At this time of year Donegal people living abroad would normally be booking flights and arranging annual leave for Christmas, but doubt has been cast over the annual trip home for the festive season.
As Europe is gripped by a second wave of Covid-19, it remains to be seen whether people will be able to fly home for the festive season.
AIDAN O’DONNELL, CANADA
Aidan O’Donnell from Milford moved to Edmonton, Canada’s second-most westerly province in 2013. The allure of spending Christmas with family and friends is always hard to resist but he has only made the journey home for the festive season just once in seven years.
“The 6,000km, 18-hour, three-flight trip from Edmonton, Alberta to Donegal is quite the undertaking and, in truth, you need a pretty big reason to make that journey home.
“I have travelled back home five times during that period. However, most of those occasions were for weddings and my mother’s 70th – all of which took place in the middle of the year.
“Also, it costs an absolute fortune to travel at Christmas time, so if the weddings and big anniversary birthdays can slow down, I think I’ll make the trip home for Christmas much more regularly,” he said.
Aidan was due to go home in August to see his cousin, Seamus Harkin, getting married but that was postponed until next year because of the pandemic.
“That did prompt me to consider going home for Christmas but with the uncertainty around travel restrictions and a potential quarantining period upon arriving home, it just didn’t seem quite worth the effort,” he admitted.
As hard as it is spending Christmas away from my family and friends in Milford, Aidan considers himself very lucky to be surrounded by very good friends in Edmonton, as well as his two brothers, Brian and Johnny.
“My mum, Bernadette, sent me her recipe for sausage meat stuffing balls the first year I moved out here and I look forward to making that every Christmas now. Johnny’s girlfriend, Chasity, makes typical Ukrainian food like perogies and cabbage rolls, just in case the turkey and ham aren’t quite enough,” he said.
Aidan had been working as bar manager of an Irish pub and restaurant but it fell victim to the coronavirus lockdown and ultimately had to close its doors for good.
“I was lucky to find another gig at the end of the summer working at a local craft brewery called Omen Brewing. They are a small family owned brewery and specialize in darker beers. One of the owners, Spencer, is actually married to a daughter of Neil Doherty from Kilmacrennan, so we immediately had something to talk about other than just beer. Small world.
“We are releasing a couple of our festive beers in the coming weeks, one of which is a black forest cake chocolate milk stout – and yes it is as rich and delicious as it sounds.
However, there will definitely be more than one occasion during the Christmas period where he’ll wish he was back in some of the locals in Milford sipping a pint of Guinness next to his parents, siblings and good friends.
“Like anyone living abroad, I feel that is the true definition of travelling home for Christmas. I hope everyone in Donegal and those, like myself, living overseas who can’t make it home this year have a beautiful and safe festive period,” Aidan said.
ROGER HOLMES, UNITED STATES
Roger Holmes is from Drumardagh outside Letterkenny. Married to Yesi, the couple now call New York home.
“Just like the rest of the world, people here are trying to make a living as safely as possible, but also trying to maintain positive mental health. It’s a bit of a balancing act.
“Yesi and I are very thankful to have been able to work all through lockdown. Yesi works for a law firm, and they transitioned fairly well to remote working. Late last year I took some freelance work with a health media company. Once the pandemic hit they offered me a full time position. I was lucky to have been in the right place at the right time, and have been very busy since then,” he said.
The couple have decided to spent Christmas 2020 in New York.
“Yesi and I would obviously love to see our parents for Christmas, but we gave up any hope of that months ago. I think we both realised that it was beyond our control, so there is little point worrying or moaning about it.
“Being from two different continents, and living on a third, makes it hard to get home for holidays at the best of times. Thankfully Wi-Fi and FaceTime mean we can stay in regular contact with home, which helps. We’re just trying to make our best of the situation.
“With the election over and Pfizer announcing that an effective vaccine is close, we’ll see what the New Year brings. We’re optimistic that we might be able to start gallivanting again by Easter. It’s not that far off, and seems like a more realistic target, so we’ll sit tight until then,” he said.
RODNEY DULLAGHAN, SWEDEN
Rodney Dullaghan, originally from the Curragh but living in Sweden for more than five years, said he usually visited Donegal a few times each year.
He had planned to go to stay with his brother Conor in Australia for Christmas and New Year but has had to cancel them.
“They had a baby girl at the start of the year that we’ve never met so that was the plan,” he explained.
“We cancelled that around June because of the pandemic and planned instead to go back to Ireland for four weeks. We’ve also had to cancel that now as well so the four of us will have an Irish Christmas in Sweden.
“Was really hoping to get back for a Finn Harps match too but was delighted that they won on Monday and Shels lost which meant we avoided the play-offs,” he added.
Rodney’s wife Maria and their daughter Zoe managed to make it home in July as Zoe was making her confirmation in St Mary’s in Stranorlar.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t an option for the four of them to do 14 days quarantine so Rodney and his son Christian watched the ceremony on the laptop via a live stream from St Mary’s Church.
“I have flights booked to go back home in March so we will see how that goes. That will make it nearly two years since I’ve been home. Been way too long,” he said.
TERESA FIZTGERALD, SYDNEY
Teresa Fitzgerald, nee Kelly, from Glencar, Letterkenny, has called Sydney, Australia home for more than thirty years.
It’s Spring time and summer is less than a month away. Australia is very close to eliminating community transmission of the Coronavirus, with no new cases for a number of days.
“Life here is good. The Higher School Certificate (HSC) – Leaving Cert equivalent finished today and all exams were carried out in person. The school leaver’s from around the country generally go to the Gold Coast post exams, this won’t be happening this year for kids outside of Queensland. Most are going to party in their own states without too much restriction,” she said.
Lockdown in Sydney ended in mid-May and people have not been restricted in any way since then getting out and about with numbers limited due to social distancing in most restaurants, bars and venues.
“Everyone you meet is in top form and looking forward to the Christmas break and hoping to make the best of not being able to travel outside the country. Australian’s like to hop on a plane to Asia the way people at home hop on one to other European countries. In fact, it’s often cheaper to go to Asia than to another state,” she said.
Teresa works as a Relationship Executive at Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) based in Sydney.
“I’m been working from home very successfully since mid-March and mostly outside on my back garden deck,” she laughed.
“We booked an Airbnb right on the beach at Manly for Christmas and easy ferry ride there and to anywhere we might like to go. We figured if we booked local, regardless of what happens between now and Christmas we will still be able to go.
“I’m worried, now that it is full on beach season, that we will forget about social distancing and might have our freedom taken from us by Christmas or the end of summer. Hopefully not.
“I hope things will improve in Ireland – I have two nieces getting married next year and I would really like to make the weddings,” she said.
PADDY DUFFY, SCOTLAND
A former columnist for the Donegal News, Paddy Duffy is from Argary between Lifford and Raphoe. Working as a TV Producer, he swapped London for Glasgow in July.
Last week he celebrated his 35th birthday and he’s looking forward to taking the Glasgow bus home for Christmas.
“I’m no stranger to Bus Feda since my college days in Galway and it appeals to me to take the Glasgow bus home. There’s a long, rich history of people like me getting home on the bus but there’s so many other factors at play here too.
“I might try and get home a bit earlier this year in case I’ve to isolate for a week or two before Christmas,” he said.
While Paddy continues to work as a political commentator on RTE Radio, he also produced The Hit List, a music quiz for the BBC. He’s currently working on a series which looked as Donald Trump’s Foreign Policy which will air in January next.
“I haven’t been home since March. Indeed, I haven’t been on a plane since that flight from Knock to Standstead. I realised at that time that things just weren’t right and, due to the pandemic, I reconciled myself to staying put for the summer as long as I got home for Christmas.
“This whole thing gives you pause for thought. There’s also Brexit coming down the tracks so I might well be better getting the bus home. Presuming the ferries are working the bus it will take me right back to Donegal.
“I’m looking forward to spending time with my mum and dad, Paddy and Margaret, and my only brother Oisin and his wife Mairead. I’ve never missed a Christmas at home. It’s a ritual. We’re quite close and it’s always a lovely time of year to be home,” he said.