The Bonfire Dance on Feb. 1, 2016. The proceeds of the Nollaig na mBan’s Women’s Christmas on Jan. 6 and the upcoming Feb. 1 event will also go to Dwelling Place of New York.
By Maura Mulligan
The snow has energized me, boosting that lingering joy from Jan. 6 when I celebrated Nollaig na mBan- Women’s Christmas with members of Nollaig na mBan NYC and other friends.
The holiday, once an escape from drudgery has in modern times, become a celebration of women’s contribution to society. Raising awareness of homelessness, breast cancer research and other issues is the focus of today’s Nollaig na mBan groups. Gone are the days when it was unheard of for men to help around the house and women needed each other’s assistance with cooking and cleaning during childbirth and or illness – the original reason for that day off. Although Irish men know their way around the kitchen now and share in decisions about raising children, Nollaig na mBan groups continue to celebrate this holiday, finding new ways to help those in need.
I enjoyed organizing our festive dinner party at the Playwright Restaurant, Times Square. It brought together a group of creative women eager to share our own version of an old tradition. As the poet, Connie Roberts put it:
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“It was a wonderful celebration of women, the arts and life. After dinner, we went around the [long] table and each person shared a little of her life – aspirations, sorrows, blessings, fears, accomplishments, etc. Nothing was scripted – it all came from the heart. A cross section of this whole big ball of wax we call life.”
Another poet in our midst, Margaret McCarthy, said that each of us at the table was a light worker and that these times demanded that each of us act with, and as, a sword of light – An Claidheamh Soluis.
As I sit here musing about our gathering, the song of a bird on my fire escape breaks the silence of the softly falling snow, waking me up from my dream-like state. I think of song and life and feel encouraged to keep writing. Nature, like a mother nurtures us, sending us reminders at every season. The ancient Celts were good at paying attention to this. They celebrated four fire holidays to remind them. Samhain, the beginning of the New Year was a time to remember that the dead were not far away – they were out there protecting us. The harvest was saved and the earth was resting – a reminder to take stock of our lives, and appreciate this quiet time to look within.
February 1, Imbolg, the first day of spring in Ireland, later became known as St. Brigid’s Day. This time of rebirth is a reminder for us to make a new start and be creative. The word Imbolg (in the belly) refers to the birth of new- born lambs.
Bealtaine or May Day, the next fire festival officially heralded the beginning of summer. It’s interesting that it was deemed unlucky to give away salt on Bealtaine. During sharing time at our Nollaig na mBan dinner we had a discussion on women’s health. One guest, who prefers to remain anonymous, told us that rather than ingest a pharmaceutical substance for a thyroid problem she took care of it herself. She researched and found that iodine is the major component of a normal thyroid. “The incidence of low thyroid function skyrocketed particularly among women after manufacturers took it off table salt,” she reminded us. She incorporated dried seaweed in the form of dulse, kelp, wakame (all of which have varying amounts of iodine) into her diet. A blood test six months later concluded that her thyroid number was in the normal range. I think some Celtic deity must have been nudging her on.
Celtic deities inspired good health. Lugh, the god of the third fire festival, Lughnasa, must have been the one to inspire the custom of climbing hills and mountains. That custom has survived in some areas. The best known, is the Reek Sunday pilgrimage to the top of Croagh Patrick on the last Sunday in July. I think of Lughnasa as a reminder to get in shape – to walk, climb and dance.
We, of Nollaig na mBan NYC have taken on these four Celtic fire festivals to fundraise for women of The Dwelling Place of NY, a privately funded transitional residence for homeless women in Midtown Manhattan: http://thedwellingplaceofny.org.
We are grateful to this newspaper’s staff for their generosity in promoting our events. Míle Buíochas also to Adrian Flannelly, executive producer of “The Adrian Flannelly Show” and Áine Sheridan, executive vice president of Flannelly Promotions. We appreciate the announcements and interviews on the show. We ask everyone to “like” our new Nollaig na mBan NYC Facebook page, and we thank all who attend our presentations and donate to our charity.
As I write this I’m watching the first snow blowing slantways as if it’s not sure of a landing place. As it continues, it grows more confident pelting itself silently on the bushes. I am reminded of the plight of the homeless in cold weather. They gain confidence to improve their lives because of the dedicated staff at The Dwelling Place and the help of donations from people who care. As the administrator of the shelter, Sister Joann Sambs put it in her note of thanks to Nollaig na mBan NYC: “It’s women supporting women. What a wonderful gift especially in these times.”
Everyone is invited to our next celebration/fundraiser on Feb. 1, 2017. Poet, Bernadette Cullen, singer/actor, Guenevere Donohue and musician/composer Linda Hickman will join members of our Nollaig na mBan NYC team to present an evening of delight and participation. In addition to entertainment and refreshments, guests will choose to join a mini dance lesson, learn how to weave a St. Brigid’s cross and or learn a song in the Irish language. The celebration/fundraiser will be held at Ripley Grier Studios, 520, 8th Ave at 6:30 p.m. Suggested donation is $20. If you need more information, contact Maura Mulligan at [email protected].
Maura Mulligan, author of the memoir “Call of the Lark,” is the founder of Nollaig na mBan NYC.