Two hundred people from all over Ireland joined Santa Claus at Heuston Station in Dublin for this year’s inaugural run of the Santa Express yesterday.
Most of the crowd were suitably dressed in Santa hats, elf jumpers and antlers. One woman, Madge Callaghan from Dublin, even adorned a set of bauble earrings.
“I’m here to support the St Patrick’s Mental Health Foundation’s Walk in My Shoes Campaign,” says Madge just before we step onto the train.
Campaign ambassador and RTÉ rugby pundit Brent Pope was also along for the ride. “We just want to raise awareness around mental health among the young,” says the New Zealander. “We all know that many young people have issues so we want to let people know [about them] and at the same time bring a bit of festive cheer.”
The route is quite special. The Santa Express heads north and makes its way into a little-known, 136-year-old tunnel which passes under the Phoenix Park. For nearly two minutes we are travelling under football pitches, deer-trodden fields and a zoo. When we appear out of the tunnel again we are close to Cabra on the northside of the river.
The tunnel itself is 690m long and is used to transfer out-of-service trains and freight between Heuston and Connolly Station. Other than a brief period in the early 1900s, and the occasional use on busy days in Croke Park, neither the line nor the tunnel has been utilised for regular passenger services.
However, Santa summed it up differently. “Everybody thought we were going through a tunnel,” he says. “But we were actually flying through the sky, in the outer hemisphere, and then we came back down. We just let on we were going through a tunnel but really we were in outer space.”
After arriving into Connolly Station we follow Santa to the Dublin Docklands where, with the help of Popey, he switched on the Christmas lights to mark the beginning of this year’s 12-day Docklands Festival, which runs until Dec 23.
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