I’ll never forget that Christmas: Well known Irish faces talk about their favourite festive presents

What did you get from Santa? Some well-known Irish people tell Donal O’Keeffe about their most memorable Christmas present

Vicky Phelan

My perfect gift this Christmas is life. Pure and simple. I was given between six to 12 months to live in January and honestly did not expect to be here to enjoy Christmas. I am going to savour every precious, silly minute of Christmas, which starts for us with The Late Late Toy Show. My son writes to Santa after seeing what the Toy Show has to offer.

We have a new member of the family this year, our bulldog pup, Alfie, who has brought unconditional love to our home and a new lease of life to us all. Christmas Day will be spent opening presents, cooking up a big breakfast and playing with whatever Santa has brought to the kids. It is a day where it is just the four of us (now five, with Alfie) spending the day together doing whatever the kids want to do.

While battling cervical cancer, Vicky Phelan has become a household name as a tireless advocate for patients.

BOSCO

My favourite Christmas present ever was Pirate Lego. I asked Santa for a surprise and I got Pirate Lego. It was so exciting opening the box and inside there was a big Lego pirate ship with big pirate sails with a skull and crossbones and ladders that went up and down.

One pirate had a hook for a hand! And a parrot and a treasure chest with gold coins inside! It was the best present ever! I played and played and played and somebody would say Bosco your dinner and I’d say I can’t come I’m playing with my pirate ship!

I always ask Santa for a surprise because he knows the best presents. After all, he is magic!

Bosco is 5. Bosco: The 40th Anniversary Tour visits the Everyman, Cork, January 27, 2019.

Cónal Creedon

Christmas is my favourite time of year — I don’t engage in the seasonal gift exchange, but rather focus my time and energy on catching up with friends and family. Having said that, there was a time in my life when receiving presents was the be-all and end-all of Christmas.

One Christmas stands head-and-shoulders above all the rest. It was sometime back in the last century; a long time ago, 50 years ago or so.

It was the year Santy Claus brought me a cowboy suit. It was the year my mother insisted that Santy would not be bringing guns. It was the year Danzer Buckley suggested we all remove the sheriff badges from our cowboy hats and become a gang of banditos. It was the year Danzer & Dinzer Buckley kept the badges on their hats and proceeded to arrest us all. It was the year the Buckley brothers got their comeuppance when my side-kick, Southpaw Shep the Dog, came gunning for them.

Ah yes, I remember that Christmas like it was only yesterday. It was the year a container-load of Cowboy suits went on special offer in The Shilling Stores on Daunt Square. It was the Christmas every boy, girl and dog ran wild, a-hootin’ and a-shootin’ through the spaghetti bowl of the downtown streets that I call home.

Cónal Creedon’s novel Begotten Not Made is published by Irishtown Press.

Mary O’Rourke

I’ll never forget the best present I never got. When I was a very young girl, maybe six years old or so, I asked my mother for roller-skates. She said Oh no, they were far too unsafe, and so I decided I’d write directly to Santa and appeal to him.

Well, Santa didn’t come through for me, and he didn’t reply to my letter either, and to this day I’m convinced my mother must have had a word. Now, she did it out of love, because she felt roller-skates were unsafe and her darling Mary would fall off them, and obviously Santa agreed, but I never got my roller-skates, and I’m probably too old to go roller-skating now.

Mary O’Rourke served as Minister for Education, Minister for Health and Children, Minister for Public Enterprise, deputy leader of Fianna Fáil, and leader of the Seanad.

Caoimhe Garvey

One of my favourite Christmas presents was a ring-toss board I got from Santa when I was about 10. I remember being disappointed as all my friends were getting cool things. But that year my whole family spent all of Christmas having ring-toss tournaments. It really brought everyone together and we had so much fun!

This year is even more magical for me, being part of such a wonderful team in Cork Opera House, but also so close to home. I can spend Christmas with my family and they will all be able to come and enjoy the show.

Caoimhe Garvey is from Kerry. She plays Jasmine at Cork Opera House’s production of Aladdin running until January 20.

Rory Cowan

When I was about 12 or 13, I got my own record player for Christmas. We had a radiogram downstairs, but you could only play it when the house was empty, as my mother and father had no interest in listening to the likes of T-Rex. The record player was the perfect gift for me.

1973 was a great year for music for me, as the Beatles’ Red Album (1962 to 1966) and Blue Album (1967 to 1970) came out, and Elton John released his double album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road . I was at that age where teenagers spend all their time in their bedrooms, so I had all that great music to listen to!

Nowadays, people get me ornaments for the house. I put a sticker on the present, with the name of the person who gave it to me, and the present goes under the stairs. Then if I’m having people around for a dinner party, I’ll get out the present they got me. Pride of place on the mantelpiece. And they’re delighted!

Rory Cowan stars in the Olympia Theatre panto, Polly and the Magic Lamp, from December 21.

Liz Nugent

I’m afraid I’m quite the Grinch. My husband and I gave up exchanging gifts years ago. We realise that we can buy anything we need and we try not to buy anything we don’t need. We try to ignore Christmas. We don’t particularly like turkey, but there’s nothing like a selection box, cheese and port and Die Hard on the telly to bring out my Christmas spirit.

Having said that, I’ll never forget the magic of Christmas when I was a child. Most of the time Santa brought us a pair of shoes, or a good coat, but also a toy and I once got a doll IN A COT! I’m still not over it.

Liz Nugent is a crime novelist who specialises in stories of psychological suspense. Her latest book, Skin Deep, is now available in paperback.

Father Peter McVerry

Sometimes, homeless people will want to get me a Christmas present. It’s very kind, but really I want for nothing, and you could stock a clothes shop with the shirts and jumpers I get!

My favourite Christmas present would be no crises, where no-one overdoses, no-one is rushed to hospital, and no-one is in such a crisis that it can’t wait until tomorrow.

Christmas can be a horrendous time for homeless people. You see everyone apparently enjoying themselves, and you can be acutely aware of your aloneness. Homeless people can find themselves especially lonely and alone.

Peter McVerry Trust is a charity set up by Father Peter McVerry to reduce homelessness and the harm caused by drug misuse and social disadvantage.

Marlene Enright

Though I can’t remember getting it, the best present I ever got was my teddy Miss Piggy. I got her for my first Christmas, almost 33 years ago! I absolutely loved her, I still do, though she more resembles a tea-towel now, the poor thing.

Christmas is a time of year when everything is magnified, for better or worse - love, loss, loneliness and joy. I try to take Christmas as it comes, enjoy it for the break that it is and spend quality time with friends and family.

Marlene Enright’s album Placemats and Second Cuts is on mareleneenright.com. She plays Whelans, Dublin, 3 March, Coughlans, Cork, 8 March and Levis, Ballydehob, Saturday 9 March.

JOE DUFFY

Christmas Eve, 11, 1967

Joe Duffy

Awaiting state trooper outfit - heaven

Sweet smelling children, Lifebuoy soap

Santa’s flying sleigh, laden, hope,

New pyjamas, little Duke shoes,

No ads on telly, little news,

Star sparkling ink blue sky,

Sleep please come, try, try

Minutes later, feet cold to the floor,

Neighbour Mrs Carroll at our front door,

Her arrival heralds the new day,

Different from every other, every way

Whispering mothers, heavy work done,

But still morning for children, won’t come

Awake from feigned slumber, so needing,

Parents resisting, no heeding,

Meccano, magic sets, abracadabra

Off to my grannies, Eithne Road, Cabra

Uncle John, plum pudding, muslin sagging,

Peter Boylan, new Chopper bike, bragging

Caps guns, sulphurous whiffs,

Party packs, USA, Tayto crisps,

Black and white circus, Billy Smart’s

Painting by numbers, mincemeat tarts,

Large bottles of stout, Babycham

Pushing Aidan’s pedigree pram,

Day disappearing, ebbing away

Clinging on, make it stay, Some like it hot, cooling down

Buses gone, no one in town,

Pushing the day, stretching, resisting,

Defeated, sleepy eyes misting,

To bed to bed, fried pudding supper

Fragrant Victor Annual, Alf Tupper,

But it’s gone, so quickly, cruelly slipped away,

And no it cannot be replaced by Saint Stephen’s Day.

Joe Duffy presents Liveline on RTÉ Radio 1. He plays the role of the Magic Mirror in The Cheerios Panto SNOW WHITE and the Adventures of Sammy Sausages & Buffy at the Tivoli Theatre. The panto runs until Jan 13

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