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Image / Editorial

There’s No Place Like Home At Christmas For The London Irish

by Kerry Buckley Barnes
21st Dec 2017

The guy asleep beside me on the Gatwick Express was shtinking of booze. Last night had been a late one for him too by the looks of things. He was wearing the standard novelty Christmas jumper, had his passport in one hand and a poorly wrapped present in the other. I swear the fumes off him were poisonous and when he woke up and asked if were we there yet, it was almost childlike. He had been at his work Christmas party, failed to set an alarm (code for slept through it), woken up, grabbed his passport and his mum’s Christmas pressie and legged it to the Tube. He told me the only thing worse than missing his flight home would be showing up without a gift for his mum so he ditched the suitcase and was relying on his younger brother for fresh undies.

It may be an extreme example of the Christmas commute for the London Irish but it’s honestly not unfamiliar to so many of us who are feeling bloated and bleary-eyed following the endless work Christmas parties. Add in the mix the London Loreto Foxrock girls’ dinner, the UCD boozy lunch, followed by the “12 Pubs of Clapham” pub crawl and suddenly there’s no amount of Charlotte Tilbury under-eye concealer that can save you.

The cure….the cure is seeing the lights of Howth as you prepare to land in Dublin Airport and knowing you’re very nearly home. Dublin Airport has become one of my favourite parts of Christmas. The carol singers, the families eagerly awaiting their loved ones returning home from years abroad in Australia, Asia, the US. The grandparents meeting their grandchildren for the first time. I get over-excited by the whole thing and insist that my dog, Lomu, is brought to collect me from the arrivals hall. Last year I caused such a scene launching myself on the floor and wrapping myself around my old grey doggy that RTE immediately thought it was one of those tearjerker stories that would make a good clip for the telly; I was just about to answer their questions when my mum rightly reminded me to “get a grip, you were home in September”.

But for many of us living abroad, Christmas is returning to the Ireland we remember for more than a quick weekend stopover. Back to the house we grew up in and the people we grew up with. I get a good laugh at whatever I find in my old wardrobe and still get the fear when I open my desk drawer and see the dreaded red cover of the past exam papers I haven’t binned yet. I have some of my best night’s sleeps in my old room; surrounded by the hundreds of Beanie Babies that I was convinced would one day make me millions. There’s still hockey gear in a corner (which I am afraid to unpack after 7 years) and photos from nights out in Bondi Beach Club staring down from the walls. It’s nostalgic, it’s comforting, almost therapeutic and a million miles away from life in London or work stints in Asia. For many, Christmas at home in Ireland is something that remains constant in the chaotic lives we lead elsewhere where everything seems to shift and change. It’s a Peter Pan fantasy land where you revert to your teenage years, your mum makes constant cups of tea and offers paracetamol with breakfast.

I’m always appreciative of those great sleeps (and the paracetamol) because Jaypers do you need to be well rested for the Christmas Craic. People talk about Carnival in Rio as the greatest party on earth but they’ve clearly not been in Ireland on the run up to the big day. Christmas here is catching up with the friends we don’t see from one year to the next yet having endless amounts to talk about. It’s starting the night off in whatever the latest place to go is, but always ending up in Coppers anyway. It’s not wearing a coat or tights because that’s just how Irish girls roll. It’s going to Abrakebabra and marvelling at their new extensive menu, telling the youngsters in the queue it used to just be kebabs in your day and that pulled pork hadn’t even been invented when you started eating here. It’s getting home, bumping into your brother in the kitchen and deciding it’d be really funny to eat the starter your mum has planned for Christmas lunch.

Christmas day is a day of rituals, it’s the icy swim in Seapoint with your wussy sister followed by countless Mallon’s sausages to warm up. It’s furiously trying to peel enough potatoes to feed 26 without losing a finger. It’s dad acting as if the ham he has been soaking in cider, then coke, then who knows what for the past three days is the only thing that matters. It’s me trying to explain to my youngest cousin that I am DEFINITELY far too young to be his auntie. It’s trying to act out Jackie Healy-Rae in a game of charades, then trying to explain who he is to your uncle’s Thai girlfriend. It’s having a cheese course at one end of the table, then relocating to the other end to have a second sitting without anyone judging you for it. It’s dodging the question about when you’re getting married or moving home. It’s furiously trying to remember not to say “I’m going HOME to London for New Year’s”…….because dear lord does that set the mother off about where your home really is.

It’s heading back to London even more bloated and bleary eyed, knowing she’s right. This will always be home.

Photo Credit Leonardo Yip, Unsplash

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