‘This is the real meaning of Christmas’: Hundreds attend St Columbanus dinner

More than 4,000 takeaway meals dispatched as 300 sit down in RDS

“This is the real meaning of Christmas,” said Sr Julie Doran as she stood outside the RDS in Ballsbridge, south Dublin, on Christmas morning.

More than 4,000 takeaway Christmas dinners were dispatched at the entrance of the hall to people in need in the greater Dublin area while, inside, about 300 people sat down to enjoy a three-course meal.

The annual Order of the Knights of St Columbanus Christmas Day dinner took place in the Dublin 4 location for the first time in three years following the Covid-19 pandemic.

Volunteers welcomed with open arms groups of homeless men and women, young families and those who might have otherwise spent Christmas Day alone while chefs plated up dinner.


“They mightn’t necessarily be homeless but they just want to come here,” said Sr Doran, who is with the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Apostles (OLA). “When I’m in Dublin, I spend Christmas here, I’ve done so for many years. I love to come because this is where Christmas has a real meaning for me.

“It brings out the best of who we really are as Irish people. There are hundreds of volunteers here, there are people who have worked for days and months back in preparation. A lot of donations are given.

“The whole atmosphere of volunteerism, of giving, reaching out and meeting people, all as humans. Everybody is welcome. It gives you great hope in humanity.”

A stage was erected in the centre of the hall and, following some Frank Sinatra songs from singer Tony Savino, a group of Ukrainian refugees serenaded the audience with Christmas carols.

Among those was Anna Chernova, who fled Kyiv with her daughter (15) and son (12) last March. “I’m very happy to be here, because it’s very lonely when we are just at home on our own because my husband is in Ukraine,” she said. “He’s waiting because not all men are fighting, some are waiting to be called by the government. He’s just waiting for his turn to fight.

“I’m not used to being alone, we’ve spent more than 15 years together. It’s a very different experience for me. I’m very grateful for this country and we are very happy to be here. We have food, beds and everything we need.

“My children miss their family and friends. We try to come here to become acquainted with new people and new friends. It’s important for them not to just sit in their room on their own.”

The Knights of St Columbanus have been organising the State’s biggest Christmas homeless meal event for 98 years and say demand has increased “significantly” in recent times.

Paddy Sheridan, chairman of the order’s Christmas Day dinner committee, said in addition to the meals, goody bags with food, toiletries and household goods are also provided to those in attendance.

“Nobody is paid here, it’s all volunteers and people are giving up their Christmas Day,” he says. “Everyone has different reasons for doing so, we’ve about 200 volunteers here today ... Generally the people and organisations who are working with the homeless all year round, this is the only break they get. We’re really just providing a bit of a break for those people, it’s a place for people in need to come when other charitable organisations might just be shut for today.”

Also present were James Byrne (61), dressed in his special red Christmas suit, and his mother Kathleen (89), from Dublin 7.

“I like coming here to the party to meet different people, different cultures. We’ve been coming here for a long time. My sister would have come too but she has the flu,” Mr Byrne said.

“My mother has mild dementia and she gets agitated when she’s at home, just sitting there. She’s happy when she’s out and about and moving around. There is a great atmosphere. This shouldn’t just be once a year, it should be all the time, maybe once a month and getting to meet new people.

“When we get home later, we’ll watch a bit of TV and sometimes, if we’re home early, I’ll play a bit of the piano and my mother will sing along.”

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times