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Friday 20 April 2018

'It really feels like Christmas now . . .' Special visitor for new grandparents but some won't make it back this year

Emily Mc Cullough and 10-week-old Sonny and husband Johnny (not pictured) are welcomed home from Perth by parents and grandparents Angela and Martin Murphy and Cathy and William Mc Cullough Photo: Steve Humphreys
Emily Mc Cullough and 10-week-old Sonny and husband Johnny (not pictured) are welcomed home from Perth by parents and grandparents Angela and Martin Murphy and Cathy and William Mc Cullough Photo: Steve Humphreys
Cliona Cullen from Bray, Co Wicklow (left), greets friend Megan Fortune from Bray returning from Vancouver Photo: Steve Humphreys
Hilda and Peter Gannon and their children Maeve, Ciara and Cian from Clonard Meath are welcomed home by family at Terminal 2 Photo: Steve Humphreys
Cousins Georgia Doran and Charlotte Teeling from Swords welcome home their uncle Chris Keegan from Vancouver in Canada Photo: Steve Humphreys

Martin Grant and Meadhbh McGrath

There were emotional scenes at Dublin Airport as 10-week-old baby Sonny McCullough was cradled in his grandparent's arms for the first time. Little Sonny was one of thousands arriving through the airport as families greeted their loved ones home for Christmas.

Excited grandparents Angela and Mark Murphy broke down in tears as their little grandson appeared amongst the dozen of passengers arriving from Perth, Australia.

"It's great to have the whole family back together," Angela told the Irish Independent.

"It really feels like Christmas now… I'm looking forward to spending some time with my new grandson. I couldn't ask for anything more," she added.

Sonny's parents Jonathan and Emily have been living Down Under for almost seven years and this is their first Christmas on Irish soil since they emigrated.

"It's the best feeling ever having my brother home," said sister Claire Lowry. "I can't stop cuddling my little nephew Sonny. He's adorable. There will be plenty of celebrating back home in Newry."

The airport has been given a makeover for the festive season, with more than 100 Christmas trees, 500 snowflakes and 90,000 lights greeting passengers. School choirs have also been adding to the festive cheer by singing Christmas carols to welcome emigrants home.

However many Irish abroad will not be able to make it home for Christmas, and will be spending the festive season far from their loved ones.

One of those emigrants is Oonagh O'Donovan (23), from Courtmacsherry, Co Cork, who is away from home for the first time this Christmas.

A graduate of Drama and Theatre Studies in Trinity College Dublin, Oonagh decided to head to New York in search of more promising job opportunities on the Graduate Visa programme in September. She is now working as an intern with a theatre and film production company, and shares a flat in the Brooklyn neighbourhood of Bushwick with three of her college friends.

"Life is good here, but it's really hectic," says Oonagh. "Everyone is working on such opposite schedules that we're a bit like ships in the night."

Figures published by the CSO estimate some 35,300 Irish people migrated from our shores in 2015. For many young Irish, time spent travelling and working abroad is a rite of passage.

But as we inch closer to Christmas, they often find themselves becoming homesick and nostalgic.

"The other night, all of us were here, which is rare, so we put on 'Home Alone' and had red wine and Baileys. We went on such an indulgent binge of watching John Lewis ads and all those sad Christmas ads, and I just started wailing," she says.

"You're looking at all these perfect Christmases, and you know that being home with your family at Christmas is the most important thing no matter what, but that won't happen for me this year."

For their first Christmas abroad, Oonagh and her friends have tried to fill their new home with festive cheer, putting up a tree and covering the flat with decorations from the local 99c store.

Despite their best efforts, she says it doesn't quite live up to the spectacle of her childhood home in Courtmacsherry - "one of those fabled houses so bedazzled with lights that passers-by would stop in their cars to gaze on in amazement," she said.

"We always had the most lights in the parish - there was one other person over the hill who tried to put on as many as us but would never succeed!

"There was always this sense of wonder. We'd have all the lights with projectors and inflatable Santas outside the house."

Oonagh recalls her Christmases at home as a time for family. But this Christmas, both she and her eldest brother Billy (27), now living in New Zealand, will be absent, leaving just her brother John (26) at home with their parents, Vincent and Ann.

"Making Christmas plans in New York has been quite bizarre, because it was always carefully planned-out for me by my family," she says. On Christmas Eve, the O'Donovans start the day early, visiting relatives and friends to exchange gifts, and ending up in her aunt and uncle's home where the whole family play a controversial Battle of the Sexes quiz. The evening culminates with Midnight Mass, where Oonagh and her mum sing in the choir.

Christmas Day begins with Mass, and then she, her father and her brothers take part in a Christmas Day charity swim. Afterwards, they'll warm up with a hot whiskey at the neighbour's house, before helping their mum with the dinner.

"Every year, my mum will say 'let's have a small Christmas with just us and your grandparents,' and then it's always really hectic with 20 people and 10 courses. She's an amazing cook, and we get the works - turkey, ham, sprawling desserts. She makes a phenomenal stuffing with sausages, I'll really miss that this year.

'The food in New York is great - you can choose from so many different international types of food, but I would just love if my mum made me dinner. That would make me so happy."

Oonagh has relatives living in Jersey, a city bordering New York, and hoped to spend this Christmas with her young cousins who are excited for Santa. However, because she will be working late on Christmas Eve and early on St Stephen's Day, she'll have to spend Christmas in the flat.

"I'm feeling sad about not getting home. I think the cosiness and intimacy of an Irish Christmas is something you don't get here," she says.

"The sense of community and warmth at Christmas is quite unique to Ireland. At Courtmacsherry, it was like time stood still at Christmas."

Irish Independent

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