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duty calls

Going to work on Christmas Day: 'We've 1,500 animals here. They all need to be looked after'

Across many professions, duty still calls on Christmas Day .

TODAY IS THE day. 25 December. Christmas Day. 

It’s been a tumultuous year, to put it mildly, but this Christmas Day will still see many those same festive traditions we’ve been used to over the years.

For many of us, today will be a day off, a time to unwind and a day to spend with family.

But, for others, they’ll be getting up and heading into work.

Each year, speaks to those people who’re putting in a shift today to find out what it’s like to work Christmas Day. 

Over the years, we’ve spoken to nurses, midwives, hotel workers, taxi drivers, radio DJs and more. This year, we’ve spoken to people in a few other professions about what it’s like to be working on the day. 

Fota Wildlife Park

Sean McKeown is director of Fota Wildlife Park.

Like so many other businesses around the country, Fota has had to close its doors this year – both during the initial lockdown and during Level 5 heading into the winter. 

The park will also be closed to visitors on Christmas Day but, just like during the other periods this year when Fota has been shut, the work must still be done. 

DK07082020 FOTA 003 Three endangered Northern cheetah cubs were born recently at Fota Wildlife Park Darragh Kane Darragh Kane

McKeown told “Even without the pandemic, winter would usually be a quieter time for us. 

We used to open Christmas Eve but this year decided to close on that day. This means that the staff who care for the animals have more time to prepare.

Fota is home to 1,500 animals of over 122 different species, so staff have to be on hand to cater to a very diverse range of needs. 

Staff will be making sure animals are fed, their living space cleaned up and any problems attended to as quickly as possible. 

“We’ve a morning and an afternoon shift [on Christmas Day],” he said.

“The animals still need to be cared for. There might be a sick animal to be cared for. But normally, it’d be rare for something bad like that to happen on Christmas day.”

By virtue of the time of the year, shifts will be shorter over Christmas as those who tend to the animals focus more on daylight hours.

“We’ll have maybe 60% of the staff we’d have in on a normal day,” according to McKeown, who added that he was hoping that the wildlife park could find a path through a potentially tricky 2021.

He said: “We had a decent summer, and that saved us. Around 16 or 17% of our visitors would be foreign visitors, so we were missing that this year. But staycations and people wanting to get out and about helped us to have one of our busiest Augusts ever. 

But we’re very much seasonal in terms of our visitors. Outside of peak season, such as around now, we tick over but wouldn’t have as much visitors. During the pandemic, we have pre-booking and a one-way system now so visitors enjoyed that while able to distance. We’ll try to keep some of that in future but the fear is that once people have the vaccine they’ll want to travel abroad. And that could affect visitor numbers here.

All of that lies, ahead, however. 

For today, the priority is making sure all the animals are tended to and looked after just like any other day. 

But there’s also a bit of festive feeling in the air, despite the difficult year. 

“Each staff member has their favourite animal,” McKeown said. “Some of them might bring in a gift to them for Christmas. They might do that for their birthdays too. 

It’s something staff like to do, and we love to see it here. It’s been a hard few months but… if we can do a bit better next year than this year, we’ll be happy with that.

ESB worker

warner -IMG_8172 NEW The ESB control room ESB ESB

Darren Ryan works in the National Distribution Control Centre for the ESB. 

He does shift work as part of his job and this year has seen him rostered in for Christmas Day.

“I’m working from quarter past eight in the morning to half two in the afternoon,” he said.

“There’ll be three of us on all Christmas Day so across the national network, there’ll be three of us responding to calls and alarms.”

Within the control centre, there are systems to monitor the national grid and identify faults as and when they occur. 

“All our stations all around the country will be communicating back with us,” Ryan explained.

“A lot can be done remotely now,” he said, adding that a fault can be identified from their control room that could affect thousands of customers but can be isolated so that it affects a far lower number of people. 

If a fault is identified today, the control room can make contact with their colleagues who are on call around the country to attend the scene and repair the fault. 

Ryan said: “For the guys on call, [who] we’re dispatching the calls out to, they don’t know what time they’re going to start at. The control room for me is probably the better end of things.”

He said that demand placed on the grid on Christmas Day generally isn’t as high as it would usually be on other days given that many factories and commercial premises won’t be in use. 

However, demand can get higher in rural areas as everybody has their cookers on at the same time to try get Christmas dinner prepared. 

“No matter how much preventative maintenance we put in place each year, there may still be some faults,” Ryan said. “But it’s all weather dependent too.”

As for enjoying the day, itself, the ESB worker said that his finishing time later today will mean that he can still tuck into Christmas dinner later this evening. 

He said: “My shift cycle finishes on the morning of the 27th. I’ll be off for three days then. On the off days, that’s when the family stuff can kick in. 

A family gathering would happen then on the 28th. But Covid will have an impact on things. With these kinds of things, you just have to plan around it.

As with everything, even during Christmas time, it’s all-important to find a way to switch off once you clock off. 

Ryan added: “For me, when you finish shift work, downtime is a huge part. The ideal then for me is I’d be down the south beach in Arklow with a fishing rod in my hand. We’ll see what happens this year.”

With reporting from Ceimin Burke

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