Since 1973, she has been engaged in a labour of love at St Mary’s Cathedral, Killarney, Co Kerry, and, though times may have changed a great deal over the years, some things remain the same.
“It’s for the children, really. They love to come to see the crib. It’s a place of pilgrimage, if you like,” she said.
“I think it leaves a lasting impression on children and portrays the simple, spiritual message of Christmas at a time of so much commercialism.”
As Rena put the finishing touches to the crib yesterday, she was accompanied by her daughter, Kate Kennelly O’Driscoll, and Kate’s children, twins Aibhe and Justine, aged 5, and Catherine, 2, marking the involvement of three generations.
Incredibly, there had been no proper crib in the mid-19th century cathedral until Rena decided to step in following major renovations in the early 1970s.
She started with shop models for which she made plaster heads, painted bronze, and costumes, and recalled how one priest had reacted with a mixture of horror and hilarity when he observed St Joseph was a woman.
Then, about 15 years ago, a priest in Killarney, Fr Gearoid Walsh, now parish priest of Castletownbere, Co Cork, got proper figures, from Italy, and they have been appearing ever since.
Also included in the crib are a deer, a kid, and a lamb, prepared and mounted by a taxidermist.
Artistic Rena makes a few minor positioning changes each year and has crafted a new village of Bethlehem this year, while a new camel is also being introduced.
The sound of water gently trickling from a fountain in the crib breaks the cathedral hush, as groups from as far away as Limerick pay their annual visit.