Friday 17 January 2020

The Life Family Album 2019: Andrea Corr and a galaxy of stars share their festive season with you

Andrea Corr
Andrea Corr
Holly with her dogs, Toby and June
Laura Whitmore
Mairead Ronan
Suzanne Jackson with her hum, Susan, and her dad, Damian
James Kavanagh, second left, with from far left, his partner William Murray, his parents Alan and Margaret, his sister Ann and his brother John
Vogue with her husband, Spencer Matthews and their son Theodore
Daniel O'Donnell
Alison with her son, James
Finian McGrath, centre, with from far left, his daughter Caoimhe, his grandchildren Cillian and Anna, his daughter Cliodhna, and his son-in-law Niall
Laura with her mum, Aileen, and her dad, Brian

Every December, we ask some of our favourite people to share their festive memories and experiences. This year, Andrea Corr, Vogue Williams, Finian McGrath and many, many more tell Chloe Brennan how they will spend Christmas and reveal their personal highs and lows of the year.

Andrea Corr

Singer/Songwriter, Author

Andrea Corr

This year, for Christmas, I'm cooking for everybody. My whole family and their kids, all the cousins - about 20 in total. So it's a lot. I'm sure my sisters and my mother-in-law will help me.

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Having kids around at Christmas really does bring that spark back again. The magic that I felt as a child at Christmas, I really hope they feel it, and I think they do. They're very excited to be in Ireland for Christmas this year.

When I was a child, the first thing we did on Christmas morning was open the presents. It was always the very first thing we did. Then, there would be Mass that Daddy would be playing at - he played the organ - and afterwards there would be all the cooking.

Later on in the day, our relations would come over and we would sing. This was before we were a band; we were just a family. We would sing Christmas carols to them. I would sing O Holy Night, while Caroline would sing Away in a Manger.

You never know, we might have a sing-song this Christmas. My mother-in-law is actually really into a sing-song, so she might make my brother Jim play - I can see that happening.

This year has been an amazing year for me, and I am so happy to be back in Ireland, having not lived here for years. If I thought a few years ago that this Christmas I would have a book out, I would have told you that the crystal ball is wrong, or that it is somebody else's.

In my book, Barefoot Pilgrimage, there's a story about me going to sing O Holy Night when I was about seven years old, with Daddy, at Christmas, in our local church in Dundalk, but I couldn't do it - I was too nervous.

I remember I was crying and scared because I couldn't do it. Once the day arrived, I was really overwhelmed. What was beautiful to me was Mum comforted me, and they just let me off the hook. It would have been lovely for Daddy, and me now, to have that memory.

But I sang it at home plenty of times.

Mairead Ronan


Mairead Ronan

Christmas this year is a big one for us, because it's our first Christmas in our new home. We moved in about six months ago, so after eight-and-a-half years of renting, this is a very special Christmas.

We do the same old stuff every year - a gigantic breakfast and dinner. The only tradition that has changed is we go to Mass on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day, because I find Christmas morning hectic, and I want it to be more relaxing. I remember as a kid never wanting to go to Mass myself, as you would have to leave your new toys behind.

Winning Dancing with the Stars back in the spring, and going back to Today FM in September, were two big highlights of the year for me.

I'm looking forward to time off this Christmas. I have had no time off this year at all, so just not having to get dressed and put make-up on will be a treat - along with no pressure to be or go anywhere.

Holly Carpenter

Holly with her dogs, Toby and June

Model and entrepreneur

I love the general feeling of magic in the air around Christmas time. The glow from twinkling fairy lights in shop windows and the sounds of buskers singing Christmas songs on Grafton Street feels so special. It's a lovely time of year for letting go of any bitterness  or resentments, and getting yourself ready for new beginnings. I love having a clean slate ahead of me,  with 12 months full of possibility and the unknown just around the corner.

This year, my mum, dad, brother and I will be spending Christmas Eve with my dad's side of the family, who live around the corner from us. I'm really close with my cousins and we always have such a laugh together. On Christmas morning, we usually bring the dogs for a big walk along the seafront in Raheny, followed by our traditional Christmas breakfast - bagels with cream cheese and bacon. My aunty and cousins on my mum's side will be joining us for Christmas Day this year, and my mum always cooks an incredible spread for us all. I drool just thinking about mum's turkey and stuffing, with cranberry sauce and gravy.

I'm really excited about having the whole family together again, especially my cousins who live in London. Throughout the year, I try my best eat healthily, go to the gym, and I regularly get dressed up for events - so when it comes to Christmas, I really look forward to just eating whatever I want and lounging around in a onesie.

St Stephen's Day is a big family day for us. We spend it at home together, watching back-to-back Christmas movies while snacking on selection boxes and ham-and-turkey sambos. A lot of my friends go to the dogs on Stephen's Day, but by that point I'm so tired of socialising and getting dressed up that I prefer to chill at home by the fire - in new pyjamas, of course. I don't put on any make-up, and I try to keep my phone on aeroplane mode. I feel it's important to switch off and recharge your batteries before the New Year.

This past year, I was delighted with how much my brand LoveLift grew, with the addition of my newest handbag collection. Taking part on RTE's Dancing with the Stars was really fun, and I made some great friends with the other contestants and choreographers involved.

I went on a cruise around the Caribbean with my friend Rob, in November. That trip was incredible, something I will never forget. I was lucky enough to travel quite a bit this year, and as much as I love Dublin, I love getting away and meeting new people as frequently as possible.

For me, Christmas is a wonderful time to hit the pause button and take a minute to reflect on your life. As someone who is self-employed, I often find it hard to put down my phone and fully immerse myself in the present moment.

At Christmas time, I feel I can really relax and just reconnect with both myself and my loved-ones. You never know where you're going to be by next Christmas, and what might change over those 12 months, so it's important to be grateful for those around the Christmas tree each year.

Suzanne Jackson


Suzanne Jackson with her hum, Susan, and her dad, Damian

My husband and I were going to host Christmas Day dinner for the family in our house, but my parents recently finalised the sale of the family home and will be moving in January, so since this will be the last Christmas in the house where we grew up, we all decided it would be nice to spend it there.

When we were kids, one of the things we would always do on Christmas Eve was have our shower or bath in the evening, hop into fresh pyjamas, and open one present each from under the tree. Myself and my husband Dylan still do that as well. We get into our pyjamas and we'll open one present each that we will have bought each other.

Christmas Day never changes too much. We get together at around lunch time, watch Christmas movies and exchange gifts, and then, at about six o'clock, we will sit down and have Christmas dinner. Afterwards, we will enjoy some festive drinks, and play board games. That night, a few friends might come over. It's always a very relaxed and enjoyable day.

The highlight of 2019 for me personally was the travel that I did with Dylan, my friends and family. Myself and Dylan travelled a lot with my mum and dad, and we made some incredible memories this year. Being able to bring my SOSUbySJ team to Coachella was a big highlight also. I had always dreamed of going to Coachella, so it felt amazing to be able to go back for the second time and bring the team with me.

In terms of two of my companies, SOSUbySJ and Dripping Gold, we had a lot of really cool collaborations with celebrities this year. We also had some of the biggest celebs in the UK wearing our products organically, which was a huge highlight. People like [actress] Michelle Keegan, [Love Island's] Mollie-Mae and Olivia Attwood, and the new queen of the I'm a Celebrity... jungle, Jacqueline Jossa, have all worn our products.

I never switch off throughout the year, so at Christmas, I love being able to enjoy time off work and spending quality time with Dylan and my family.

I also love the excitement that's around the shops and the city centre. I love the Christmas ads on TV, and I adore the festive feeling and positive atmosphere Christmas brings with it. The Christmas music, the lights and the decorations - it's just such a lovely time of year.

In saying that, I do appreciate that Christmas time is not always the happiest, or the easiest, of times for people. I know that there are people who may have lost a loved one, or who may have other personal reasons for not looking forward to Christmas. It can be a difficult time for people, and that's something I would be very mindful of.

Laura Whitmore

Broadcaster and actress

Laura Whitmore

I'll be driving home for Christmas, literally. I'm getting the boat from Holyhead with a car full of presents, my dog, Mick, and maybe a friend or two hitching a ride. I'll spend Christmas Eve in Dublin, catching up  with friends, followed by midnight Mass with my mam in Bray.

It's a lovely Mass and a wonderful singer, Niamh Masterson, sings O Holy Night. I've struggled with my religious beliefs as I've got older, but I love the feeling of community the church holds, particularly at Christmas. A sherry in the local after Mass is a must, too - I've been drinking sherry since I was 18. My friends used to tease me for being an old lady, but it's bloody delicious, and tastes like Christmas.

We get up early on Christmas morning. My mam blasts the Christmas tunes and then we walk the dog. I do presents with my mam, and then we get in the car and head for Wexford. We take turns as to who drives every year, and we make numerous sherry pitstops to all my relatives on the way to my Aunty Theresa in Gorey. My mam is the youngest of 13, so I have a lot of cousins. I think this year it's my turn to drive, so there'll be no sherry for me.

Christmas is the only time of year where you're surrounded by all your family and friends, and the only time of year when it's acceptable to have three desserts. I'm really looking forward to everyone being back home in one place. I don't spend as much time as I would like in Ireland, and a lot of my friends are spread all over the world, so it's nice to get everyone in one place. Christmas is also a time of reflection for me, to be thankful for the year that's been, and hopeful for what's to come.

This year, I wrote my first screenplay, Sadhbh, and won an award for it, from an incredible powerhouse of a woman, Ros Hubbard. The award was such a shock, but the best part was making Sadhbh. I loved setting out to do something and completing it, no matter what the outcome.

Christmas is a time to make wrongs right with someone you've fallen out with, or, for some reason, drifted apart. It's a time to reconnect.

Ireland has a shocking homelessness problem. I love the Christmas Eve busk on Grafton Street that musician Glen Hansard organises. It's important to remember why everyone does it - yes, it's fun, but it's also to raise awareness and funds for our homelessness crisis.

I'll be hosting the Focus Ireland fundraiser next year again. But if you see someone struggling, be kind. Even if you can't help financially, smile, give support and talk.

Vogue Williams

Model, DJ and TV Presenter

Vogue with her husband, Spencer Matthews and their son Theodore

Highlights of 2019 for both of us have been our wedding party [Vogue and Spencer had a second wedding celebration in London in September, having married at Glen Affric Estate in Scotland in June of last year] and Theodore turning one. It's been a really great year for us, and with T around, it just seems to keep on getting better - oh, and more exhausting!

On Christmas Day, we will be sunning ourselves in the Caribbean with our family - to say we're excited is an understatement!

James Kavanagh

Entrepreneur and TV Presenter

James Kavanagh, second left, with from far left, his partner William Murray, his parents Alan and Margaret, his sister Ann and his brother John

Christmas for us is always family orientated.  We used to go to my parents' house and have Christmas there, but now that my parents have moved to a side house beside my brother John in Saggart, we all head to his house. Last year was the first year we had Christmas outside of the house that we grew up in, which is different. It's kind of strange, because you're so used to your childhood home.

I know it sounds bad, but I never see my family. We are never all under the same roof - especially John, since he's constantly travelling with work - so Christmas is the guaranteed time of year that we will all catch up.

My parents are very protective over the cooking. Dad likes carving the turkey and ham, and Mum does the roast potatoes, so I just like sitting back and eating, to be honest. I might make a dessert, because I despise Christmas desserts. They all tend to be full of raisins, which I call the devil's droppings. I can't stand them. So I'll make something like a flourless chocolate cake.

I know I'm 30 now, but I still feel 19, and it's so specific that I feel exactly 19. I'm still as naive and irresponsible as I was back then, and feel that I don't really have 'it' together. I don't ever feel that I'm in a solid position.

Because I work for myself, I never know what the next project is. I recently filmed a pilot for a travel show with Anne Doyle. I had the opportunity to go to Dusseldorf with her and get tipsy at 11am. We met a few years ago, co-hosted a wine event together, and I invited her to my 30th birthday party in July. She came and read the news, but read it about my life. That was definitely a big moment in the year for me.

Glenda Gilson

TV star Glenda Gilson in her kitchen with its hand-painted units, granite worktop and Miele oven. "We both cook, but Rob is the better of the two," Glenda says Photo: Tony Gavin


It's all about my son Bobby this year. I'm so excited, to be honest, as I think Christmas is all about the children. We'll be at home with my family and my husband Rob's family. We don't have any traditions, only that we celebrate Christmas Day and Stephen's Day. Both days, we dress up and have a big dinner. I nearly prefer St Stephen's Day.

The highlight of 2019 has been watching Bobby grow. It's been so much fun, as he's a right little character and he likes to laugh a lot.

Christmas is a time to spend with family, to get on and be nice to one another, but it's also a time for giving. Always remember those less fortunate than you. A trip to the charity shop is always a good thing to do just before Christmas. We all receive too much.

I love just chilling, eating everything around me, watching all the Christmas specials on TV, and telling stories with a few drinks in the evening. What I love most at Christmas is a turkey-and-stuffing sandwich with a cup of tea on Christmas night. You can't beat it! I'm craving it now.

Happy Christmas to all - remember be kind, and always think of others who may be on their own this year. Invite them in, or drop in and see them on Christmas Day.

Daniel O'Donnell


Daniel O'Donnell

For Christmas this year, Majella and I will be at home, in Donegal, with Majella's daughter, Siobhan, and her husband Gavin, their two children, Olivia and Archie; and Majella's son, Michael, is coming in from Australia.

It will be nice to gather together and have a quiet time. It's terrific having the grandchildren around at any time of year, but especially at Christmas, and now that the wee one [Olivia] is four, she is quite excited about Santa. The wee children being born has brought us so much joy. I have plenty of nieces and nephews, too. New life in the family is great.

We do the regular things that everybody does around Christmas time. I'm sure Santa will come early. Then I usually go to Mass on Christmas morning. I sing in the choir on both Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, and I sing at another Mass at the hospital in Dungloe for patients there, as some of them don't get home for Christmas. Usually PJ, an old school friend of mine, and I will go together to sing at the Mass.

Majella would be the main cook. I don't do any of the cooking, but I'm there to wash the dishes if needs be. Gavin is a great cook, too.

I love the feeling of Christmas - the down time, the warmth, the long nights, the fire on, and people calling over.

This coming year, I'm taking a bit of time off. I'm doing the Gertrude Byrne Cruise in February, which is leaving from San Diego and heading for Mexico. I normally do it every couple of years, but I did it last year, too - we went to Alaska.

Then after that, I have decided to cut down a wee bit on the touring. So I won't be doing anything until August. I'm doing four shows in the INEC in Killarney from September, 22, 2020, and then two shows in the Dublin Convention Centre on December 12 and 13, 2020.

Laura Nolan

Professional dancer

Laura with her mum, Aileen, and her dad, Brian

It's all about family in our house at Christmas time. My mam made it really important to be together around this time of year, so we try to spend as much time with the family as possible. We have the same traditions for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as we did when we were younger. On Christmas Eve, Mam will always be at home preparing for the dinner the next day.

I'll go into town with my dad. He usually buys Mam's present when he's with me, and then I'll meet my two brothers, Gary and Stephen, in town, before going home to spend the evening together. Our neighbours come down, and we will have a nice, relaxed evening.

Even now, despite my brothers being 29 and 30, we still get visits from Santa. We have a big Irish fry-up on Christmas morning, before heading out to my Nana's house to catch up with the extended family. We have our own dinner back home with just the five of us.

It's so nice being home, not just for Christmas, but for the run-up to Christmas. I was based in the south of Italy for five years, representing Ireland in the European and World Championships in dancing, so I only came back last January. Although I was based in Italy, I was travelling all around the world, from America to China.

I got the call at the beginning of the year to go on this season's Dancing with the Stars. So I felt it was the right time to come home. And do something different. It's exciting - everything sort of fell into place.

Alison Canavan

Model, motivational speaker and wellness coach

Alison with her son, James

Christmas usually consists of food, sleep and movies, but this year it will be very different for my son James and me. It will be full of adventure and sunshine. We have just moved to LA, so we'll be spending Christmas in California, settling into our new home. After opening presents on Christmas morning, we plan to head to Santa Monica for the sunrise. Then, I'm teaching a beautiful heart-opening meditation class at Unplug. James wants to go whale watching, and then we will have Christmas dinner with friends.

I lived away for a long time, up until nine years ago, so each year, coming home to Dublin was always a special time. There is nowhere like Dublin at Christmas. As a family, we don't have many traditions as such. All of my sisters are now married with their own families, so Christmas changes every year. Some things I will miss about Christmas at home are cosy fires, snuggly PJs and Christmas movies.

The highlight of the year for me was definitely my trip to South Africa with James. The memories we made will last forever. We enjoyed every second of the trip, and the safari was magical. It was so special to have quality time with James. Travel is one of my greatest passions, and James loves it, too. His uncle gave him a book on California, and he's already mapped out a list of places he wants to see.

Christmas is a time of reflection of a year gone by. It's a beautiful opportunity to go within and take time to be in the presence of those you love. Christmas has become very commercial, but if we look beyond the gifts and shopping, it's a very special time for connecting with friends and family. It can also be a hard time for people who have lost loved-ones, or people who are alone and feel lonely. So take time to check in on your friends and neighbours at this time of year - you might just be the smile that lights up their day.

This year, we are looking forward to moving into our new home here in California and I'm excited to start work here - teaching meditation and delivering motivational talks across America.

Showing James all the sights in LA is going to be fun. I have been working here since my teens, but for him, it's all new. Helping him settle here is my priority, so we can start our new life in 2020 with gratitude and excitement for what's to come.

Finian McGrath

Minister of State for Disability Issues

Finian McGrath, centre, with from far left, his daughter Caoimhe, his grandchildren Cillian and Anna, his daughter Cliodhna, and his son-in-law Niall

My daughter Cliodhna and I go to my other daughter's house in Swords. We join Caoimhe and her husband Niall, and my two amazing grandchildren, Anna and Cillian. We have been doing this for 10 years since my wife Anne passed away.

We all found it very supportive following the loss of Anne. We need to be together, and now I have two wonderful grandkids. I find it very comforting on Christmas Day. We then go to my son-in-law Niall's mam and dad's house for the Christmas dinner. Danny, Bernie [Niall's parents] and Aine [Niall's sister] prepare and cook the big Christmas dinner. This is usually followed by Danny and I playing the guitar and singing. They all look up to heaven! But it's great crack.

I also visit Anne's grave privately. That is a very important tradition for me.

Christmas is all about family for me, and because of my busy day job, I value this precious time with my family and close friends. I am so proud of my two daughters, Caoimhe and Cliodhna, and my two grandchildren, Anna and Cillian. They bring a warmth, positivity and energy to my life, and I always get a great personal lift from all of them. Niall is an amazing box player who plays regular Sunday gigs in Duffy's pub in Malahide - even though I am a Goose pub man myself!

I suppose my highlight for 2019 was the €1.9bn budget for the disability social care plan. It is the highest in the history of the State, and something I am very proud of for all people with a disability. On a personal level, to see the joy in my daughter Caoimhe's face when Dublin won the five-in-a-row, and of course, the morning I had Brian Fenton in my kitchen with the Sam Maguire. He is a player I really admire, and we are all so delighted for Brian, his dad and all of his family. It's a moment in football history.

Finally, Christmas is a time for reflection, a chance to slow down and spend quality time with my family. Then I move on to visit my sisters, Marie and Mags, and my two brothers, Fiacre and Fergal. We usually end up on New Year's Eve in Marie's and Donal's house in Dromineer in Tipperary, and have a few lovely pints in the Whiskey Still pub.

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