The Station

by Marie McPartlin

Do you remember the fuss about hosting “the station”?  I wonder what was the origin of calling a mass held in a family home “the station”?  Each townland had its own “station”. There was an undocumented accepted rota that was adhered to where neighbour after neighbour would host the event but not always in geographical order.  I remember that once it was over in the house prior to yours, it was almost then that the preparations began even though it wouldn’t be for months. It was an event that held great reverence in the neighbourhood.

Of course it was only the woman of the house who got uptight about it. There would be a flurry of activity, scrubbing, painting, papering etc. Days beforehand the neighbouring women would come in to help. This was a time of great hilarity because as well as getting the work done, there would be stories told, gossip exchanged, gallons of tea and mountains of cakes consumed. I particularly remember in my own house, my predominant memory of the preparation was my mother and Mrs McGwynne with tears running down their faces after some funny incident or story was shared, as one stood on a chair pasting wallpaper to the wall, while the other held the bottom of the roll, matching pattern carefully. My mother would spend days baking and a big shop was done beforehand.

There were certain items that were shared from house to house. One person might have a very impressive crucifix, someone else beautiful white lace table cloths, sets of china and cutlery might do the rounds. I remember our good neighbours Brian and Josie McGauran bringing over the extra chairs that would be needed for the event and I think Josie had a box of items that were used on the alter.

Eventually the day would arrive and the house would be gleaming and I remember the lovely smell of lavender polish that was used to shine linoleum. My mother and her two neighbouring best buddies would be scurrying around making sure all the finishing touches were in place. My father would keep constant watch out the window. People tended to walk to the station. He would say here is so-and-so coming and he would go out to greet them. Someone was placed on watch for the priest coming. Because the priest was held in very high esteem back then, it was like royalty arriving. There would be lots of chatter before his arrival but, once he arrived, the mood and tone sobered and the women preparing food in the kitchen would reduce to a whisper.  He would take his place in the sitting room and anyone who wanted confession before the mass took turns to go up to have their confession heard. Eventually when no one else seemed to be coming up to him the priest would come down and mass would start. An altar comprised of a table raised by placing planks of timber underneath would have already been set up. It would be covered with beautifully starched, white lace cloths, some would be my mother’s while others would be borrowed.  Our neighbour Brian McGauran was the expert in setting up the altar having done it some many times over the years. My father and mother had no experience or history with “the station” as it wasn’t a tradition in any parish they had lived in prior to coming to Calry.

A table set for breakfast would have already been set up in the sitting room before anyone arrived. Of course it probably was already lunchtime but the meal after the mass was always called the breakfast. The guest of honour, the priest would be escorted to his position at the top of the table, and prior to his arrival my mother would have gone through the crowd to see who would have breakfast with the priest. There was never a rush of volunteers. Such was the perceived idea about the priest back then that people felt they had to be on their very best behaviour when dining with him and conversation at that table was always slightly strained and very polite. Poor priests they must have felt it, except of course for the ones who enjoyed this exalted position.

Shortly after he finished breakfast, the priest having said goodbye to everyone would take his leave and one could feel the sigh of relief. The table would be cleared and set up again and the next batch of people would sit down to have breakfast as so it went on until everyone was fed. It was when the priest left that the real chatter began in earnest and after food was finished, the whiskey and beers were produced for the men and the sherry and minerals for the women. One by one everyone left and borrowed items were returned to their rightful owners, but there was always a lovely feeling in the house for a day or so afterwards and all the preparation were well worth it.

As a matter of interest I noticed when I referred to my neighbours, I referred to Chrissie McGwynne as Mrs McGwynne but to Josie McGauran as Josie. I think this must be traced back to the fact that I grew up with Mrs. McGwynne’s children and children always referred to their friends mothers and father back then as Mr and Mrs.