FEAST your eyes on a Christmas winter wonderland that has been 20 years in the making.
Mary and Denis Connolly have travelled the world, collecting some 5,000 individual decorations along the way.
They think it must surely rank as one of the largest private collections in the country.
The Bantry couple have spent the last four weeks decorating their home and tomorrow they will throw open their doors to the public to help raise money for two local charities.
“It’s Mary passion. I’m just dispatched to the attic on an annual pilgrimage to get the decorations down,” Denis said.
Mary loves Christmas and admitted her fascination with Christmas decorations is almost all consuming.
“It’s my mission in life to find these decorations. No matter where I go in the world, I’m always thinking of Christmas,” she said.
“When I arrive in another country, I have to ask where is the nearest all-year Christmas store. It’s an addiction.
“I’ve been collecting decorations for the last 20 years or so from all over the world.
“But the most unusual place I’ve ever bought decorations was 15,000 feet up in the Himalayas during a trip to India.
“It was a little shop on the Rohtang Pass and I saw these hand-stitched little Christmas trees and garlands. I had to buy them.”
She even arranged a special Christmas decoration shopping trip to one of the world’s best known Christmas decoration shops two years ago.
“It was to the biggest Christmas store in Michigan — Bronners Christmas Wonderland — it’s open year round,” Mary said.
“I used to get stuff from them by post for ages but then two years ago, I just decided to go over there and see it for myself on a Christmas decoration shopping mission.
“I flew to Boston, then Chicago and then Michigan before discovering the shop is in the middle of rural Michigan, way out in the middle of nowhere.
“But it was great. I met the store owner and everything.”
Mary has lost count of how many individual decorations she owns — between 4,500 and 5,000 pieces she reckons. As well as the regular statues, figures, snow shakers and figurines, the collection includes:
* Festive rugs and curtain tie-backs.
* Festive toilet seat covers, chair back covers and Santa-shaped socks for the legs of chairs.
* Dozens of small moving musical figures.
* Six five-foot tall singing and dancing snowmen.
* Several eight-foot high inflatable Santas, reindeer, penguins and polar bears.
* A hot-air balloon carrying two Santas which flies across the living room ceiling.
* Three Christmas trees.
The main tree is eight foot tall and features a working railway track and train wound around its trunk.
One treasured Santa lamp was bought 20 years ago for £70. It was great value for money, Mary said, because its bulb has never blown.
“I love them all. I would die if anything ever happened to them,” she said.
The collection is insured separately on the house insurance for €20,000.
She had to remove an armchair last week to make some space for the decorations and even joked last night she may have to get rid of Denis to make more room.
Their house, on the outskirts of Bantry, Co Cork, near the Rowa Pharmaceutical plant, will be open for viewings tomorrow from 4pm to 9pm, and every Saturday and Sunday from 3pm to 9pm until Christmas. All donations go to CoAction and the Bantry Hospice.
The decorations are due to come down on January 15. “It will be horrific when they come down,” Mary said.
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