Over the last four weeks, more than 60,000 children will have made their way up the aisle at a cost which is truly staggering. When the clothes, the cash gifts, the bouncy castles and the food and drink for their nearest and dearest are all totted up the nation, collectively, will have little change out of €80m.
That is mind-blowing.
It is, say people involved in the Communion industry, money well spent. Marion Gale’s Donnybrook boutique has been kitting out many of south Dublin’s little girls for their big day for 20 years, and she says business this year has been “excellent”.
She says that girls’ clothes in particular have proved to be recession-proof, with parents willing to go without to ensure their children get what they want. “People want the best for their children and why should they apologise for that?” she asks.
This is mind-blowinger: the idea that blowing upwards of €200 on a dress for a kid is a matter of giving the child what she wants, or worse -wanting the best for the child. The dress is for adults -a way of conveying a message to other adults, through the child, that they are financially solvent, that they care about their child, and so on. If a child is anxious about looking good in a communion dress, it is down to a desire instilled and nurtured by adults.
I liked the Republic of Ireland a lot more back in the early 1980s when I didn’t live there and on Fridays I’d come home from school, nostrils aflare with the smell of oily fish and copy of Our Boys (the Christian Brothers’ in-house mag) in hand, to watch a dramatised version of The Bible (God usually put in an appearance, in the form of a few rays of sunlight bursting forth from behind a load of clouds). One of the things that attracted me to the Republic was its religiousness. Back then I used to knock about with a fella whose uncle was a priest (and, as it turned out, quite the ladies’ man), and priests for us were like heroes. By which I mean superheroes. We’d act out adventures involving ghosts and priests performing exorcisms. I also recall acting out scenes in which we the priests would crucify the evildoers, even shouting Crucify Him! This was in the weeks leading up to First Communion. Anyway, the fact that they showed the Bible and the solemn dongs of the Angelus on RTE lent the place more than a whiff of incenseful mystery, by comparison with Northern Ireland, which, while not particularly wanting for priests, just seemed to have a lot more stuff that had nothing to do with priests.
One of our primary school teachers, despairing of the Religious Education curriculum for confirmation, would read extracts from the story of Fatima instead. I remember being terrified by one of the children’s visions of hell, which I envisioned as a big durty rhino in flames. Hell seemed a lot closer then, maybe partly because another teacher, a couple of years previous, had asked us to bring in a candle for a special prayer. We 8 year olds all lit the candles, and the teacher told us that before our prayer we were going to learn something really important. We were told to place our fingers in the flame of the candle for just an instant, until we could feel the first tinge of a burning sensation. Everyone did, and as we laughed and sucked our fingers, the teacher, who was probably about 25 at the time, said, ‘Now boys, just imagine. If that’s what only a tenth of a second feels like in one tiny part of your body, imagine what it’ll be like in hell, if your entire body is engulfed in flames hotter than you can possibly imagine for the rest of eternity.’ This was 1985.