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The Country Stations
The Stations.
There is little or no mention of the "Stations Mass" in historical records but there is generally held view that it has its origins in the Penal Laws which were in force in the 17th and 18th centuries and designed to limit the rights of members of the Roman catholic Church to practise their faith, be educated, hold property etc. 
Others suggest that the “Stations” are of an earlier origin. There is mention of a Dominican priest celebrating Mass for the parishioners of Kilbegnet parish (border of Cos. Galway & Roscommon) in the “Bog of Aghagad” during the 1670’s.

My memories of “The Stations” are mainly from my time as a Mass server. It was a much sought- after duty for school boys, mainly due to the two hours respite the mass server had from school. At Sunday Mass, the priest formally reminded the congregation of the locations for the Stations for the following week. The parish was divided in to Station areas which might consist of one or possibly two townlands, with each area hosting the stations twice a year, in spring and autumn. A family would generally defer the whitewashing, distempering, wall papering, etc. of their home, until shortly before they were due to “Have the Stations”. Sometimes the paint was still sticky on the appointed morning. If one went to town for paint, the shop assistant might remark “Are ye having the stations”? Members of the household were up early that morning for last minute preparations. The main bedroom was transformed in to a parlour and more presentable delph or china,
which may have been temporarily imported from relations or neighbours, would be used to enhance the appearance of the dresser and breakfast table. The humble kitchen table, now covered with white linen, was placed in front of the kitchen window and was suddenly transformed into an altar, adorned with a crucifix, two candlesticks, maybe some flowers, a jug of water and a dish of salt.
If the mass-time was fixed for 10 a.m., the neighbours began to drift in from 9.30 am, with the priest timing his arrival at approx. 9.45 a.m., accompanied by his mass server and occasionally by his sacristan/clerk. The man of the house usually greeted the priest and carried his case to the parlour. The proceedings commenced with the hearing of confessions in the parlour. The candles were then lit and the priest, having vested in the parlour, approached the altar, and having blessed the salt and water, he poured the salt in to the jug of water and proceeded to sprinkle the holy water on the congregation and around the house. Returning to the altar and with his back to the congregation he blessed himself, saying:
In nomine Patris,et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Server: Amen
Priest: Introibo ad altare Dei. Server: Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam.
The Mass continued with the ancient Latin words of the priest and server. Those sacred words sustained Catholics for centuries and appear to add more solemnity to the ceremony. Members of the congregation reverently murmured their own individual prayers, some fingering their rosary beads. Most sat through Mass and men, without a seat, often knelt on one knee using their folded caps as knee pads. A latecomer might quietly remain outside until Mass was over. The priest usually delivered a short sermon, generally adding that the “Stations” was a suitable time for resolving any disputes or differences between neighbours. As the celebration of the Mass drew to a close, the woman of the house nervously prepared to serve breakfast.
 The priest too had important housekeeping duties to attend to. The first was to stand in the centre of the kitchen and collect the “station money”. A kitchen plate was placed on a chair beside the priest, and each householder came forward with the “station money” as the names were called out, with the priest carefully eyeing each contribution. Nobody escaped making the contribution, which was generally 5 shillings, 4 for the priest and 1 for the clerk. On one occasion, I remember an older man coming forward and placing a fistful of small change in the plate. The man, probably noticing the suspicious look on the priest’s face, remarked “It’s all in it”. There was an audible background whisper, “He was out on the wran!” On one occasion, the priest announced that a more realistic sum of 7 shillings & 6 pence would be due at the spring “Stations”, remarking that the collection had remained at 5 shillings since he came to the parish.
 Financial matters now carefully disposed of, the priest would enquire about who was taking the next “Stations”. Sometimes a lengthy period of silence followed, with everybody watching and waiting for someone to blink. Eventually somebody would break the silence and offer to be the next” host”, leading to a palpable relief in the congregation. There was a sort of rota in each area and everybody knew who should be “next”. Some families were shy in hosting the “Stations”, due possibly to their poor economic circumstances and also maybe felt that their modest homes were not in a fit state for the visitation of the priest and inquisitive neighbours.
There were the usual mutterings like “So -and-so didn’t have the stations for nearly ten years” and so on.
At last the priest retired to the parlour for breakfast, having the usual soft boiled egg, brown bread, tea and maybe treacle cake. The table was often adorned with a dish of sugar cubes, (Siúcra an tSagairt), and a dish of those delicate looking butter rolls. Sometimes the priest was partial to a bowl of porridge. The man of the house and maybe one or two of the more important male neighbours, who might be considered sufficiently articulate to sustain learned conversation, joined the priest for breakfast. Some of the neighbouring women would busy themselves serving a more modest breakfast to the ordinary people in the kitchen, maybe the boiled egg or the more manageable Calvita cheese or jam sandwiches and tea. The kitchen table was generally not big enough to accommodate everybody and some would eat breakfast on the hoof. Small humble homes, with limited cooking facilities, put much pressure on the housewife on Stations mornings.
As circumstances improved, some housewives began to break ranks, and the breakfast often became a more elaborate and expensive affair with such delicacies as cooked ham, tomatoes, jelly and custard, and maybe more adventurous dishes being on the menu. A certain “Keeping up with the Jones” and maybe a little friction was entering the Stations areas which led to many of the parish clergy appealing for moderation, suggesting that ‘a cup of tea and a biscuit’ would suffice. The morning event was sometimes followed by a party that night, with more food and possibly some drink- sometimes too much-, being served. A local musician might be asked to provide entertainment – the late Andy Mullarkey regularly provided entertainment at these parties. A local singer might deliver a rendition of the “Queen of Connemara” and other ‘come-all-yes’. In the late 1960’s, changing lifestyles often led to the holding of the Stations in the evening, quickly followed by the party. This arrangement was probably more suitable for the host family and quickly became the norm
For generations, through famine and all sorts of trials and tribulations, the Irish people maintained the tradition of celebrating the Stations. Changing lifestyles, possibly due to the improvement in the economy from the 1970’s onwards, a declining rural population and maybe fewer parish clergy, appear to have coincided with the demise of the Stations and some other Catholic practices in most parishes. The “Stations” are still quite popular in many parishes in the Elphin diocese and in a lesser number of parishes in the Tuam diocese. The practice of celebrating the Station Mass, which has continued for possibly three hundred years, is now, sadly, becoming a rarer event in counties Galway and Mayo. But now that the “Celtic Tiger” has run its course, will the “Stations” make a comeback?   by Michael Kirrane                                                                                                              
Preparing a Country House for the Stations in Olden Times
(The following story was written by Mrs. Margaret Miskell, Addrigoole, and published in Dunmore Newsletter, Nov. 1997.)
I was home on holidays from a Dublin hospital at the time, and this neighbouring man, who lived alone, asked me to prepare his kitchen for the station mass. This was in 1939.
                I asked a pal of mine to help me as I knew there was a lot of work to be done.  In those days some people kept cattle, especially young ones, tied up in one of the rooms off the kitchen. The old man put a new cement floor in the kitchen the day before the stations.
First of all we had to whitewash the kitchen walls. We had to mix lime and water with a square of Recketts Blue, all mixed to a nice paste. The blue would make it nice and white on the walls- it was the old method of making the walls look well.
In those days people left holes in the walls over the fireplace, where hens used lay eggs and hatch out chickens. The walls were lovely and white after the whitewash, but the two holes looked black. After some thought I got some nice fancy paper and covered the holes with it. When the old man returned from his visiting he was delighted, as the kitchen looked beautiful to him. Suddenly, he said, “You covered the hole where I have a hen hatching chickens and she may want to come out while the mass is on”. I said, “Well she’ll have to stay there now until all is over.” We had a good laugh at the thought of it.
           Next day the station mass went off fine. The old man was so happy he told us to gather up some local boys and hold a house dance, as I had a gramophone to supply the music with old waltz and set dance records.  The crowd gathered to dance the night away, with the boys wearing nailed boots on the new fresh concrete floor. Soon the place was filled with dust and cement. The freshly laid floor was ripped up after the heavy nailed boots- and the whitewashed walls were a different colour! My gramophone had to be sent away to be cleaned. Nowadays the youth would feel different about an event like that.