Christmas with a twist

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Christmas with a twist

While most of us will be putting our feet up in front of the fire on the big day, spare a thought for those who sacrifice time with their families to work or help others, writes Arlene Harris


Advanced Paramedic Richie Daly says life doesn’t stop on Christmas Day. Photo: Douglas O'Connor
Advanced Paramedic Richie Daly says life doesn’t stop on Christmas Day. Photo: Douglas O’Connor
Gavan Hennigan will spend Christmas in a deep sea tank

As we speak, families up and down the country are preparing for their annual festive feast in a frenzy of present wrapping and, for those of us who still put pen to paper, the arduous task of writing and posting dozens of cards.

It’s a busy period for all and while many complain about the level of stress involved, most of us wouldn’t miss it for the world. But not everyone is on the same page and for some people, the first rendition of ‘Jingle Bells’ is enough to send them running; others are busy at work and some really believe Christmas is a time for giving rather than receiving.

We spoke to three people who will be giving the whole festive fanfare a miss this year to find out what they will be doing and why.

The Christmas charity dinner volunteer

Kathy O’Connor from Letterkenny has five grown-up children and rather than spending Christmas with them and her grandchildren, this year, as with the past 13 years, she is devoting the day to helping others who are alone over the festive season – and will ensure they have a hot meal and some company during what can be a very difficult time for some.

“I am a life coach and gestalt practitioner (a form of psychotherapy), and 13 years ago, through my work I came across a couple of people who were very lonely and would be on their own at Christmas, so I decided to find out if there was anything on in the locality that they could go to. I put out some feelers and was immediately inundated with volunteers who wanted to help, and after going on the radio, I was approached by the Chamber of Commerce who said they would also like to support something. So although I didn’t intend to set up a Christmas dinner initially, that is what happened,” says Kathy (right).

“We had two people the first year, seven the next, then 15 and now we have 100. There are over 40 volunteers at the Conwal Parish Hall in the centre of town and the dinner is provided by the Radisson Blu Hotel. Other people make things like soup, dessert, bread and a lasagne for those who don’t want turkey.

“I co-ordinate everything, so am flat out from Christmas Eve right up to Christmas night when it’s all over, and then I head over to my daughter’s house and just crash. It has become such a fantastic event and we all love taking part – the buzz you get from doing something good for people is amazing. No-one likes to be alone on Christmas Day and while I know there are needy people in every sector of the community, the lonely are often overlooked, so this is why we all volunteer year after year.

“It is great to see so many people offering their time from the local businesses to the sponsors, the drivers who collect those who can’t travel or deliver when people can’t face a crowd, the cooks and everyone who helps to set up and clean up afterwards – it’s just wonderful and, really, I believe that this is exactly what Christmas is all about.”

The deep sea saturation diver

Gavan Hennigan from Galway will also be having a very different time this Christmas. But instead of being busy amongst hundreds of people, he will be secluded with a couple of workmates in a tank deep underneath the ocean as he gets on with a normal working day as a deep sea saturation diver in the oil fields of the Middle East.

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“On Christmas Day I will be inside a saturation diving chamber with two of my work colleagues – our ‘office’ is a small space inside the bowels of a large ship called a diving support vessel. And we live in these tanks for 28 days at a time. From here, we travel to the sea floor, which is 210m below the surface, in a diving bell. Then we get out and work for six hours at a time as we are in the middle of constructing oil and gas pipelines – it is one of the most remote and dangerous jobs in the world.

“After a period of 19 days working straight without a rest day, we then spend nine days decompressing back to atmospheric pressure.

“I have worked many times over the festive season as it is part and parcel of the job – someone has to do it and, as I am single, I don’t mind doing the ‘Christmas Cracker’, as we call it, so other colleagues can have time off to spend it with their families. Being here for Christmas is a fairly regular thing for me.

“But having said that, I will of course miss my family and would like to be spending time with them, but we are actually all spread out in different places – I have one sister at home in Ireland, another in Zaragoza (Spain) and another one in Bali. And my mother always spends the winter in Gran Canaria, so we probably wouldn’t be together anyway even if I wasn’t working.”

The paramedic

Richie Daly is an advanced paramedic from Dublin. And while the father of three would like nothing more than to be relaxing by the fire on Christmas Day, he knows that thanks to him and his colleagues across the emergency services, families (including his own) will be safer because they are doing their job.

“I don’t mind being on duty on Christmas Day because for all of us, as well as those who work in hospitals, the fire service and gardaí, it is just another working day. Our job is to be there for people should an accident happen or if they need care and that doesn’t stop because of the day that’s in it.

“We have a 14-week roster and know well in advance when we will be working, and it’s the luck of the draw – some people will have to work a lot of Christmases and others hardly any, but that’s just the way it goes.

“As with every day, the first thing I will do when we start work is find out what vehicle I am assigned to and then check it out from top to bottom to make sure all the necessary medication and equipment is intact – this takes about 25 minutes, but if we get an emergency while doing the checks, we will head off immediately as long as we have the essentials – and to be honest, most of the time, everything is already on board, but it’s just in case something was used on the last shift and hadn’t been replaced yet.

“On Christmas Day, the roads are generally quieter so we would have fewer traffic accidents, but on the other side of the coin, because people are gathering in houses and also may be drinking alcohol, there are more incidents in the home. We also get quite a lot of people calling with breathing issues, particularly the elderly or those who have COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease], and there are often problems with older people who are visiting family for the day and may have had issues which can’t be dealt with, so we will get a call and take them to hospital to be checked.

“And, of course, people still pass away on Christmas Day – this is particularly sad because although death is always difficult for loved ones, the fact it happens at such a family time makes it harder to deal with.

“But on the other hand, babies are also born and that can be a very joyful experience all round. Life doesn’t stop on Christmas Day and all of us who work in the emergency services are passionate about our jobs, so we do it willingly as it’s important for us to know that people feel safe knowing we are there if they need us.”

Irish Independent


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