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Dublin: 19 °C Wednesday 27 May, 2020
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'Being a carer, it's not like Christmas. It's groundhog day': The people who go to work on 25 December

The likes of carers, rescue volunteers and hospitality workers are among those who’ll be kept busy this Christmas Day.

EACH YEAR, PLENTY of us get up on 25 December like we would on every other day – and head out to work.

And each year TheJournal.ie catches up with some of those who are off to do a day’s work on Christmas Day, in whatever form that may take.

The public service features prominently on the list of workers required on Christmas Day, but private sector staff are also called in to work in numerous areas.

In previous years, we’ve chatted to the likes of taxi drivers, nurses, hotel workers and firefighters about why they go out to work on this day and how they find being away from family on 25 December.

This year, we’ve caught up with a few more people who’ll be busy working while you’re tucking into Christmas dinner this afternoon.

Family carer

Sinead Tighe has lived in Tallaght all her life, as has her husband.

They have two kids – Shauna and Daniel. Shauna is 15 and Daniel is 12.

Daniel has a rare genetic condition called Sotos Syndrome. He’s non-verbal, incontinent and visually impaired. He regularly exhibits very challenging behaviour. 

sinead tighe Sinead Tighe's two children Shauna and Daniel Source: Sinead Tighe

Caring for him means that Christmas is a bit different for his family. 

“Christmas is something I can’t even think about,” Sinead told TheJournal.ie. “I don’t even care if I have fish and chips for my dinner. In the bigger scale of things, Christmas dinner won’t be for us.

It probably was for a few years before. We could wait till he goes to bed, but that’s sad as well. He’s part of our family. It’s very sad for us. We try and create the best for Shauna. I think she sees [the difficulties in the situation] more than ever. 

The family take care of Daniel on a rota basis, with everyone chipping in. He wakes up at around 2am every morning and either Sinead or her husband Keith get up with him. They’ll get up at around 5/6am again and Shauna will help them to get him ready for school.

Daniel attends a school in Drumcondra from Monday to Friday during term time and returns at around 4pm every day.

Taking care of him becomes more difficult during the weekend. “It’s very hard to bring him to places,” said Sinead. 

Both Sinead and her husband go running, pushing Daniel in his wheelchair, every weekend. “Being in Tallaght, we’ve tried our best to get involved with the community,” she said. “So people can get to know him and see him, and grow up with him.”

Although their Christmas isn’t a typical one, this year they’ll be able to experience it in their home which has been completely adapted downstairs over the past eight months for Daniel’s needs.

“Everything has been set up for him,” Sinead said. “We decided this is the right time. This can be his forever home now.”

That will be the silver lining on another Christmas Day that’s not quite the same as for those who don’t have to care for another.

“It’s lonely being a carer, lonely being a parent of a special needs child,” said Sinead. “When you hear the Christmas songs coming, you go ‘oh shut up’.

Try to keep that life going. I have to tell my mam we won’t be down this year. We have to keep him happy, and we’re happy. We have a beautiful home now. We’re together. It’s a lucky thing to say that we still have him and we’re still together. You have to stop trying to live the normal life. Live in Daniel’s life and that’s easier. That’s easier. Daniel’s shown me a simpler life. We have our moments and our memories.

But she added: “That doesn’t take away the tiredness. Being a carer, it’s not like Christmas. It’s the same up and down the country – siblings caring for siblings, children looking after parents. It’s our groundhog day. We say to each other [her husband, her daughter and herself], the three of us, let’s try do one thing better this year. Whether it’s for each other or for Daniel. This is the big thing we’ve done.”

RNLI volunteer

The Bundoran RNLI Crew pictured at their open day August 2019 - pic Pockets Full Of Water Productions Some of the RNLI Bundoran crew Source: Bundoran RNLI

Up and down the country, rescue volunteers are on call around the clock in case they’re needed to step up.

This is no different on Christmas Day.

And it’s no different for the hundreds of RNLI volunteers attached to the dozens of stations around the country. 

Shane Smyth works with the RNLI volunteers out of Bundoran in Donegal. 

“All of the team are volunteers,” he told TheJournal.ie. “And that’s 24/7, 365 days a year. We all carry pagers.”

There around 30 to 40 people attached to the Bundoran RNLI and they will assist the Coast Guard and other emergency services in all sorts of situations. 

Smyth explained: “The team could have to jump at any time day or night. There’s never a good time for it to happen, but people are always ready.”

He said that in a number of cases it’s not an immediate threat-to-life situation that they are called upon to help out with, such as a boat that has broken down and is drifting. At other times, it can be a potentially dangerous situation that crews scramble to help out with. 

A lot of the volunteers live nearby, with some of them part of several generations that have volunteered with the RNLI.

“A good percentage of the crew are from Ballyshannon and then Bundoran. We’d have crews of four in a boat that are supported by shore crews on land,” Smyth said.

I know currently we’ve a father and two sons. We also have a former crew member whose sister and husband would’ve been on the crew. 

Their willingness to drop everything and rush to help out is the exact same on Christmas Day as at any other time of year. 

“We’re ready and waiting,” he said. “We hope for everyone’s safety but if the call comes at 3 o’clock on Christmas Day when the turkey is being served, that’s when we go.”

Smyth added that as it’s an entirely charity-run organisation, public donations are always welcomed but also that time from volunteers is valuable too. 

“There’s all sorts, such as people like myself without a marine background,” he said. “Some have jobs like teachers, paramedics, outdoor instructors that kind of thing. Employers in the area are more than willing to facilitate them going out on an emergency call.

“Fingers crossed everyone stays safe this Christmas.”

Hospitality worker

As well as the people who are on call or caring for others, there are plenty who are getting into the car to go do a shift at their place of work today. 

Nurses and doctors on the way into hospital. Firemen. Hotel workers. It’s another day’s work for a lot of people.

Fiona McCann works at the newly-opened Center Parcs in Longford. She’ll be working till 7pm this evening from 9am.

“It’s about a 45-50 minute drive to work from where I am, but I don’t mind,” she told TheJournal.ie.

Her job as team leader has her overseeing numerous safety checks, conducting opening procedures, making sure staff such as lifeguards are all in their positions and manning the desk to deal with customer queries. 

“I enjoy the job so I don’t really mind working Christmas Day,” she said. “I put my name forward. I’ve never worked Christmas Day myself. I never had the opportunity in anywhere else I’ve worked.”

The duties of hospitality workers don’t really vary that much if they’re working Christmas Day, and Fiona’s will largely stay the same too. 

She said: “We expect it’ll be busy, there’ll be lots of families around. It’s a big deal for us. There’s been a nice Christmassy atmosphere about it too, and there’s plenty of us working so it’ll bring us all a little closer together.”

Fiona and her family agreed that since she was working Christmas Day, they’d make arrangements to do all the normal 25 December traditions a day before. 

“We’re doing Christmas dinner, the whole lot, on Christmas Eve,” she said. “I’ve Stephen’s Day off too and New Year’s as well so it’s all good. But I’d be happy to work that as well to be honest!”

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About the author:

Sean Murray

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