What we call the beginning is often the end.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.
T. S. Eliot
“May your nets always be full,
Your pockets never empty,
Your horse not cast a shoe,
Nor the devil look at you
In the coming year.”
Traditional Irish saying on New Years Eve.
‘New Year’s is a more American thing, particularly a Scottish thing and definitely a more continental thing. We don’t have any great traditions for celebrating New Year going back down the centuries. In fact going back a few centuries the original New Years Eve in Ireland was celebrated on 1st November, then it got moved to the 25th March (before the adoption of the Roman calendar) : The Feast of the Annunciation; a religious holiday that celebrated the coming of the Angel Gabriel to Mary with news that she would bear God a son. The streets would be filled with processions, and people would make offerings to Mary. So, because of all this confusion about dates we’ve never really celebrated New Years Eve. A very Irish solution to an Irish problem: ‘do nothing!’
Pat Liddy, proud Dubliner
These were the words of historian and one of Dublin’s finest sons Pat Liddy on a stone cold, blustery New Year’s Eve in Dublin last year when I asked him about the tradition for celebrating New Years Eve in Ireland.
His admission came as a bit of a shock. In a country that is steeped in tradition, rituals and customs, I found it strange that there is none associated with New Years Eve.
Especially having lived across the pond with their celtic cousins, the Scots where they’ve been making a big deal of New Year’s Eve for awhile.
I did some digging around on the web. While I can’t verify if the sources are good, I did discover some evidence that in centuries past , Irish did have their own New Years traditions.
Here’s a few that caught my eye. For example, it was important to begin the New Year with a spotlessly clean house to signify a fresh start to the New Year. Makes sense. Another tradition dictated that some people would give you nothing, afraid they’d be giving their luck away. The first person to enter the house after midnight would have to be male and black haired to safeguard the luck of the house for the coming year. Red haired women were not welcomed. They apparently would bring hardship and grief. Harsh.
New Years Eve was also known as the “Oíche na Coda Móire,”- ‘the night of the big portion.’ People would stuff themselves with food aplenty to ensure they would be well fed for the coming year. Another way of ensuring plenty was to make bread which was then pounded against the door of the house three times while a prayer was said by the housewife. This would chase the bad luck out of the house and invite the good spirits in. Mistletoe was handed out to ward off bad luck. Single women would put a sprig of mistletoe under their pillows in hopes of catching a dream about their future husbands.
Weird and wonderful. Traditions can be both. They can invoke extremes of great joy and pain in us. For better or for worse, they are also an important reference point , a bridge that connects our present to the past.
In my earlier Scotland days I used to love joining in the Hogmanay celebrations. The street party in Edinburgh is a fabulous place to bring in the year. However as I grew older I got fed up of the crowds. I settled for the tradition of doing nothing. Watch the celebrations on the the telly. See a lot of people singing, dancing and getting drunk. Followed by an emotional rendition of Auld Lang Syne. Drink lots. Drunken hugs. To bed.
Then came a twist in the road.I decided to up my roots and leave Scotland. I remember breaking with tradition and going out to celebrate my last hogmanay in Scotland. I watched the fireworks from Calton Hill with my Spanish friends, Jesus and Maria. We downed a handful of grapes as the clock struck 12. A Spanish NYE tradition. I was told that it would bring me good luck for the year ahead. I needed it. That year was a tough one, ultimately a very good year for me. Maybe there is some method in the madness of NYE traditions.
This year both me and Sofia wanted a different kind of New Years Eve. We wanted something more than just getting wasted in front of the telly and watching fireworks.
Dublin for New Year? Why not.
Just like the Scots, the Irish had the good sense of creating a 3 day New Year’s Festival which celebrates the best of everything that Dublin has to offer: music, food, art and comedy.
There is a ton of things to do.
We arrive in Dublin to find it is bitterly cold. However the skies are fresh and blue throughout the last days of 2015 . I took that as a good omen for 2016.
End the year as you wish the new one to flow. We spend a good half of the day with some of my dearest friends in the blogging world: the lovely Steve and Victoria from Bridges and Balloons. We head to the Guinness Storehouse which had been voted recently as the world’s most popular visitor attraction.
There is am Irish saying that Guinness does not travel well. It is always best consumed at source. Which in this case is in Dublin. Specifically where the black stuff is made ( 2 and a half million pints are churned out everyday) : the Guinness Storehouse. Situated in an old grain storehouse ( that Arthur Guinness purchased on 31st December, 1759 on a 1000 year lease ) in the heart of the St James’s Gate Brewery, the Guinness Storehouse is Dublin, Ireland and Europe’s most visited tourist attraction.
The ticket costs €20 on the door which is pretty steep. Save yourself from the lengthy queues and €2 by purchasing the ticket online.
It is a very impressive visitor attraction, with various exhibits ( there is a free guided tour) that helps you master the history of the beer and the brewery in double quick time.
Best part of the visit for us was popping into the Guinness Academy where Victoria and Sofia learnt how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness.
Then at the end of it all we drank the best pint of Guinness in the world at the iconic top floor Gravity Bar which affords you some cracking views of the city.
As Pat testified, the tradition of celebrating New Years in Dublin and Ireland is a new one. The old love of traditions have faded away and have been replaced by new traditions.
Still dancing inside after our few pints of Guinness we head at sunset to College Green to enjoy the Luminosity show (from 5pm daily) which is one of the star features of the New Years Festival.
The show highlights aspects of Irish culture, history and modern life play in 3D animation across the facade of some of Dublin’s most historic buildings.
We then joined the fabulous Procession of Light. This impressive event drew over 15,000 spectators this year.
It was great to see a lot of young families taking part in this glimmering, lantern-roofed parade which weaved its way through Dublin’s streets.
Faces of old and young, people from all walks of life, illuminated in a sea of light: really is something magical about the whole event.
A big personal highlight of the evening followed soon after. Me, Sofia, Victoria and Steve were invited to become part of a Guinness World record attempt for the largest-ever assembly of bodhrán players. We honestly had no clue on how to play the bodhrán. After a last minute masterclass from Bodhran expert Robbie Walsh at our hotel, we mastered the intricacies of this fine instrument.
While it could not be confirmed on the night, following morning we were very proud to wake up and discover that we were indeed part of a Guinness world attempt with over 1500 people participating.
The night ended for many ( 5000 folk) at the NYF Street Fest in St Stephens Green. Me and the other half spent the last few hours of 2015 at the Three Countdown Concert at the 3Arena. The concert featured an amazing set from Fatboy Slim. Guy still knows how to throw a party. As the final act, the Coronas kicked off their set we dragged our sweaty bodies back onto the streets. Queues for buying a pint and going to the toilet had reached silly proportions. We scampered back to the city centre to find ourselves a pub to usher in the bells.
We ended up in one of Dublin’s most historic pubs, O’Donoghue’s. As per tradition, a trad session was in full flow. This is one of the best pubs in Dublin to experience a trad session. It was jam-packed so we edged our way to the back and managed to grab a pint of Guinness near the bar. Everyones eyes were glued to the TV set and the Coronas concert at the 3Arena we had just left. Then the countdown started and to the merry strain of Auld Lang Syne, we ushered in 2016.
Some of the old traditions never change. Some of them have faded, giving way to new traditions. Some of which, judged by our experience may endure the test of time. Many traditions have now been replaced by the need to make resolutions. While there is no reference to new year resolutions in folklore archives, the ritual of making resolutions has become a regular fixture in our NYE calendar. Our way of predicting our future by sheer willpower.
No luck needed. No black haired men at midnight. Red haired women can be welcomed.
In an attempt to help people firm up their resolutions and get their year off to a good start the last day of the festival is also known as Resolution Day.
A New Year’s Day 5K Run at Phoenix Park and a children’s storytelling and art workshops were some of the highlights.
The most promising and rewarding of all the events for us personally was a TED-style talks event organised by First Fortnight, a charity-based organisation with the express aim of challenging mental health prejudice through the creative arts.
For a topic that is still quite taboo and difficult for people to speak about, the format of the event was excellent. There was bunch of talks nicely interspersed with heavenly music, ( Colm MacCoinimaire- probably the most amazing violinist I think I’ve ever had the privileige of hearing live ) comedy and poetry.
Passionate speakers, a cross section of Irish media and celebrities, shared their personal mental health journeys inspiring the audience to achieve collective wellbeing.
The talks were heartfelt, direct, emotional , difficult but ultimately uplifting.
It was appropriate event to end the festival and a memorable few days in Dublin.
New Years Festival was everything I had hoped for.
A chance to pause and reflect.
Look back and get some much needed perspective of life.
A chance to celebrate the gift of present.
Plus the chance to rejoice in the possibilities the future holds.
Without signalling the end we cannot begin something new.
Here’s a little poem inspired by this years New Years celebration.
Might be a tradition I start for the years ahead 😉
An end and a beginning
I am no longer apathetic.
Out with the old.
In with the new.
I am ready for 2016.
No longer will I let fate decide my future.
I will create it.
I will feed my mind and soul
To overcome my inner demons
I will keep drinking copious amounts of the black stuff.
To help stiffen those impossible resolutions
And maybe even break the odd world record.
Guinness is good they say.
I think it gives me heart and strength.
The strength to speak my mind
Dance and sing
On the cobbled streets
Till the cold hours of dawn.
It is a party.
Everyone is welcomed.
Ghosts of past, present and future
Red and dark haired ones too.
In the bitter light of day
(and the most epic hangover)
….as the rain poured down.
The long list of resolutions seemed daunting.
Then I remembered I was in Dublin.
The city with more than just a breath of fresh air.
A city of dreamers
Celebrating New Years Eve here
Will hopefully bring me and
Maybe you that wee bit of luck
we will need in the years ahead.
I visited New Years Eve in Dublin as part of a storytelling project I run about cool quirky festivals called MustLoveFestivals, with support from New Years Festival Dublin, Expedia and Tourism Ireland. As always all the thoughts, poems -everything I write here are my own words.