Communion memories: the dress and the big day

Three women who still have their First Holy Communion dresses look back on ‘an important rite of passage’



Describe your dress

It’s a beautiful broderie anglaise dress with a scalloped detail on the waist and the hem. It was bought in Thurles, Co Tipperary, where I grew up. It was 1972, so most of us wore short dresses. My two sisters had worn it before me.

Your memories of the day itself – was it spiritual or family-centred?

Both, really. I’m still a practising Catholic, and I feel that Communion is an important rite of passage, both spiritually and in terms of an Irish childhood. We lived in the town and we walked down to the church. And people would give you, like, 50p on the way. And because my parents had a shop, I started to count the money inside in the church – which I really got into trouble for.

Why was the dress kept?
After me it went to Africa. My aunt moved to Malawi, so it was posted out and my cousin wore it out there. It came back to Dublin only about five years ago. That’s probably why I still have it. It fitted my daughter when she was four. But now kids are eight making their Communion – and they’re bigger as well – so it wouldn’t go near her. But I’ll keep it even though it won’t be worn again.

Your style nowadays?

I think how you dress says a lot about you – so I do dress up every day and put on my make-up. My mother always looked stylish. She would come

to Dublin and buy good-quality brands. She made some of her clothes too. She would buy a good suit and then make three or four blouses to supplement it. She had a very classic look. But the Ursuline nuns were a big influence too. They talked to us about the kind of people we would be. They gave us confidence. They were the first feminists we met.


Describe your dress

It’s a very simple dress with a lace overlay. There’s a detail at the back that I really like – that’s why I chose it. It was bought in Tuam, Co Galway. My mother had an awful job to get me out of the shop. I tried on loads of dresses. I was initially going for very fussy, flouncy, princessy things, and she was trying to divert me towards something simpler. I remember buying frilly underwear too.


The day itself – spiritual or family-centred?
It was a mix. The school I went to made a great fuss of the communicants. It was a magical day. The sun shone, my grandparents were there, it was a very happy day. And as a seven-year-old girl I was happy because it was all about me.

Why was the dress kept?
My sister wore it, with the bodice altered; after that my mother wrapped it up in tissue paper along with the crocheted shawl she had made. She still keeps it in the brown box that we bought it in. I remember as a child getting the box, thinking it was huge. But of course it’s tiny.

Your style nowadays?

I would still be very feminine – very girly-girly, in my own way – so that has stayed with me. I think I would have worn high heels with this dress if I could.


Describe your dress

It is broderie anglaise with a pretty pointed collar, and it’s ballerina length. At that time, in the 1980s, everything was ankle-length. My mother was a seamstress and curtain-maker, so she made me a matching handbag and a slip with broderie anglaise.

Your memories of the day itself – spiritual or family-centred?
When I look back at the photos I have very fond memories. I got a French plait in my hair. It was the windiest day, and I looked like an absolute fright by the end of it.

I also remember the build-up – my dad borrowing my uncle’s car because he had a better car than we did; and then going to visit everyone.

We’re not practising Catholics, my husband and I, and we’re not going to bring our daughter up Catholic, so she’s going to miss the First Communion – which is a shame as it was such a big day for me and for most little girls.

Why was the dress kept?
My mum kept it. She’s a hoarder of the highest order. But she wasn’t very precious with clothes – even her wedding dress. She dyed it pink and wore it to a dinner dance the next year. It wasn’t the trendiest dress at the time, and I think that’s why she kept it. It won’t be worn again, but it is something I will keep, and I will tell Beau the story. It will be something unusual for her.

Your style nowadays?

I teach technology and design and I work with my hands, so I wear black a lot. Flat shoes and straight jeans. Design has influenced me a lot. So did rock music

when I was younger. At the moment I’m quite mod – I like my short A-line jackets, heavy-set fringe and dark colours.

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