Happy homecoming for families at Knock airport

Anxious wait for relatives as flights arrive from England bearing much-missed loved ones

Mary and Michael Hession from Newtown, Clogher, near Claremorris, Co Mayo, embrace their daughter on her arrival home for Christmas at Knock airport. Photograph: Michael McLaughlin

Wearing blue satin and sequins while clutching a teddy bear, Madison McElligott (4) was a princess waiting for a plane.

"I'm Elsa from Frozen,"she explained, as dozens of people gathered around her in Ireland West Airport Knock for several Christmas homecoming flights.

She had just won the bear in the terminal, and was going to give it to her newborn cousins who were travelling to Ireland for the first time.

Two-month-old Éire and Niamh were booked on the Gatwick-Knock flight with parents AJ and Karen Somas, and were planning to spend Christmas with Karen's McElligott family in Bundoran, Co Donegal.


Standing quietly close by Brendan and Maureen Haughey from Teelin, Co Donegal, were expecting their 29-year-old daughter, Colette.

"Colette works in Notting Hill as a primary teacher – she trained over there,"the couple said. "Of course she'd love to be back, but there's a boyfriend from England, so . . ."

Ms Haughey was one of a number of British-based teachers flying in from Gatwick and Manchester, hoping to make the most of a fortnight at home.


Families from five west and northwest counties had begun gathering 45 minutes before, taking high stools in the upstairs restaurant to catch the glint of wings breaking through the clouds.

Bundoran resident Jim Herrity was there to collect his daughter Alicia, also teaching at a primary school in London. Michael and Mary Hession from Newtown, Clogher, near Claremorris in Co Mayo, were awaiting their daughter Niamh (25), a Maths teacher.

“She was only getting supplementary work here,” the Hessions explained. “Now she gets her summer holidays paid, and there are a lot of opportunities for her in London that she just wouldn’t get here.”

Brenda O’Malley, living in Louisburgh, Co Mayo, but originally from Annagry, had picked up Mr Herrity’s Donegal accent and had begun chatting to him. She was awaiting her son Kieran, in his mid-thirties, working as a business analyst in Leeds.

Kathleen Lavin from Ballyfarnon, near Boyle, Co Roscommon, had positioned herself right next to the security door with her husband, Seán. Fortunately, one of the first to come through was her daughter Alison. She works as a planning officer with Hammersmith and Fulham council in London.

"We'll be up at Dublin airport tomorrow," Ms Lavin said. "My older daughter Breffni is a social worker in Melbourne, Australia. I saw her in September of last year, but this is her first Christmas back here in five years."

Just into Mayo from Melbourne was Stevie Kelly (29) from Fahy, Westport, and his Australian wife Danni. A fitness coach, he said he was well settled down under, but might come home eventually. "I have a winning Mayo football squad to raise first!"

"We'll be sad when they go, but we're very lucky," Co Sligo native Mary Keaveney said as she awaited her daughter, due on the Manchester flight.

“You look at the news and wonder how must the parents of those refugees feel . . . we don’t have to send our kids off in rubber boats.”

Even when her own emigrant father arrived back for Christmas, he could still travel in the relative comfort of a ferry and bus, Ms Keaveney said.

"He was one of those men that John Healy wrote about,"she said, recalling the late Irish Times journalists's account of Christmas homecomings in his book, No One Shouted Stop.

“And they stumbled into a thousand homes in the dark of those December war days,” Healy wrote. “And were poured into beds by mothers who had to look at their sleeping faces to be sure it was the same son who left a year before . . .”

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times