Disney may have staked a claim to being the “happiest place on earth” but three days before Christmas, Dublin Airport could give it a run for its money.
Screams of delight could be heard across the Terminal 2 concourse as waves of people off flights from North America washed in before the dawn’s early light. And the tears of joy streaming down the bleary-eyed faces of those arriving and those waiting for them to come through the sliding doors would have melted the flintiest of hearts.
Parents hugged their adult children with an ferocity borne of the pain of absence before relieving them of trolleys groaning under the weight of bags and ushering them into the car park.
Wide-eyed babies and toddlers blinked in the bright lights and booming tunes of an RTÉ outside broadcast in the arrivals hall as they were fussed over by grandparents and reassured that while they were now a long way from home, Santa Claus was still coming to town with their Irish address programmed into his sleigh’s sat-nav.
Patrick and Una Kennedy from Wicklow hugged their son Seamus, their daughter-in-law Kirsten and their grandchildren Hannah and Ciara fiercely after they flew in from Boston.
“We have been looking forward to this for so long,” Una said.
And how long is so long?
It is the first time their son will have spent Christmas in Ireland since 2017.
“It is a long time since Santa has been in our house,” she said with Patrick adding that they had been “getting ready for a month”.
Irene O’Connell had been too excited to sleep in advance of her overnight journey from Co Cork to meet her “oldest baby” Shauna, who flew in from Toronto.
Shauna moved to Toronto more than two years ago and this will be her first Christmas at home since she left.
“It is hard that she is overseas but she is happy and as long as she is happy we are happy,” her mother said.
For her part Shauna was clearly delighted. “It is not the same doing Christmas away,” she said. “I miss my grandmother’s turkey and ham but mostly it’s my family. And I am looking forward to a good pint of Guinness. It doesn’t travel well.”
Bradley Williams, by contrast, does travel well. At 17 months old, he has just completed his 16th flight in the company of his mother, Sareen O’Kennedy, and his father, Matt Williams.
“He was the quietest baby on the plane,” Sareen said. . There was a lot more louder than him.”
While Bradley might be a frequent flyer, this will be his first Christmas in Ireland. “We live in New York now and he is the first grandchild on my side of the family so he is wanted home, and is going to be a big favourite,” his tired but happy mammy told The Irish Times.
She wanted to be home too. “I was last home for Christmas in 2018 and I can’t wait for my mother to cook the dinner,” she said.
But first things first,” she continued. “The first thing to do is go for a breakfast roll before taking a bus to New Ross.”
Orla and Peter McNally from Dublin 15 were waiting for their daughter, Anna, who was coming from Vancouver. Orla was holding a red balloon and a bunch of yellow flowers.
“I am going to start crying in a minute,” she said. “She’s been away eight years and it is absolutely a big deal.”
Peter had no balloons or flowers but while his hands were empty, his heart was full “We only get to see her twice a year so it is very special when she is home and the house will be very busy from dawn to dusk.”
The conversation stopped suddenly as Anna appeared through the doors and arms were flung wide.
“I wasn’t home for Christmas last year and there was nowhere like it,” she said once the hugging and crying eased. “And look at all the fuss. I am 33 years old and I still get a balloon when I get home. And flowers. Sometimes they are kind of half dead but they are good now this year.”
Marie Tierney lives in Edmonton, Canada and hasn’t been home for Christmas since pre-pandemic times.
It can be lonely when you are in a different county,” she said after an emotional reunion with her sister Helen and her niece Evelyn. “It is not the same anywhere else.”
Her equally emotional sister was in a bit of a flap after a bit of pre-arrival drama. “We were racing to the airport but we forgot the poster,” she explained, pointing to the welcome home art drawn by her daughter.
They had to go back for it but she made it to the airport in time and all was well. “It just adds to the excitement of Christmas,” she said.
Graeme McQueen from daa, the operator of the airport, said today would be one of the busiest days this year, with an expected 102,000 passing through the airport. “But there are great scenes here and it’s great to see all the families getting back together, that’s the magic at Dublin Airport. We have seen some remarkable things this week already and we’re going to see that continue today and over the weekend.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Shannon Airport was buzzing too and looking forward to its busiest Christmas since 2009.
All told 121,000 passengers will pass through Shannon during the Christmas holiday period, up 18 per cent on the same period last year.