From a paddle board in sunny Perth where he proposed to his fiancée, to the windswept runway of Cork Airport, Shane O’Driscoll flew through several time zones and thousands of miles to announce his engagement to his family.
Touching down yesterday morning in the company of wife-to-be Blaithín Black, the Skibbereen man found himself surrounded not just by mum and dad, but brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles and even little Jessica, the one-and-a-half year old niece he had never seen.
“We surprised them this morning,” he said when asked if his family were aware before their arrival of the pending nuptials.
And so there was a double reason to celebrate, not just the engagement, but the return home for Christmas of a couple that left these shores two years ago. Their intention was to travel but they both ended up getting sponsored by employers and now plan to make a life in Australia.
Together almost seven years, Shane, 31, proposed to Bláithín, 25, on a paddle board on the waters off Perth a few weeks ago.
They visited a couple of jewellers and sized a few rings but Bláithín left the final choice to her fiancé. “I put it in a box of chocolates wrapped in ribbons and then I gave it to her last week,” Shane said, adding there would be “a few celebrations” between now and their return on Jan 10.
Shane and Bláithín were just two of the 50,000 passengers expected to pass through Cork Airport between now and Christmas Day, with up to 100,000 travelling through the airport in the 12 days leading up to the main event.
Marketing manager Kevin Cullinane said a trend was emerging in terms of where passengers were returning from.
“Before it would have been mainly the US and the UK, but now we’re seeing a lot of young people returning from Australia and Canada via Heathrow and Amsterdam. It’s just a reflection of emigration trends over the last two or three years,” he said.
For Robbie Keane, from Clonmel, Co Tipperary, and his wife Laura from Perth, it was an emotional reunion with family. It’s Robbie’s first time home in six years and Laura’s first visit to Ireland.
Choirs have been laying it on thick at all the state airports, adding to the festive atmosphere, while family and friends have maintained the constant welcoming throngs at the arrival gates.
Dublin Airport was expecting 660,000 passengers to pass through in the run-up to Christmas, a 4% increase on the same period last year. It had it’s busiest day of the year on Friday. Adding to the seasonal cheer were 88,000 environmentally-friendly LED lights, 102 Christmas trees, 780 snowflakes, and five Santas.
Up to 43,000 passengers are expected to pass through Shannon Airport, a 21% increase in numbers over the season. This will make it the first Christmas in five years that numbers have shown an increase.
Airport operations director at Shannon, Niall Moloney said airports are “emotional” places at the best of times but particularly so at Christmas, with the weekend just gone “probably the happiest of the year”.
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