When Mary Robinson took up residency at Aras an Uachtarain, the official home of the President of Ireland, she famously placed a candle (electric I understand) in the window to represent the Irish diaspora and it was to shine like a beacon welcoming home sons and daughters of the island. That was in 1992. Nice touch. Dublin airport was never so subtle though for years it tarted up the concourse in giant baubles, santas, penguins, snowmen, cribs. An inferno to Robinson’s candle. But like the candle in the Phoenix Park it was a homecoming. And appreciated by the returnees.
So what’s going on this year… I’ve never seen the place look more restrained at Christmas. Austerity measures perhaps? Or is it that on account of the massive expansion with the second terminal any amount of decorations is going to look lost. Or it could be that they’ve come round to seeing that less is more.
Underwhelmed I caught a bus straight from the airport to my hotel in Dun Laoighaire passing through the Dublin Port tunnel and South side villages. All the while observing. And all the while with a dull ache. And that’s how it is EVERY time I return home to Ireland. Is it a longing, I don’t know. The Dublin busman (complete with witticisms) was back in his seat having been absent or possibly promoted during the Celtic years. I noticed that a lot this visit. The international workforce, evident on previous trips, wasn’t so visible. Or is it down to assimilation.
By evening, The Gathering was complete. Checked-in and catching up. That’s the only homecoming I need. We calculated that we’ve been coming together like this (in a hotel and away from children and husbands) for almost ten years. The four daughters with Mother. This year, as it’s his 80th next week, my dad was invited along. There followed two days of lobby coffees, full Irish breakfasts (white and black pudding please) swims, saunas, steams, card games, knitting and crocheting circles and did I mention the shopping….
We found this one boutique in Glasthule that catered to all tastes -now that’s quite an ask. So my younger sister bought a fitted maroon Pleather mini-dress, middle sister got a sequin encrusted jumper, older sister got smart trousers, mother got two hats and I was treated to a stripy Missoni-esque tunic top. I bought stocking fillers and Christmas decorations from some of the very pretty independent gift shops that are prevalent in these affluent South Dublin suburbs.
In the mornings we’d head out as the night sky was lifting, in time to see the sun rise over the sea . We’d walk down Dun Laoighaire pier or on the wide pavements that skirted the coast road passing the forty foot, a popular bathing spot since the mid 1700’s. Once the preserve of men, now all dip there.
People’s park, a hundred meters from the hotel, hosts a popular market on Sundays. I was all shopped out so paid more heed to the food stalls I could have had a bowl of Dublin Oysters or a shot of Jameson’s whiskey added to my latte. I should have bought a badge with Feck on it. There’s always next year.
Before I caught the airlink coach on Sunday, the six of us went to mass together, as we had done so often decades ago. My mother strode down the aisle positioning us a couple of rows from the altar. The prominence doesn’t bother me any more. My dad still sings off-tune though not as loud. My self and my sisters added some colour to a sea of grey heads in the half-empty church. It seems these days, practising Catholics like the Christmas lights in Dublin airport, are thin on the ground.