Christmas past and present


FIRM FAVOURITE  Nothing beats cold brandy butter on hot plum pudding or mince pies.

Sonia Kelly

I must have had a pretty unusual childhood between the ages of one and eight, for I lived with my nanny, who was hired to look after me, and my grandmother, in the English town of Cirencester.
I do not recollect any Christmases over this period until my parents came home for a Christmas holiday one year and hired a house near another English town, Guildford, where my father’s family lived. They had come from Ceylon where my father had a tea estate. I woke up on the Christmas morning of 1926 and saw a tiny red teddy bear, looking down at me from the top of my Christmas stocking. I was enchanted at once, and christened it Red Bolia.
Bolia was my father’s business partner, Robbie, and he suffered from my mispronunciation of his name which was Robinson. He came from Ballinahinch Castle, to which his father had been appointed as manager on behalf of the Law Life Insurance Company. This company had acquired the estate from Humanity Dick Martin’s family, he being renowned for getting animal anti-cruelty legislation through parliament and for being a benign landlord. It was later bought by an Indian prince and lastly by Denis O’Brien, Irish Communications prince.
For many years Red Bolia was my mascot and only disappeared in my last move to my present house.
Apart from that, there were no eventful Christmases in my life until I grew up and got married and had my own family.
I remember that a relative of my husband always baked us a Christmas cake. I never made a plum pudding because nobody in the family liked them, so I always made a sherry trifle. But one year, somebody gave me a plum pudding so I thought to experiment with brandy butter, which had always featured in the English festivities.
I looked up recipes which were fairly complicated so I simplified it down to twice as much icing sugar as butter, kneaded to a cream with brandy to taste added, though not enough to make the concoction wet. And wow, was it gorgeous! It then and there became my favourite part of Christmas, and one of my sons who now lives in the main house nearby has a Christmas party every year to which I go armed with a jar of it.
Now that I’m confined to base, one of my granddaughters has promised to buy some, since it apparently is now available in shops, and to add more brandy if necessary before serving it up to me. Although I don’t expect my Christmas to be a riot of fun it will at least be tastefully flavoursome.

> Sonia Kelly, now in her late 90s, is an author, poet, entrepreneur and regular Mayo News contributor. She founded Cloona Health Centre in Westport in l973. .