Stories of Christmas past and present

Festive seasons come and go, but some moments can never be forgotten, discovers Donal O’Keeffe.

Stories of Christmas past and present

Festive seasons come and go, but some moments can never be forgotten, discovers Donal O’Keeffe.

Colm O’Gorman

Christmas 2004 was our daughter’s first Christmas in Ireland and our first Christmas properly as a family. Her brother had arrived permanently the previous summer. A week before Christmas, I travelled to Kenya where Safia was still living with her mum, to finalise her coming to Ireland.

I can remember she was all excited about seeing her brother, and about the four of us being together as a family, and about coming to Ireland.

She asked if it would be snowing in Ireland for Christmas. I said ‘no, we don’t really get white Christmases. It’ll be cold and lovely, but no, it won’t snow.’ She was going ‘OK’, but I could see she didn’t really believe me!

We arrived on December 21, and it was a really, really magical time. Herself and her brother being reunited was just gorgeous. She was just five and her brother was seven, so it was just magical. In many ways, it was challenging that it was happening so close to Christmas, and at the same time it was perfect. It gave us just enough time to get home, to close the door on the world, and to enjoy and get used to the four of us being together.

On Christmas morning, the two of them came running in and woke us up, telling us it was snowing. We didn’t believe them, but it was a white Christmas! I have a very clear image of Safia — she got a bike for Christmas — this beautiful, excited, joyful little girl sitting on her brand-new pink bike, with her beautiful hair out, in a bright red, warm overcoat, just delighted with herself, in the middle of the snow. That was my best Christmas present.

Colm O’Gorman is executive director of Amnesty International Ireland. He is the founder of the charity One in Four, and a former member of Seanad Éireann.

Tara Flynn

In recent years, my family has tried not to automatically buy presents. Not in a humbug kind of way; if we happen across something someone would really love, we get it for them —we’re not Scroogemonsters. And — of course — kids are exempt from this plan. But we don’t send each other out on misery missions to buy and wrap something we’ll only end upreturning, or hiding in a cupboard most of the year, digging it out when we know the giver is incoming.

Instead, we put the money towards travelling to see each other, going out for lunch, or buying a nice bottle of wine when we’re together. Maybe we’re a bit over stuff. There’s so much of it, and not always somewhere to put it.

I’d love to say we were doing it to be environmentally friendly, too, but I reckon we’re really just tired of dusting.

Tara Flynn is an actor and writer. She hosts the ‘Taranoia’ podcast.

Emma Langford

My boyfriend has this “cute” penchant for wrapping gifts up in decoy packaging: In 2015 he hid my first ever guitar pedal inside a box of teabags. In 2014 he arrived at my family home with a MASSIVEmystery box — our dog Buddy circled it, looking concerned.

Himself had poked air holes in it, telling me not to shake it or turn it upside-down. I didn’t sleep all night wondering what he’d inflicted on me. I plodded downstairs, gunky-eyed and fuzzy-headed on Christmas morning and of course his gift was the first to be opened.

We were planning our first trip together to South America for 2015, and he’d gotten me... a big,durable backpack. How romantic!

So, OK it might not be the NICEST gift to get, but it was certainly my most memorable.

Emma Langford is a singer and songwriter from Limerick. The inaugural recipient of the Dolores O’RiordanBursary, she is currently finishing her second album, Sowing Acorns, due for release in early 2020.

Peter Mulryan

I only had one Christmas when I was small, and that was the year I was five. A neighbour dressed up as Santa, and I remember I got a toy gun. That was a lovely day, and I got sweets and cake. I had no other Christmas when I was a child.

I was born in 1944, and when I was six days old, I was sent to the Tuam Mother and Baby Home. When I was four-and-a-half, I was sent to work for a farmer. I worked like a slave until I was 14, and I never got a cent for it. I was badly beaten and always hungry and dirty.

Christmas was no different than any other day.

I never knew I had a sister, but Marian Bridget was ten years younger than me. My poor mother was always afraid to talk. She was institutionalised. My sister is reported as having died of“convulsions” at the home at nine months.

Is she really dead? I don’t know. She could be alive. She could be in that tank. I can’t rest until I find out.

Kathleen and I have seven children, and 12 grandchildren and Christmas is a very special day for our family. I always remember that Christmas when I was five. I really enjoyed that day.

Peter Mulryan is a survivor of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home. Peter’s baby sister may be one of 796 children buried in a disused sewerage system on the site of the home.

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