The Irish offer many ways to remember the reasons for the season

By Judy Enright
Special to the BIR

It sure seems as though this mad world needs the peace, quiet, and holiness of the Christmas season this year to offset the turmoil and turbulence that’s raging everywhere.
Has there ever been a time in recent memory when people have been so rude, mean-spirited, and thoughtless of others’ feelings and beliefs? We don’t remember if there ever was one.
Christmas is a perfect time of year to change all that. It’s a time to reconnect, recollect, and reach out to help the less fortunate and remember the reason for the season.
There are holiday celebrations aplenty in Ireland this month and you’ll easily find them wherever you travel.
Christmas markets are a tradition and there will be many set up in towns and cities across the country, offering an interesting variety of food and gifts that are fun to shop at and visit.
Belfast sets up its Continental Christmas Market in front of the city hall and you can find gifts, food, entertainment, and more there through the month until Dec. 22.
Waterford offers Winterval Dec. 18-23. (See for more dates and details.) Then there’s the Milk Market in Limerick ( and Glow in Cork on weekends leading up to Christmas (
If you’re in Dublin, the stores and streets are gaily lit for the holiday and you can find great gifts everywhere - especially in the George’s Street Arcade and, of course, along Grafton Street and its many interesting stores.
This year’s Magic Parade in Killarney, with Santa Claus, took place on Nov. 24. Mini parades will take place on the Dec. 1, 8, 15 ,and 22 starting at 6 pm. Killarney On Ice returns to the Beech Road Car Park and operates through Jan. 6.
Be sure to check with local tourist board offices while you’re there for more details on markets and other holiday activities in the areas you’re visiting.
I visited Co. Mayo many times before I was introduced to the brilliant work of the Irish stained-glass artist Harry Clarke. His beautiful windows enhance St. Patrick’s Church, whichsits on a hill overlooking the town of Newport.
Local lore says the pastor there in the 1920s - Canon Michael MacDonald – commissioned Clarke’s stained-glass windows for the church and sold his life insurance policy to pay for them. Clark reportedly went to see the church and met the canon in his rose garden, carrying a basket and wearing a large straw hat. The two men made an instant connection and the deal was done.
Clarke’s much too short life began on St. Patrick’s Day in 1889 in Dublin, where his father, Joshua, had a stained glass and ecclesiastical decorating business. Harry was the younger of two sons - his brother Walter was also born on March 17 exactly one year earlier. Harry left school at 14 to join the family business after his mother died. He studied stained-glass making and won several scholarships, which ultimately led him to study in London and France.
The beautiful Last Judgment window, over the high altar in the east wall of St. Patrick’s, took four years to complete and has been described as Clarke’s most magnificent work. The window includes a self-portrait of Clarke that is said to portray his suffering from prolonged poor health.
Clarke continued to work on the Newport design even while he was a patient in a Swiss sanatorium for tuberculosis in both lungs. He died in 1931 at 41 while on his way home to Ireland and a month before his studio installed the final window in the Newport church.
Although his life was short, Clarke was commissioned to create more than 160 windows for religious and commercial properties and was also well known as an illustrator. Among his more famous were drawings in two editions of Edgar Allan Poe’s works.
Clarke and Walter not only both worked in the family stained glass business but they also married sisters and died within six months of one another.
Of course, visiting Ireland is always a treat, but if you can’t, you can still see Clarke’s works. Harry created nine windows for the Basilica of St. Vincent de Paul in Bayonne, N.J., and the Geneve Window for the Wolfsonian–Florida International University design museum in Miami, FL. You can also find Harry Clarke windows in buildings in Australia, England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.
Several books have been written about him and his work. Nicola Gordon Bowe wrote “The Life and Work of Harry Clarke,” first published in 1989 with a paperback edition in 1994, and “Strangest Genius: Stained Glass of Harry Clarke,” by Lucy Costigan and Michael Cullen, published in 2010.
It was shocking to read a story recently in The Irish Times reporting that a Dublin group’s research shows that the stretch of the N59 running from Leenane to Clifden has the highest number of accidents in the entire country. I was surprised because I have driven that curvy but lovely stretch many times and have never seen any accidents along that route. Of course, I do not drive it every day of the year.
The N59 from Leenane rolls down the coast along Killary Fjord to Connemara’s hills and dales, passes the entrance to the Inagh Valley on the left and Kylemore Abbey (well worth a visit) on the right and then winds down into Clifden. It’s a very scenic road.
The data were collected by the Dublin company Gamma Location Intelligence and were based on collision rates, determined by the number of road accidents per 100 million vehicle kilometers between 2015 and 2017, the newspaper said.
Co. Galway had the highest number of “accident black spots” in the country, the report noted, with eight of the most dangerous road segments located there.
Next on the most dangerous list was the stretch between Abbey Square roundabout and Seamus Rafter Bridge in Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford, while the Killashee, Ballymahon, and New Streets junction in Longford town was the third most dangerous in the country. The research also listed the most dangerous road in each county and ranked Exit 5 on the M1 as Dublin’s most dangerous location for collisions.
In the story, Richard Garry, director of Location Intelligence for Gamma, said: "Overall, according to the data provided by Transport Infrastructure Ireland, collision rates are decreasing across the country. However, there are specific stretches of roads where the frequency of collisions is still high. Not only does this analysis show drivers where they need to take extra care, but it is also useful for insurance companies as it identifies the areas that are the worst for road accidents and enables them to better assess risk."
Ireland’s Road Safety Authority (RSA) recorded a seven percent year-on-year increase in road deaths in the first six months of 2019, with 89 people killed. RSA Chief Executive Moyagh Murdock said the increase was "alarming" and urged motorists to slow down on Ireland’s roads.
This is great advice from Murdock for all those planning to drive in Ireland or anywhere actually. But in Ireland, it does pay to be extra careful, especially when driving on what we call, “the wrong side of the road.”
We wish all our readers the very best holiday season and a healthy, happy New Year. And, we hope many of you will find tickets to Ireland in your stockings or under your tree.