Those exciting days before a flight home for Christmas

Aer Lingus welcome home ads still conjure up pleasant memories of reunions at Dublin Airport

Sean Rogers with his father John: ‘I still find myself reaching for the phone.’

The internet came too late for my parents; Alzheimer’s had already taken its toll on my dad. That first and only Skype call was really nothing more than a slow moving grainy image. We’d run out of time.

There was no internet when I first arrived in America in the summer of 1983. A phone call was the only means of directly speaking to my friends and family, but at $2 per minute I had to talk fast. You really needed to plan exactly what you wanted to say before the phone call began.

Most of these calls were made after consuming copious amounts of drink at the local watering holes, with names like the Purple Shamrock and Limericks. Money was no object by that stage of the night, and the only obstacles I can clearly recall was the background din and scraping together the quarters needed to tell her I loved her and that I’d be home soon.

Seamus Heaney describe how his life had straddled both the medieval world and the 20th century. He remembers his father ploughing by horse-drawn plough while his mother drew water from a well and lit the fire in the early mornings with the frost lying on the fields outside. I sometimes feel the same way he must have felt, trying to explain the 1980s and early 90s to my two young boys here in Massachusetts.


I couldn’t spare the $2 per minute for phone calls that first trip west on a J-1 in 1983. Calling home didn’t stack high on my priority list at the time. Letters went back and forth via airmail, with scribbles on both front and back. I wish I still had those letters. I think they ended up burnt in the aga range - some way down the road of romantic breakups.

Traveling back and forth to Ireland on the 747 was like taking a Sunday trip with family. A quick glance around the departure gate was like the first few seconds you enter the local at Christmas - a quick node of recognition and then a brief conversation as you keep moving forward.

“Let’s catch up on the flight.”

You never did catch up, and often you never met again.

I felt I knew everyone on those flights. I sat beside just about every make of passenger; from J-1 student, to widows returning to bury their husbands. Thinking back, I should have written all those conversations down.

Images are vivid from those pre-internet flights: chatting with Tommy Makem on his way back to Ireland for a Late Late appearance, and walking past Seamus Heaney tucked into his economy seat, like the rest of us. Nobody seemed to be too fussed or even recognise Heaney in those days. They are both now gone; memories in my mind.

The days just before a flight home were exciting, especially around the Christmas period. The word got out quickly on who was travelling. Calls were made and discussions had. Time was occupied with gathering letters, parcels and Christmas cards from Irish friends. Many had just left it too late for the Christmas rush, and others thought it might be quicker sending letters pre-stamped by personal currier. One year I forgot about the cards and had to quickly mail them when I got back to Boston; but who would ever know?

Sean with his son Eoin and father John, digging at their family home in Dundalk.

The Aer Lingus welcome home ads still conjure up pleasant memories of reunions at Dublin Airport. In those days my dad could still travel to the airport in the wee hours, and waited patiently in the old terminal on the seats off to the side. He often came by himself and off we'd go into Dunegans outside Drogheda.

“Will we stop for one.”

“A bit early Dad.”

“Not where you just came from.”

There was nobody there except the two of us as we sat and caught up on the past six months.

It was not Skype that made the breakthrough for me, but the arrival of internet phone service. Skype had just come too late for my parents to use.

I could now call whenever I needed to and stay on as long as I wanted. The world had changed, but the conversations remained the same.

“Dad, what’s the weather like?”

“Oh a bit cold today... When are you coming home?”


I still find myself reaching for the phone.