I was chatting with a priest recently, reminiscing about the stations, and was not surprised to hear that they have pretty much died out everywhere at this stage. For those not familiar with the tradition, the station mass was mass said in a house. There are station areas within a parish usually consisting of 10 to 12 houses. Each house in a station area held the stations in turn.

While mass was the reason the events were held, for me they were much more about bringing neighbours together in a social way that rarely happens otherwise. Often, we only meet neighbours in the local shop, or when we stop for a chat as we pass the gate or give a hand moving cattle. To be honest, sometimes we only get to have chats at wakes or funerals.

Food crucial

The stations gave the opportunity to chat in a different way. To relax over a drink, and a “hang” sandwich. Ah yes, the hang sandwich. The food at the stations was crucial and needed to be plentiful and capable of being eaten on a plate balanced on your lap, hence the popularity of sandwiches. Some houses did not limit themselves to ham or salad sandwiches, but also had egg, beef and even tuna; though that was a bit smelly in a small sitting room. I did once suggest I make some quiches, but my mother-in-law was not impressed with my notions.

The plate of sandwiches was of course accompanied by a cup and saucer of strong tea. Coffee was rarely asked for and certainly not an Americano or latte. The tea would be poured from the two-handled teapot borrowed from the GAA clubhouse and as it made its way around the room, it would be accompanied by one of the children of the house carrying the milk jug and sugar bowl.

The sandwiches were followed by a mix of apple tarts, porter cake, iced buns and maybe a chocolate Swiss roll if one had arrived with a guest. The plates were hardly collected when glasses of whiskey were poured with no mind to a normal measure and bottles of beer poured into tall glasses.

Having the craic

By this stage the tables were cleared, the chairs pushed back and the craic started. Often the children of the house- once they were finished carting around the milk and sugar- would sing or dance. I remember one very memorable stations in Mary’s house when some ladies took to the floor for a few rounds of Shoe the Donkey. The same night, the priest was also a guitar player, so as soon as he had completed the mass and enjoyed his tea, he played, while all there, regardless of musical ability, sang a range of rousey ballads.

Of course, hosting the stations also meant you were inviting neighbours into your home so you would want it to look its best. Well in advance of the date, walls inside and out were painted, new carpets put down and it was the perfect excuse to get a new suite or curtains. The place would be cleaned to a level that would make a health inspector proud. Even the yard outside was cleared of rusty gates to make room for parking. Mass was usually held in the good room and the front door was held open for guests who normally called around the back.

The altar would be set up with the best white table cloth, candle sticks each side and a vase of flowers. All the host had to give the priest was a bowl of water with a brush to shake it over everyone once it was blessed and a little salt. He would arrive with his bag containing his surplus, stole, chalice etc.

When it was over and people had walked out into the night with mumblings of thanks and that it was the best stations in years, the person who was to hold it next was already planning the colour scheme for the good room.

Read more

Margaret Leahy: Being a ciotóg isn't easy - but it is special

Margaret Leahy: sometimes, it’s ok to talk to strangers