Celebrating Women’s Christmas/Nollaig na mBan on Jan. 6.
By Deirdre Batson
On Jan. 6, a chilly Monday, 10 women eagerly made their way to the third floor of the Playwright Tavern on West 49th Street in Manhattan to participate in what is now an annual event for the group of Irish Americans that form Nollaig na mBan NY. Some years ago a smaller group of women celebrating “Women’s Christmas’/Nollaig na mBan,” the old Irish custom of taking Jan. 6 away from the demands of house and family to gather, talk and share a meal, met at Connolly’s in midtown and formed the idea of raising money for a good cause by summoning a host of cultural talent to celebrate the four Celtic “fire festivals” – Imbolg, Bealtaine, Lunasa and Samhain.
The principal founder, Maura Mulligan, herself a cultural icon in New York, had been celebrating Samhain for many years as a costume and dinner event for friends and fellow dance and language students. The celebrants take on the persona of a character from Irish mythology-or indeed from any number of areas as the years and themes changed and present a brief communication of their character, much to the delight, and often enlightenment, of all present. Why not invite musicians, artists, writers and others to celebrate the other festivals and in so doing raise funds by suggested modest donations, to help those less fortunate? We chose the Dwelling Place of NY as the recipient of our efforts, a transitional shelter for homeless women in NYC.
Last Monday, Jan. 6, seated around a large table in the beautifully decorated upstairs room at the Playwright, Maura Mulligan opened the festivities by thanking the members of the group who could attend, and sharing a note of gratitude from the director of The Dwelling Place, Sister Joann Sambs: “Besides the monetary donations, we are grateful for the support and care shared by all in your group. Having you as friends is a blessing that we will always treasure.”
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Sharing hopes and dreams around the table, Margaret McCarthy, a poet and photographer, read her “Mutiny on the Bounty” verses, well chosen as the poem connected to old ancestors, just as we were ourselves celebrating an old custom. Here is what Margaret said about her poem: “The poem was a tribute to my father, his life as a worker and the values of hard work he passed down to me; it plays with the notions of ‘men’s work’ and ‘women’s work’ and explores the father-daughter relationship through the idea of having past lives – reincarnation – that is, we are shipmates in another life.” Here is a line from the poem that sums it up:
“the value of toil hard-wired into the genes,/ the genetic make-up of the worker/ an ancestral memory/ dreamed down generations.”
Doris Meyer raffled off a copy of “H is for Harp,” a children’s alphabet book of traditional Irish music and heritage that she published last year. Lucky the winner there for sure!
Chicago native Nancy Oda reflected on her increasing familiarity and love for New York that now places her writer’s “outsider” status on rocky ground even as she embraces and enjoys her new affiliation.
Redefining ourselves was addressed in the news of a new job or the loss of a parent; it can be exciting and also confusing and alarming. Celebrating traditional events like Nollaig na mBan with old friends can be wonderfully affirming in those times of change.
Other participants expressed thanks for overcoming obstacles – both physical and personal – reinforcing the value of friendship in effecting recovery. There were those that felt an urge to –“declutter” their living spaces, freeing up room for creativity, while others were considering the merits of relocating to smaller spaces and different locales where greater convenience and family proximity was calling. As for yours truly, I offered a cautionary note, having moved twice in a year, to slow down and enjoy the ability to have space enough to keep those memories visible and accessible. The need to save relatives and friends from having to eventually sort those objects can be misguided, for we learn so much from the lives of others, what was kept and displayed and how they tell of paths taken as well as those not taken.
We are now looking forward to Imbolg, also known as St Brigid’s Day and celebrated on Feb. 1. On the entertainment menu are the fabulous well-known duo of musician/singer Mary Courtney playing alongside fiddler Vonnie Quinn and guaranteed to start your feet tapping. There will be a reading of a scene from Maura Mulligan’s new play “Oscail An Doras” (Open the Door). Dee Nolan and your columnist will give a class on weaving a St Brigi’s Cross – an intricate yet simple craft that nevertheless leaves plenty of room for creativity.
All are welcome to join us for this traditional beginning of spring in Ireland, while at the same time helping the homeless at The Dwelling Place in NYC. Festivities begin at 4 p.m. on Saturday February 1st at Ripley Grier Studios, 520 Eighth Ave. (16th floor). Delicious refreshments will be available as always and the suggested donation is $20. Please contact [email protected] for attendance numbers as well as with any questions. Spring in February – who can resist the pull of that?