Keeping the show on the road

While the rest of us are opening presents and tucking into turkey, others find themselves goosed, having to report for duty. Dan Buckley talks to those who work on Christmas Day.

David Williams: Mountain rescue

As far as David Williams in concerned, Christmas Day is just like any other when it comes to rescuing climbers or those who have come to grief while hill walking.

The chairman of Dublin and Wicklow mountain rescue team takes it all in his stride.

“We have a team of 40 people so no matter what day it is or what time of day, there is always someone available to perform a rescue or assistance.”

He doesn’t expect any major problems on Christmas Day but — like anyone in the emergency services — he has to be prepared for the unpredictable. “On Christmas Day two years ago, we got a call-out at 4 in the morning. There were reports of cries for help on the mountain, but it turned out not to be an emergency. Still, you can never be sure, so you always have to respond.”

He advises anyone contemplating mountain climbing or even a meandering hill walk to be prepared, carry proper equipment, and alert friends and family of the expected time of return. “We would ask people not to rely on GPS systems or mobile phones as these can be unreliable with coverage and battery problems.”

Although he lives in Dublin, David offers his service throughout the Dublin and Wicklow mountains, a big area.

“At this time of year, a lot of people like to visit Glendalough as it is a sacred place. It is very well set up with tracks and trails and most people come home safely, but we are on alert to help anyone in trouble.”

With luck, he will not have to venture out and will be around to play with and care for his two young children. But if the call comes, David is ready.

“You sign up to help fellow climbers. That means being part of a team an being willing to help anyone in trouble.”

James Lynch: Surgical intern

As far as James Lynch is concerned, he lost the draw when it came to choosing the interns to work at one of the busiest acute hospitals in Cork city.

He faces a full day at the coalface at the Mercy Hospital, where he has been working since September.

“They just pulled names out of a hat and mine came out,” says James, 27, from Bishopstown.

It means missing out on the family festivities. “My dad is from Kerry, just outside Tralee, and my parents usually go there for Christmas.”

James isn’t too despondent, though.

“Christmas Day should be quiet enough and I hear that there will be a good feed in the hospital canteen with a full three-course meal available. My dad usually cooks the turkey, so I cannot expect that it will be on a par with that but it should still be tasty.

“I will go down to Kerry on St Stephen’s Day and, hopefully, they will have kept a bit of turkey for me.”

Catherine Kenny: Manager

God forbid that anyone might call it the Big Fat Irish Christmas, it’s much too posh for that. But rest assured the festive season is celebrated in style at Ashford Castle in Mayo.

The main restaurant is gloriously festooned and reassuringly over-the-top. Many guests arrive on Dec 23 to prepare for a circular relay of afternoon tea and cocktail parties. The children’s choir of St Mary’s Church in the nearby village of Cong entertain the guests on Christmas Eve and Santa arrives with gifts.

Turkey and goose and all the trimmings are on offer on Christmas Day and there is even a pudding parade with a bagpiper piping the puddings from the kitchen to the table.

The choreographer for all this celebration is Catherine Kenny, the rooms division manager who makes sure that guests are more than amply catered for at this time of year.

She doesn’t look on Christmas Day working as a chore. “I have been with Ashford for 15 years and I love this time of year. We get so much repeat business. They have become old friends at this stage.”

She adds: “I am the Christmas co-ordinator. I make sure that guest requests are taken care of. It’s all about attention to detail. There is always a welcome gift. We try to keep it traditional but have something a little different every year. The Christmas tree, which is nearly 25ft high, is changed three times during the month of December. “

Her mother and sisters are in Clonmel, Co Tipperary.

“I miss my family and it would be lovely to be home for Christmas but Ashford is my other home. It is such a beautiful place that it is easy to fall in love with.”

Rachael Thompson: Accountant

For 364 days of the year Rachael Thompson is head accounts manager of Ballsbridge Taxis in Dublin. On Christmas Day, though, she will be mucking in like everyone else.

“This is a 24-hour operation and we do not close on any day of the year. Christmas Day is one of our busiest days with people going to their families and visiting people in hospital and nursing homes so we pride ourselves on providing the best service possible for them.”

For Rachael, that means doing whatever needs to be done — except account management.

“I will be answering phones and taking bookings. We have 15 staff and we break it down to three or four-hour shifts. Those people who don’t have children are those we go to first to cover Christmas Day. Everyone has to do a few hours and there isn’t any problem about that. During the Celtic Tiger years, there might have been when people wanted to get what they could for as little as possible but attitudes have changed for the better.”

Economic realities meant that mind-sets had to change, she says. “The days of going home and finishing at 5pm are gone. We are lucky to be in business and luckier still that it is doing very well. All the staff here are mindful of that and, in a way, the recession has led to better working and more enthusiasm for the job, which is a good thing.”

Work or not, Christmas Day will dawn early for Rachael; her 5-year-old son, Rory, will see to that.

“I will be up at the dawn, but I don’t mind. I will be working from 11 in the morning until around 2pm but he will be distracted by his toys and all the excitement.”


Donnacha Brosnan: Fire officer

It’s a long time since Cork saw a four-in-a-row in anything, but this is Donnacha Brosnan’s fourth year working during the festive season and his second time working on Christmas Day.

It’s all the luck of the draw.

“It is down to the shift pattern. You do not get a choice and it has become more difficult to get time off since I joined in 2008. There has been no recruitment or training since then so, with retirements, you have fewer guys available. Only two people on my shift were allowed Christmas Day off.”

Donnacha, 30, is relieved that, at least, he has the day shift.

“I will be working from nine to six so I am relatively happy that I have the night off.”

It was a very different story two years ago when Christmas Day fell on Saturday which meant he had to endure a 24-hour live-in weekend shift at the fire station next door to Cork City Hall. It was also one of the busiest times of the year, with atrocious weather.

“I will never forget it. The conditions had been very cold and icy coming up to Christmas but then a thaw came on Christmas Day which meant burst pipes in people’s homes started to leak, causing chaos. We did our best to turn them off and help protect property, although we are not plumbers. This time round the weather looks a bit kinder.”

Donnacha, 30, lives with his girlfriend, Karen Brennan, in Ballincollig and they usually spend Christmas Day with his parents in Sunday’s Well. The couple do not have children but they enjoy spending time with his 12 nieces and nephews. This time round Karen will spend the day with her family in Co Offaly while Donnacha works.

“Christmas Day call-outs tend to be because of candles and stuff like that but we also get river calls.

“Car accidents usually depends on icy conditions but it is milder this year, so far.”

After work, he will head straight to Sunday’s Well. “I will stay with mum and dad.

“We will have a few drinks, play some cards and watch a few movies.

If I get out the door from work at 6pm and everyone is OK, I’ll be a happy man.”

Leo Houlihan: RNLI mechanic

When the RNLI promise a 24-hour, 365-day service, it’s not just a slogan but an article of faith in the skills and commitment of their teams of rescuers around Britain and Ireland.

The service based on Valentia island in south Kerry is always on alert and Christmas Day will be no different.

“We may not be actually at the station but we will be on call,” says Leo Houlihan, 41, the Valentia fleet’s mechanic who, along with coxwain Richard Quigley, is one of two full-time members.

“We have volunteers from all walks of life. There are two women and we have a doctor and an undertaker, so the joke is one will want to save you and the other want to... you know what.”

Being on call means being nearby and ready to roll once the alarm is raised. “It means we will have to be in the area and we can’t overindulge on the mulled wine, either. You would not normally expect anyone to be out in a boat in our area on Christmas Day, but you never know. You might have to deal with someone coming in from a long passage. A Christmas swimmer may have got into difficulty or it could be a pleasure boater who ignores a small craft weather warning and takes to the water unprepared. We work closely with Valentia Coast Guard. They are our 999 centre.”

The coastguard station had been threatened with closure but has now been retained, along with Malin Head station in Donegal, much to the relief of people in south Kerry, including RNLI members. “Even though we are separate entities, we work very closely so we were delighted to see it kept open,” says Leo. With 20 years service behind him, he followed his father, who was a full-time RNLI mechanic, and his grandfather, who was coxwain into the service.

He will be busy in other ways as well on Christmas Day. His two boys, aged 4 and 11, and 9-year-old daughter will be busy opening Santa’s presents.

“I will cover the full day. We would be unlucky to be called out but that is the nature of the business.

“My father was mechanic for 34 years and I grew up knowing there were times when we could not venture far as a family because he was on call.”

John Patrick: Broadcaster

Many people would have to be dragged kicking and screaming into work on Christmas Day. Not John Patrick. The veteran broadcaster and presenter on Life FM, Ireland’s first Christian radio station, can’t wait to get on the air.

“I am privileged to be able to do what I love doing. It is not just a job for me but a labour of love and I am always conscious that the listener is the most important person every day. When I am on the radio it is as if I am talking to one person and I never lose sight of that.”

John, 49, describes himself as “born, bred, and buttered on the northside of Cork.” Like many well-known radio figures, he honed his broadcasting skills on pirate radio, first with ABC radio in St Lukes, then with CCLR in French Church St, followed by a stint with Sunshine Radio before settling down four years ago with Life FM, which is based in Togher.

“You won’t find Eminem or 50 Cent on Life on our station,” says John who does a magazine programme every Monday. “We are a family-friendly station.”

He also provides a mixture of music and chat on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. But Christmas Day is Tuesday, a day he would normally have off. “I have always worked on Christmas Day with any radio station I have been with. There is something magical about being on the air that day.”

Part of that magic is a childhood memory of being in the kitchen at home watching his late mother stuffing the turkey and dancing to the sounds of BBC radio 2 — then known as The Light Programme.

“ I will be on for three hours from 10 to 1pm.”

* LifeFM broadcasts over Cork City on 93.1FM

Shane Mooney: Customer services

Shane Mooney, 35, is getting married next July so he’s working all the hours he can as he and his fiancée, Clare Hurley, save up for the big day.

He works at First Source, a call centre based in Churchfield in Cork that provides a service for phone companies e-Mobile and Meteor. He will be working from 9am to 6pm on Christmas Day which means cold turkey when he gets home.

“It will be a bit mad, Every second person gets a phone for Christmas so, the minute I get into work, the phones will be hopping with new phone owners looking for help.”

Shane’s job in customer service focuses on price plans but he also often has to explain how the phone works. “A lot of people will get iPhones and expect it to work straight away but there is a bit of setting up to do and lots of times a new owner will not be sure how it operates. Very often the phones won’t even have been charged.”

This is not Shane’s first Christmas Day at work. “Two years ago, I was driving through Cork at around 6am and there was nobody about. There was a very heavy frost but this time round the weather is much milder.”

A non-working Christmas Day usually means joining his parents, two sisters, and two brothers at the family home in Tullamore in Co Offaly while Clare usually spends it with her parents in Cork.

“My sister Kiera is in Australia, so she will be missing as well. When we are all together, we usually have the traditional turkey and Brussels sprouts, Christmas pud, the works.”

Christmas Day will be pretty much like any other day, although the office has a seasonal décor to help staff get into the Christmas spirit.


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