- Published: 21 December 2017 21 December 2017
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For over one and a half centuries the arrival of each New Year is celebrated in Portmagee Ireland with a unique costume parade called
the "Old Year".
In 1727, three days after Christmas, a Kinsale brig, flying a French flag, landed in the Port of Portmagee after coming from Nantes,
France. The boat remained until the New Year but what was to happen to the people of Portmagee on New Year’s Eve 1727 was
going to change their little village for evermore.
As the locals were retiring for the night, a strange but eerie noise was coming from the vicinity of the local pier. As the strange sound came up towards the village, to the locals amazement they saw the crew of the French boat holding torches and marching through the village. They were led by a piper and in the center of the torch men a shaggy and staggering figure of an old man on his last legs was swaying as if his time was up.
They proceeded through the village and when they returned to the head of the pier, a shot rang out and the old man lay on the road as if dead. Silence descended again but only for a moment when a newly-dressed man with white trousers, swallowtail coat and top hat emerged from the darkness and he repeated the route of the old man with again the piper leading him and the torches either side. The new man gave a speech to explain to locals about what they had just seen and he went on to inform them that the old man had symbolized the year gone by and, come midnight, he was no more. The New Man symbolized all that was new and the youth of the year that had just begun.
The local people, at first confused and a little fearful, loved the whole event and have recreated it annually ever since. It’s quite a sight. Torches lit with paraffin soaked turf light the path of a local dressed as a stooped old man parade through the town to the pier, where at midnight he is reborn and young again.
The event takes place on the streets of Portmagee, so there are no tickets or admission charges.