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Taste of home will bring festive cheer for overseas workers

Christmas came a week early for a group of young Irish nurses at the Royal Berkshire Hospital (RBH) in Reading. It's estimated that nearly 150 nurses from Ireland are employed at the hospital west of London and many will remain in England rather than return home to enjoy the 25th with their families.

For Siobhan Plunkett from Carnaross in Meath this will be the first Christmas that she'll be away from the family table for the festive feast. But to compensate she and a group of Irish colleagues had their own Christmas dinner last Sunday before some jetted back to Ireland.

"It was lovely for those of us staying behind to have a Christmas dinner with other people from home as we probably won't get the opportunity this weekend," said the 24-year-old, who works in the A&E department.

There will be some Irish trappings for the nurses scheduled to work though, with Clonakilty sausages sent over from home so that those finishing their shifts on Christmas morning can tuck into an Irish breakfast.

"It'll obviously be very strange not to be at home for Christmas but after not working for the last two years I knew it was my turn to stay back this year. It won't be the same of course but perhaps it will make Christmas next year extra special," said Siobhan, who plays Gaelic football for the successful St Anthony's club in Reading.

Another who won't make it home this weekend is 33-year-old John F O'Mahony, from Killarney.

The design crafts man and part-time administrator will spend the holidays working at the Charing Cross Hospital on Fulham Palace road.

"I'm down to work in admin at the hospital on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, St Stephen's Day and for the New Year also," said John.

On Christmas Day itself, John will work from 8am to 3pm and afterwards meet up with friends in Windsor.

From a family of five (four boys and one girl) John will be the only sibling absent from the dinner table this year. Even his brother Joseph is home from Canada for the holidays.

"Luckily I got to meet up with Joseph as he flew into London before going home.

"I have a 13-year-old son, Aaron, who lives in Kenmare and he understands why I can't be home. In many ways though I'm lucky, I'm sure there are a lot of young Irish people staying in London this Christmas not because of work but because they simply can't afford to get home."

Siobhan and John are amongst thousands of young Irish people who will stay put in the UK this Christmas, with scores of construction workers bagging lucrative hours on bank holidays. A huge number of immigrants are choosing to make hay over the festive period in uncertain economic times.

For Ciaran Kilmartin from Offaly, Christmases in London are becoming very familiar.

"I've been with the Met police for almost five years and in that time I think I've only been home once for Christmas," he said.

On Sunday the trainee detective constable will work from 2-10pm.

He said: "One year I think someone in the station made a dinner but I think I was so busy I didn't get a chance to eat it!"

Ciaran, who is a member of the Met's Emerald Society, will ring home on Christmas morning before starting his day's work.

"I know the routine in our house so I know exactly when to call", he said, adding: "In our line of work you have to treat Christmas Day like any other really.

"I think what I'll miss most is not being there for my new nephew's first Christmas but hopefully next year I'll be back with the family for the day."

Irish Independent