It was 1940s Limerick and Santa had a bit of a problem that year

Family Fortunes: Our dad asked that we all request just one thing, and leave a small contribution

Santa was a problem that year but it didn’t spoil the fun. Photograph: iStock

It was the late 1940s in Limerick, big families, small wages, streets teeming with playing children, frosty evenings in makeshift "skates" on inclines in the road until parents called us home, glowing from the exercise.

In early December our father spoke to all of us after tea. "Santa has a bit of a problem this year," he said. Could we all request just one thing, he asked, and could we leave a small contribution.

From the first of December we counted down the days, and we began to count, and keep our coppers too.

On Christmas Eve we went downtown. Outside Woolworths the news vendor's cry of "Wanna-leader buy-a-leader, last edition of the Limerick Leader" contended with the fiddle, melodeon and banjo of Limerick's much loved Three Blind Mice.


Inside the store, we children made our way up the broad stairs to the toys, and filled our eyes with the grand array.

At teatime a new holly patterned oil cloth lay under our tea things, and festive paper bunting was strung across the kitchen ceiling. Later on the table was cleared for the presents and we laid out our contributions. I laid down my six solid pennies, in a neat stack.

And so to bed, but not to sleep, too much excitement for that. My younger brothers were determined to stay awake for Santa.

Christmas morning and who woke first I couldn’t say but soon we were all whispering, like nestling birds awaiting the dawn. We stole downstairs but were stymied by the kitchen door, locked by my father to discourage early morning forays. But he followed us down, despairing of further sleep, and open sesame. All was pandemonium, wrapping paper discarded, whoops of delight.

I received a box of paints. I had seen the same box in Woolworths the day before. Its price – sixpence.

My mother hovered anxiously nearby. I knew she was reading my mind. She began to apologise but I denied disappointment. It was what I wanted I said. And it was.