way people dressed in days that are gone
It was while I forced my way in among the crowd packed at
the rear of St. Brigid's church, Clonegal, on Thursday,
April 1 (confirmation day) and looked over the heads of
row upon row of people filling the seats that my mind went
back to my own confirmation day do many years ago and brought
home to me the difference between then and now.
The first big difference was the manner in which the congregation
was seated. At the time of my confirmation the women were
seated on the left hand side of the church as you entered
and the men on the right.
Among the ladies present on that day the hair styles were
something else.....then the head had to be covered. As far
as they men were concerned there was a lot more colour in
Then came the children. They looked resplendent in their
school uniforms. The wearing of school uniforms for confirmation
was one of the best ideas of later years. It did away with
who was the best dressed child and left them
all on an even playing field (even if they still count the
To sum up confirmation day in Clonegal....it was an outstanding
success and the large number of parents, grandparents and
relatives present along with those who came for the ceremony
set me thinking that religion and the respect it deserves
is still healthy in Clonegal.
Now let us go back to the type of dress we talked about
at the beginning. New clothes were only got for a very special
occasion, such as a wedding or some unusual event in the
life of the family. Confirmation would come under this heading
if the child getting that sacrament was the first of the
family, otherwise a well kept suit from an earlier occasion
served the purpose.
The traveller selling secondhand clothes did a great trade
in the parish on confirmation year. In my time confirmation
was given in the parish every third year. There was very
little off the peg buying for boys in those
days. Their clothes were made by the tailor from the age
of 13 and upwards.
The girls did get clothes from the shop although most of
the women in any parish were able to make lovely dresses
or skirts. The one thing that has not changed is the fierce
pride that the parents have in their children. That same
pride was as visible among the parents of the Clonegal and
Kildavin children on April 1, 2004 as it was in 1934.
I can remember my grandmother telling me about her confirmation
day and the way people were dressed. Sadly she did not live
to see my big day, having passed away to her eternal reward
a few days before that.
Thinking of her death reminds me of the length of time the
family were in mourning in those days. Women wore black
for at least a year and the family was supposed to stay
away from amusements or other pleasures for six months.
I well remember Fr. Jimmy Kavanagh having to ask my mother
to allow me to play in an important schools football match
nearly a month after my grandmother had died.
Another custom was the giving of clothes of the dead. The
old people always said if the clothes were not given
away the soul would be naked in the next world. In
her time and even up to the 1930's, a lot of the children's
clothes were made by the bean an ti (woman of the house).
They were generally made from flannelette. The clothes were
worn down to the mouths of the boots, which came half way
up on the legs. Another funny thing about the children was
the fact that boys wore dresses, often until they were six
Then, as now, children liked to show off new clothes. And
the same thing applied to their mothers who loved to talk
about them. Again I heard my granny tell me of what women
wore in her time. Shifts were made of flannel. The well-off
women wore calico ones. They were mostly white in colour
as were underpetticoats. They were fastened down the front
with buttons or with hooks and eyes, They all had short
sleeves and wide-neck neckerchiefs were greatly used. These
were knotted under the chin but a few people used to knot
them at the back of the neck. The neckerchiefs were never
bought ready-made. People would buy the material, usually
spotted, by the yard and make them themselves.
Skirts were usually made from wool and were nearly always
navy in colour. Sometimes they got a plain piece of cloth
and dyed it themselves. The dye was made from elderberry
or blackberry juices. A garment called a bodice was always
worn over the skirt. She talked a lot about cloaks and hoods
and other outdoor clothing but I forgot most of it.
It was almost into the 1920's before women really began
to wear lighter coloured cloths. Straw hats replaced the
shawl and bonnet and dresses came more into vogue. As for
the little girls, they were allowed to wear different coloured
frocks and dresses. The favourite colours were pink, red,
blue and yellow. Never green, that was considered unlucky
- green for grief. New clothes were generally
bought in May (I don't know what sort of weather they
had in those days, but girls were supposed to go out in
white dresses on the first of May).
The new clothes were worn to Mass the first day - for luck.
Children were sent to a relative or friend to show off their
clothes. It was about this time that the crossover
overall' came into being. The women of the house wore
this when working in the home.
If we go back to the early 1900s we will find that men's
clothing could be divided into two sections. Sunday and
working clothes. I am not going back as far as the days
of the corduroy and the swallowed-tailed coat but what I
Just as with children, a woman took great delight in turning
her man out in spotless condition on a Sunday.
In the 1920s and well into the 30s, the Sunday dress
for the men was a navy suit, sometimes a waistcoat or the
occasional pullover. He wore a white shirt that would take
the sight out of your eye with the way it glittered. It
was later that the colour came into the husband's wearing
apparel with the introduction of the lighter coloured suits
and the sports coat and trousers.
The one thing that remained the same is the pride in the
child getting confirmation. It is a credit to the parents
and relatives of the children the attention they pay to
the youngsters on that day, but there is just a little more
than that required when the big day is over the children
are soon going into a new world, let it be secondary school,
apprenticeship or some other walk in the life they need
It is now that the parents or carers should help them most
by trying to keep them on the right track. This is the age
at which they can wander and be induced to travel the wrong
road. It is up to us to help them - not ignore them.
Just one more thing. I often wonder what some of the old
women think of the dress (or lack of it) of the girls today.
At least they have freedom of movement and are not wrapped
in such a manner that only their faces can be seen. But
then are women not among the top flight in our society.
More power to them.
Courtesy of Willie White and the Carlow Nationalist