The O’Callaghans, who live in Cork’s western suburbs, were left speechless yesterday when they won Cork’s RedFM’s massive Christmas Covered competition after a staged live on-air interview with two finalists.
Unknown to father of three Emmett O’Callaghan, from Farranlea Park in Bishopstown, the winners he lost to were a fake couple with a made-up sob story.
Emmet left the studio empty-handed, only to arrive home later to find Christmas had come early.
The festive surprise included a fully decorated home, a 40-inch TV, a vast collection of DVDs, weekend breaks, dozens of food and drinks hampers, gym membership, and countless vouchers for hotels, shops, and businesses all over Cork, likely to keep the family going for a year.
Stunned and shocked, and while being hugged by his wife, Zara, and their three kids, Hughie, 11, Siobhán, 7, and Emmet Óg, 5, Emmett said it brings to a fantastic end what has been a very tough year for them.
“To end the year on a high like this, knowing you’re going to have a good Christmas, is just unbelievable, because things were tight coming in to Christmas,” he said. “But I’ve never seen so much stuff. I’m just gobsmacked.”
The radio station invited listeners to nominate people for the prize and Emmett and his family were nominated by his younger sister, Emer.
She wrote a touching letter praising him as her “hero and her pillar of strength”.
In an emotional interview on the Neil Prendeville show yesterday, Emer described how Emmett became a father figure for her and her older brother Donncha when their dad died — Emmett was just 11 years old and she was four.
She told how Emmett woke her up every morning, brushed her hair, made their lunches, held her hand as they walked to school, and always promised to be there to collect her.
“Those small promises from your big brother mean everything when you’re four,” she said. “He missed out on so much of his own childhood for me.”
She told of how Emmett’s plastering businesses was devastated when the recession hit, leaving him without work, and then of how the family’s home was destroyed by fire last February.
“I can’t imagine what it must have been like to have no job, a mortgage, and no home,” she said.
The family moved in to Zara’s parents house for three months while family and friends pulled together to repair their house.
“This year has been a terrible one for my brother and his family yet he still remains positive and he fights on,” said Emer. “He adores his family and always puts on a brave face.”
“They have been so through much it would be great to have them spoiled just for this Christmas.”
As the interview was being aired and the prize was being awarded to the fake couple, a team of RedFM elves were beavering away in the O’Callaghan’s house decking the halls with bows of holly.
RedFM programme director KC said they had a huge response to the competition, with about 4,000 emails and some 800 handwritten letters.
“There is so much goodwill and so much hardship, it was unfortunate we could only have one family winning it but I think anyone who has heard Emmett’s story will know he really deserves it,” he said.
Emmett also revealed that he hopes to start up his own plastering business early in the new year.