People in North Clare will have the opportunity to view interpretations of Christmas scenes from around the world this weekend as part of the annual Christmas Crib Festival in Liscannor Church.
The festival has been running for the past seven years and has grown from about 15 cribs to 500.
“It grows on you. I didn’t know I was collecting cribs until it became difficult to store them,” said Fr Denis Crosby.
“When I worked in Africa, I saw lots of different types of cribs and I brought them back as presents to different people but now I regret that I gave them all away.”
Fr Crosby spent four years in Malawi during the early 1990s. While there, he was impressed by the standard and diversity of cribs being produced.
“They had wonderful schools of youngsters who they brought in from the bush and trained in traditional wood carving. They trained in the mission context and a lot of what they made were cribs because it gave them the opportunity to make not just human figures but animals too.
“The most interesting thing about these cribs is that when they would carve the three wise men, they would be bringing traditional African gifts. So I have one crib where one of the kings is bringing beer, one has a pineapple and one is bringing the chief’s stool, to symbolise power. So they put their own distinctive tribal version of the story into the crib. Then I began to discover that right throughout the world, people do their own particular ethnic versions of the crib.”
After seeing cribs being made in Africa, Fr Crosby began noticing cribs being made here in Ireland, in the North Clare community. “When I saw people making cribs around me, the collection suddenly exploded. My brother, Ned, worked in Peru, which is in a sense the Mecca for crib making and he brought a huge number of different types of cribs. People like Fr John Molloy in Ennis are now contributing and sending versions of cribs from their own countries. I would also say the Liscannor people have taken the cribs up as a project too. Most couples who go to exotic places on their honeymoon would spend some time searching for a small crib to take home. It is really a Liscannor collection now and the community are building it,” Fr Crosby outlined.
In terms of scale, the smallest cribs are often the most interesting, he believes. “I like to try to keep them small because the question of storage always arises. But in terms of cribs, size really doesn’t matter, some of them would fit in a matchbox. One couple who come here on holidays brought one from Kuala Lumpur, it is so minute and it is incredible to see the craftsmanship in it. Cribs are an interesting craft and they are something that real artists want to get engaged in. They have a folk quality too. A lot of cribs are quite traditional. They are not museum pieces. They have heart. They are like sean-nós music, simple and direct.”
“The festival itself is stilling. It gathers people into an atmosphere of simplicity and wonder. It is hard to describe it but it is like child-like wonder, I would say. We had to put on an extra day last year because people like to spend a while there exploring and taking it all in. It focuses people on what Christmas really means. If you look around at what is up everywhere, it is a Victorian picture of Christmas, of snow and reindeer. This festival has a more serious dimension to it,” Fr Crosby concluded.
Many of the cribs that will be displayed were made locally including one that comes from the brain of the lobster. Traditionally the old fishermen in Liscannor showed the piece to the children at Christmas time and pointed out the star and the figures of Mary and Joseph in the membrane.
The Christmas Crib Festival at Liscannor Church will be held on Saturday, Sunday and next Monday from 10am to 6pm each day. There will be 500 different nativity scenes on display from all over the world.