Irish Abroad on coming home for Christmas: ‘I need to be in my home town’

‘Excuse me if I l take responsibility for my own life decisions now – see you in December’

November 12th, 2020: Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has advised Irish people based abroad not to book flights home for Christmas at the moment due to the ongoing Level 5 Covid-19 restrictions. Video: Oireachtas TV


Conor Moroney, London, UK

I have my flights booked and will be coming home this year for Christmas. Leo Varadkar’s recent comments were deflection tactics. As Ireland reached the half-way point of the Level 5 lockdown the narrative in the public and media began to ask questions of the Government. The summer saw the tail (NPHET) wagging the dog as Ireland continued to impose the strictest lockdown measures across the EU, only to end up as one of the first countries to revert to one of the longest full scale national lockdowns. With no strategy, plan or fresh thinking presenting itself from Leinster House, via the Convention Centre, as to how the country moves forward in “living with the virus” please excuse me if I take responsibility for my own life decisions now – see you in December.

Mairead NicRuairi, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany

We booked our flights in February, as we have been doing for the last 16 years. We pack up and come home. Aer Lingus have always been great. They take the letters that our three children write and deliver them to the North Pole. We get to go home, be home. Yet again Aer Lingus saved us the torment of having to decide and cancelled our flights. So we have logged in as an “Irish Christmas” near Flensburg, Germany. The tea bags arrived in the post and the Tayto are ordered. For our 17-year-old, Riona, she says November is so depressing, the only thing that keeps her going is the thought of getting back home in December. The dilemma is to what extent would we have been endangering others – so thank you Aer Lingus.

Kate O’Connor, London, UK

Have already booked flights. It’s been an incredibly tough year and I haven’t seen family since last Christmas. I live alone in a small flat in London with no outside space and the thought of Christmas is all that is keeping me going from a mental health perspective. I plan on isolating for 10 days and getting tested here before I go home and then will isolate for a further 5 days and get tested in Ireland before seeing family.

Barbara O’Connell and family
Barbara O’Connell and family

Barbara O’Connell, Chicago, US

We’ve been in the States for 12 years. Travelling home for Christmas has been a steadfast date in our calendar. The only time we haven’t made it home was due to being eight months pregnant. If any country knows how to do Christmas it’s Ireland. Hands down the best time of the year: Forty Foot Christmas Day dips, crisp winter walks with family, cousins connecting, grandparents getting their year’s worth of baby-sitting in, reunions with school friends laughing like you’re still teenagers! 2020 has been filled with cancellations of all sorts both big and small. Recently our eldest said: “Well at least we still have the trip home at Christmas”, the tears were heartbreaking. But this year Chicago is home for Christmas and we’ll make the most of it.

Alison Johnston, Muscat, Oman

Having just heard that my mother needs medical treatment I plan to visit Ireland in December and be around for the first time in many years for Christmas! I guess my travel is pretty essential and will abide by all public health guidelines with quarantining etc. I’m delighted that PCR testing is going to be up and running in Dublin airport as that will make things so much simpler.

Karen Westfield

My mother’s carer is due to take a break at Christmas so obviously we have booked a sailing to come home and see her. She is 79 and has Parkinson’s. She’s relatively independent but shouldn’t be alone. We planned to pay for tests before we sail, but we are not sure now if that will be enough.

Angela Birdthistle, Kayl, Luxembourg

The fact that I haven’t been able to come home so far this year has been very tough. Zoom calls and quizzes have helped, but 11 months later I am really craving to see my family again. So many things have not gone to plan this year, my hen party, our wedding in Salamanca, Spain and our honeymoon – I have gotten to terms with these things, as so many other people in the same situation have had to, but Christmas without my family is one thing I really won’t be able to get over. I really hope Ireland can start allowing some travel very soon.

Gavin Brennan, Waverley, United Kingdom

My wife and I have lived in the UK for over 8 years now. We have always travelled back home to Ireland at least 4-5 times per year. This year has obviously put a bit of a spanner in the works. This is particularly frustrating as we have just had our first baby and would love the family to meet her.

Daniel O’Brien, Oman
Daniel O’Brien, Oman

Daniel O Brien, Muscat, Oman

On January 2nd, it’ll be one calendar year since I last set foot in Ballyfermot, Dublin. I never thought I’d be away for so long. I’ve made the decision to stay here in Oman for Christmas. Five PCR tests and two quarantines take the appeal away. The possibility of not seeing my nieces and my nanny on Christmas day or going for a few pints with the lads over the week really hit home. I’m lucky that my girlfriend and a few of my friends here have made the tough decision to stay also so no one will be alone.

Cait Kelly, Paris, France

I’m not coming home for Christmas this year, it was a hard but necessary decision. I’m lucky enough to have a healthy family which is all we can ask for these days. This year I’m going to send cards and letters to loved ones to let them know I’m thinking of them and miss them lots, I hope to be able to travel home to Ireland again soon.

Hannah KeenanHere’s a photo of myself and my Mum in Windy Wellington when she came for a surprise visit for Christmas 2018
Hannah Keenan: Here’s a photo of myself and my Mum in Windy Wellington when she came for a surprise visit for Christmas 2018

Hannah Keenan, Wellington, New Zealand

So my name’s Hannah, and I’m a Wexford girl who moved over to Wellington, New Zealand after I graduated in 2018. This will be my first Christmas away from any of my family and to be honest I’m not looking forward to it. In saying that though I’m hoping we can sort out some new ways to connect, despite the 11 hour difference! Here’s a photo of myself and my Mum in Windy Wellington when she came for a surprise visit for Christmas 2018.

Sharon Steeves
Sharon Steeves

Sharon Steeves, Manitoba, Canada

I hadn’t thought of coming home just for Christmas, I wanted it to be a few weeks earlier, seven in fact. My only brother aged 56 was dying of a brain tumour. I wanted so badly to see him, to say I love you one last time, to fix any misunderstandings between us before it was too late. I wanted to hug my mother and tell her it’s okay to cry. She herself is 82 and dealing with breast cancer. This Covid sucks! This Christmas there is one less at the table in Donegal and one less I’m my heart and I wish it was otherwise.

Edwin Lee, Hong Kong

I made the hard but sensible decision not to visit my family in Ireland. With winter settling in there will be undoubtedly be a rise in Covid cases and I didn’t want to be exposed to that during travelling nor bring back any potential viruses with me. I just think being on planes and transiting through airports is still too risky. Returning back to Hong Kong would also require a two-week quarantine so that was another small factor.

Kate Smith

I love my family more than words can begin to describe, and being apart for almost a year has certainly been challenging. I won’t be going home for Christmas because it doesn’t feel like the right thing to do. It feels irresponsible to go through multiple airports during a time like this, and risk exposing my family and others to this awful virus. Instead, we’ll play some family games online to bridge the distance as best we can, and stay safe for each other.

CJ O’Neill, Manchester, United Kingdom

As much as I understand the need for a collective effort to contain the virus, I will be coming home to Ireland for Christmas without any shame. I need to see my family. I need to be in my home town. I need to be surrounded by my own people; my own culture. I need to be where I am inherently understood. You can only neglect these priorities for so long.

Tara McHugh, Halifax, Canada

I would love to go home and see my family and my 91-year-old grandmother but I can’t chance it. I’m living in one of the safest places in North America. Nova Scotia have a strict 14-day isolation policy (which I am so thankful for) so realistically if I wanted to spend 2 week with family I would need 6 weeks off work in total.

Ruth O’Mahony

It is ridiculous and insulting to think our government are advising Irish abroad not to return home to be with family at Christmas yet have never shut our borders to international travel or tourists. It seems Ireland is currently still the land of 100,000 welcomes...unless you are Irish abroad.

Owen Gannon

I’ve already booked my flight and have arranged an Airbnb in the countryside for two weeks. It’s got loads of outdoor space so I can have a cup of tea with my mother when she comes up to collect my washing. It’s going to be a very low-key Christmas this year, which is fine as long as we’re all in the same boat. Been living in London for the past 4 years and used to travel home to Dublin often so this year has felt like it’s been forever since I was last home.

Elisabeth Butler

Everywhere I turn I hear of all the poor Irish who can’t come home. Please remember that travelling to and from Ireland is not only reserved for the Irish coming home. What about all of us “Irish by choice” who can’t go home to visit our families? While life went back to normal in my home country of Austria, and everybody enjoyed the sunshine freely and carelessly I holidayed in Kerry and while it was beautiful I miss home. I have tried to visit my mother three times since August but each flight has been cancelled. There are hundreds of thousands of people living in this country whose families are scattered all around the world. Please spare a thought for your neighbour this Christmas, who may be missing their family back home.

Bernadette O’Riordan, Oxford, UK

I moved from Cork to Oxford at the start of August to work in Oxford University Hospital as a pharmacist. It’s been a tough time to move away from home, with flying being a trial at the moment. It has obviously been impossible for anyone to come visit me here. I was supposed to be flying home for a short visit this week, but decided to cancel. With both England and Ireland in lockdown, and the cases in England so much higher, the trip home didn’t seem worth it. Even with easy access to a Covid test as a health care worker, the risk of bringing the virus home to my family has been my main worry. By the time Christmas comes around, I won’t have seen my family for four months. I would like to get home to see them, but I’m not holding out much hope.

Conor McDonagh, Brussels, Belgium

The uncertainty around travel to and from Ireland is leaving me in a tricky situation with college and Christmas exams. I grew up in Brussels and my family still live there – I’m currently in college in Dublin, living in student digs. I want to go back to Belgium for Christmas, but Irish restrictions upon return could jeopardise my studying and exams. The diaspora are an integral part of the Irish identity, stopping Christmas travel epitomises the lack of regard NPHET has for people’s mental well-being and the happiness of the nation.

Denise Nagle, Norway
Denise Nagle, Norway

Denise Nagle, Norway

I have already made peace that there will be no trip home this Christmas. We will be having a small and peaceful celebration here with my husband’s parents. Still it hurts, my father and grandparents have yet to meet my second born who was born in early 2020. We have set our sights on Easter next year, but who knows? This has been the first year since I moved here that we have not made a trip home.

Avril King, Paris, France

The sense of camaraderie and excitement at a departure gate of an Aer Lingus flight on December 23rd has come to represent the beginning of the holidays to me. The return flight is almost a return to the magic of childhood: where the journey seems to be taking forever. I act embarrassed but am secretly thrilled to see my parents in arrivals, wearing oversized Christmas jumpers and Santa hats. It is refreshing to feel the tears come as I get pulled into their long embraces, and we silently forgive each other for the missed phone-calls or the forgotten anniversaries or the misplaced words in moments of anger and disappointment and loneliness. I haven’t allowed myself to imagine that Christmas at home this year won’t happen. Of course, I won’t travel recklessly nor put my family in danger of contracting the virus, but I also won’t give up hope. I need Christmas in Ireland, this year much more than ever.

John Ryan, Allerdale, United Kingdom

Very disappointing to see this, the diaspora deserve better and the economy needs the boost we will bring as well as the mental health of our relatives, sort the testing out!

Caroline West, Auvergne, France

I have lived in France for over 30 years. My children were born and grew up here. I have two weeks’ holidays, but if I have to spend them self-isolating, I’m not sure it’s worth it. I’m happy to take a test if it can shorten the time, but 200 euros is excessively expensive – in France a test which is not on prescription is under 80 euros.

Susan Carney and Conor
Susan Carney and Conor

Susan Carney, Austin, US

Myself and my husband Conor and our two mini schnauzers have been living in Austin, Texas, since summer 2019. He is a professor at the University of Texas and I am studying online. We haven’t been able to get home in almost a year even though we intended to spend the summer in Ireland with family. We are in our late 20s and have never been away from family for so long or over Christmas, but if we leave the US for Christmas, we won’t be able to return due to the European travel ban and also Trump’s visa ban, as we need our new visas stamped before we can re-enter. Irish friends here are in the same boat and most of them are choosing to stay here for Christmas, even though they have Green Cards, because it would be too difficult to have to quarantine somewhere and try to protect their children from Covid while travelling over the busy Christmas period or they can’t get that much time off work. We are planning to come home in January to see our families and we hope that once Biden takes office, we will be able to visit Ireland for a while and then return to Austin afterwards.

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