Timmy Ryan’s weekly column for the Waterford News & Star
“I’ll Be Home for Christmas”, is a very popular and rather poignant seasonal favourite. A song that everyone knows instantly and one we have heard and probably sang along with countless times down through the years. When you listen to the words, it’s the line that goes “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams”, that sadly puts a bit of a dampener on proceedings and suggests to the listener that perhaps all is not well.
Apparently, the song written by Kim Gannon and Walter Kent and recorded in 1943 by Bing Crosby, is about a soldier who’s many miles from home during World War II, writing a letter to his family. The theme is all too common and one many can identify with in 2020. We are in the middle of one of the strangest Christmas seasons in living memory and unfortunately there are many families who will be depleted in numbers come Christmas Day. It may or may not be Covid-19 related.
Thankfully, my immediate family is living nearby and my eldest sister generally doesn’t come over from England this time of year, so I can’t say this year is particularly unusual. Both my parents have passed on and to be honest, ever since then, Christmas has never quite been the same.
‘Let’s keep those home fires burning for all our friends and family abroad this Christmas and hopefully Christmas 2021 will be a different story’
I can’t help but think of those, who this year above all others, would just so love to be here in Ireland. Given that we’ve been kept apart for most of the year, many people would have been looking forward to coming at Christmas as they probably missed an Easter or summer visit. Also many may be wishing they were here, and not just for Christmas, but in this globally uncertain and disruptive time would dearly like to be back home full stop. Someone said to me recently that despite everything going on with the pandemic and the associated madness; imagine being in the States or the UK and having no access to family or friends. Just to be able to call round to someone or know you have help if you need it in an emergency. Zoom calls and face time are a wonderful tool, but when the streets are empty outside your flat and a potentially lethal virus lingers close by you, it can really enhance a feeling of isolation and loneliness.
Here in Ireland, say what you will about us, but we are by and large a decent people who time and time again have proved that when need is felt, we’re ready to help a neighbour in need. We have had tribulation and dark days of one kind or another, from foreign invaders to infighting with our own brothers, but we still retain a strong desire to alleviate others’ suffering and it’s one of the most beautiful and endearing traits I believe that exists about the Irish. We’ll sing, we’ll dance, we’ll drink, too much sometimes, but generally, we don’t have it in us to turn our backs when we see others in misery. For as long as I’ve been living in Waterford City, I’ve seen the generosity year in year out shown during WLR’s Appeal to raise money for the St Vincent De Paul.
If I had to point out one thing above anything else that makes me proud to be from this County, it’s this giving to the less fortunate in our community. This year has been tough for so many, those who have lost loved ones, businesses and, God forbid, maybe hope as well.
I especially think though of our Déise clan abroad who are in very uncharted waters and in some instances feel that living in the States, or Australia or New Zealand is just no longer as appealing. However, to come home holds no guarantees of a better life either but there is one powerful draw and that’s the pull of being with those who have our backs in troubled times. To be with family and friends in familiar surroundings, to be home in Ireland. Not everyone can down tools and leave what it’s possibly taken a decade or more to build so the idea of returning must be put on the back burner for the foreseeable anyway.
It might sound a bit daft but I would rather be here in Waterford or at least somewhere in this country during a cataclysm or major emergency than anywhere else. Yes, we gripe and complain at times about our lot but when the chips are down, I would still put my money on someone assisting me if I were in a bad place or in trouble, providing of course they knew I was. We’re possibly not so good at showing apparent weakness and admitting we need help. Thankfully, the horizon is never any blacker than we paint it.
The good news of course is with vaccines for Covid now emerging, travel will hopefully open up to us again in 2021 and those who haven’t been able to get back will be able to do so for a long sought after catch up. I’m sure you guys in Abu Dhabi, South Africa and Canada were gutted at the Déise hurlers All-Ireland loss, but even for those few games, in a weird and difficult period, you had a tiny taste of home and a welcome chance to wear your Waterford pride on your sleeves again in these dark winter days. How important can sport be to us? I think we all saw that of late and again, there’ll be other days and the next time we’re in a decider, we will, please God, be alongside thousands of our fellow county men and women. You might not make it home for Christmas this year but keep the faith, look to next time round and, all going well, we’ll see you for a few blaas down the line.
Thankfully, with today’s technology and the internet in particular, Waterford is a lot less distant than it seemed back in the 80’s and before that. We’ll keep the place ticking over for your next visit and with major development on the horizon, some of you may just be coming home to good jobs.
So whether you have someone in Toronto, Boston, or Melbourne, God Bless and a very happy Christmas to you and yours. I have no doubt that in 2021, we’ll get back to homecomings and visiting various watering holes to celebrate those visits. So let’s keep those home fires burning for all our friends and family abroad this Christmas and hopefully Christmas 2021 will be a different story.