CLLR DAMIEN MOLYNEAUX was watching television one evening at Christmas time when he saw something that shocked him.
It was an interview with a hotel manager, who told a news station that he had noticed people being checked into hotels by their family members, and then left there alone on Christmas Day. For Labour Councillor Molyneaux, it was unthinkable that someone would have to spend such a big day alone in a hotel, so he decided to do something about it for people living in his home county of Kildare.
Together with Anne Cooke, he set up Christmas with Friends, and for nearly seven years they have been bringing Christmas dinner to people who would ordinarily spend the day alone.
Christmas with Friends
Located in the Day Care Centre in Newbridge, Co Kildare, there are around 30 people expected at this year’s dinner, with meals being sent out to a further 35 people around the county.
Some regular faces will be missing this year, but only because they will be having dinner with friends they met at the event in previous years. “They all come for different reasons,” said Molyneaux of the diners.
They all have their own favourite part of the day – one or two, if you didn’t play bingo they wouldn’t come!
The day kicks off at 12pm, with carol singers performing before the main meal, and then it is on to the spread that is prepared for the guests. There is the aforementioned bingo too, and singing and dancing, crackers being pulled and glasses clinked, before the gathering winds up at 7pm.
Having spent the last seven years doing this for Christmas day, Molyneaux says he wouldn’t want it any other way. They feel “great” after the day has come to a close – albeit a little tired from being hosts – but delighted with what they have done.
It’s good to spend time with people. It’s not an easy time for people. People would be on their own for all sorts of reasons, their family is far away, or sometimes people might have a chance to go home to a son or daughter and that is a difficult choice for them as well, so they keep the peace and don’t go.
The event started off at the KARE centre, and KARE still supplies the bus used to transport the meals to people who don’t venture into Newbridge. News of the event has spread by word of mouth, and the door is always open for new people.
Cllr Molyneaux was very influenced by Willie Bermingham, who founded ALONE, and was a fireman himself for a spell. He recognises the need for events such as this, and is hoping to start a branch of ALONE in the area.
He and his fellow volunteers are always inundated with offers of help, and people often travel from outside Kildare to be there on the day, even if just to say hello. Volunteers sing, serve food, or just visit to do the all-important washing up.
Those interested in attending the Newbridge Christmas with Friends meal this year are invited to ring Anne on 086 8042724 or Damien on 087 2450881.
A similar meal will take place in the Club Room, Blackrock College Rugby Club, Stradbrook in Dun Laoghaire from 10.30am to 3pm on Christmas Day.
The 26th annual gala lunch, cabaret and song contest for people living on their own is organised by the event’s founder Margaret Brown. She was inspired to set it up after seeing a similar event in Glasthule, but realising the people were sitting around a super ser eating cold food.
I was shocked, I was really shocked. I came back and I told my mother and family, I could hardly eat my own lunch.
She founded the event the following year and since then it has taken place in a variety of locations, before settling in Blackrock rugby club.
“It’s a great success there,” said Brown, saying it is accessible to people with disabilities and also has lovely kitchens and other amenities. Like in Kildare, they will be sending out dinners to people, and will also be catering for people living in a nearby homeless hostel. Altogether, they will cater for around 270 people, including 10 children who will be there with their families.
Lunch begins at 12pm and Santa will visit with a gift for everyone, before the singing and dancing begins. People can also take a meal home with them. Far from an event with food served on paper plates, people will be treated to a decorated room with white linen table cloths and a welcoming atmosphere.
This is not about food. This is about someplace nice, where people can go on Christmas day and meet other people who are alone as well, and meet nice people in a nice atmosphere.
To find out more, phone 086 3442533.
Events for the homeless or poor
While the events above cater for those living alone, there are a number of Christmas dinner events for the homeless and poor.
In Dublin, the Knights of Columbanus will hold its 88th Christmas Day dinner for the poor and homeless of Dublin city. It will be held in the RDS, and all who attend will leave with a bag containing food and other items.
In Cork, Cork Penny Dinners will be open from 11am to 2pm, providing Christmas dinner to people. There will also be presents and a festive atmosphere around the place. Florence Harrison, who runs the centre, said that Cork people have been incredibly generous this year.
Cork Simon will also be open on the day, providing Christmas dinner to all its service users.