The Times We Lived In: High jinks plus a little star at Donegal nativity play

Published: December 17th, 2001. Photograph by Brenda Fitzsimons

So even angels get tired. This magical photograph, taken in Co Donegal, shows a celestial host – a tiny celestial host, admittedly – wending its weary way homewards as the sun goes down.

Robes and jeans, wings and trainers, cardboard and tinsel, sunshine and shadows; it's life, but also art. The shot was commissioned to illustrate an article about preparations for the annual nativity play at Killaghtee Church of Ireland national school near Killybegs.

There were, that year, 26 pupils attending the school; nine boys and 17 girls. "Everyone has a part. Some even have two," noted writer Mary Russell, adding that the 2001 production boasted "two wise men and one wise woman".

The children have clearly stolen the writer's heart; especially the youngest pupil, and sole member of the junior infants class that year, four-year-old Zara Mary Margaret Henry.

Asked by The Irish Times to define an angel, Russell reports that the child "stretches her arms behind her head to help her think better, blows her hair out of her eyes, thinks a bit more, and then comes up with the only logical answer: 'It's a girl'."

Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is some Champions’ League-standard theologising, right there.


The action wasn't all of an angelic nature. There was plenty of high jinks, a "scuffle corner" in the stable and a bit of argy-bargy over the lantern belonging to poor, long-suffering St Joseph. Presiding over this redoubtable piece of theatre was the scriptwriter, director and school principal, Nuala Dudley; who, we can report, is still the principal at Killaghtee, where the 2018 edition of the nativity play has just been delivered to a new generation of parents and children.

Back in 2001, alert to the positive side of the short winter days, our photographer tracked the angels as they headed into the sunset. Framed by the stone wall on one side and the fence on the other, they lead the viewer’s eye to that setting sun, and thoughts of heaven, or eternity, or the universe. Or just the miraculous innocence of children at Christmas.

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