Ford Escort?

ford escort (1)

A fleeting snog out of sight if I had got lucky and a hurried rendezvous arranged as the engine revved.

When I arrived to collect him now, the stragglers were still picking at the remains of the day. My father’s head was thrown back in laughter in the middle of a small group. He beckoned me over. The reddened nose told me he had had a few more than his usual two pints and a Jameson.

Peter and Jimmy I knew; particular favourites from back in the day, and they had visited us often. Jimmy was a Chief Superintendent now, as Dad often reminded us, but here he deferred happily to his old instructor sergeant. I basked in the warm glow of the obvious affection these men felt for my Dad.

Back at the flat later, we chatted in the dark until a whispered goodnight and his abrupt turn to one side in his bed ended a day memory was already filing away. My father asleep in my bed.

The idea of our roles coming full circle and me looking after my Dad now was fanciful, really. He would wake soon, as would some old resentments and the odd unresolvable difference. Still the patriarch and I still the son. As it was in the beginning.

*December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, is a school holiday in largely Catholic Ireland, and traditionally, Culchie families would drive up Dublin City to do their Big Christmas Shop.

*Culchie is a less than complimentary Irish slang term city people use for their rural brethren.

  • If you enjoyed what you have just read,  try another one! Try them all! Seriously, follow my blog and you won’t miss out again. Thanks for reading


Lucy At Home

Surrey Mama


23 comments on “Big city Christmas with Daddy the Grinch

  1. Really enjoyed your memories here,such a descriptive piece, I could smell tbe oranges:)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love how vivid the memories are. You do so well with the color and flavor of the place and people.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Your story totally engaged me from the beginning to the end, loved it!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Really beautiful writing Enda!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. An absolutely wonderful piece, Enda. Some great memories, and I really felt that I was reliving your childhood with you! Thank you for sharing this, I loved it 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow that’s so kind of you Clive. It passed the toughest audit of all: the sibling one!! One brother who has rarely ever commented actually rang me and we swopped some great memoriies from that time. The quirky things that only kids remember. Do feel free to share it on Clive. Thanks again

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s great to hear, it’s lovely when that happens and proves how mighty the power of the pen (or keyboard) can be. Although I reboot a lot of my own older pieces I tend not to reblog other people – I’m cruel like that! My preferred medium for that, which reaches a wider audience anyway, is Twitter: having just checked yours out you don’t seem to have been prolific on there, do you! But you do now have a new follower! I’ll do a Twitter link to the piece and will try to work a link to it into my next selection of Christmas songs, as it is a lovely piece of writing.


      • Thanks Clive. I have no idea how to use Twitter as anything other than a way to read great links. Promoting my stuff via Twitter has been a dismal failure: it’s the vicious circle of having a small number of followers/followed, so any new blog piece I share on Twitter doesn’t usually go very far. Thank you for doing that and I look forward to your next piece. If it’s not too early, hope you have a great Christmas

        Liked by 1 person

      • I know what you mean about Twitter, I’ve used it less over the years as my blog has developed a wider readership of its own. But if you want to give it another go why not click on the links on blogs you follow, like I did with yours? You never know, it might help! And I hope you have a wonderful Christmas too 😊

        Liked by 1 person

      • A quick update. I’ve shared it on Twitter and followed the correct account now. My previous comment related to what looks like an outdated Twitter account – but it’s what I got from the link on your blog! You may like to check this out 😉


  6. Some lovely memories there. This is the first year I won’t be living in Dublin for Christmas so we’ll be starting some new traditions. Hopefully our kids will remember them as well as you do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Sophie. Gosh that will be a big change. On the other hand you can start your own traditions or at least tailor the old ones! Thanks for reading my piece

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: #ChristmasSongADay – Part 3 | Take It Easy

  8. Lucy At Home

    It’s so nice to spend time reminicing isn’t it! And it’s amazing how returning to a place can set off a chain reaction of memories!

    And congratulations because someone loved this post so much, they added it to the BlogCrush Linky! Feel free to collect your “I’ve been featured” blog badge 🙂 #blogcrush

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh Enda, I never tire of your story telling. This brought back memories of our Christmas shopping when I was young. Only, Dad wasn’t there to drive us. We would go by bus into town and get a black cab home with all our shopping. It was the only time of the year Mum would get a black cab. Thank you for adding this post to my Christmas linky.


  10. very interesting details you have mentioned, regards for posting.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Beautiful Christmas memories
    Thank you for sharing, I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and Happy New Year x #DreamteamLinky


  12. Awh some great memories there and you triggered some of my own of my Christmases spent in Dublin although we arrived by boat from Hollyhead and stayed longer the red lemonade was a big part of the whole thing… #DreamTeam


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