THOUSANDS of reunions took place at Shannon Airport this week, but there may not have been an embrace as warm as that between Michael and Lilly Gleeson on a rainy Tuesday evening.
The 16-year-old and her grandfather hugged tightly as all around them fellow emigrants and their loved ones were catching up.
Lilly actually grew up in Ireland until her family moved to Detroit six years ago and she was delighted to be back. She has visited several times but plans to move back in the relatively near future. Asked about life in Detroit, she says, “I prefer Ireland but it’s fine. Definitely for college I’ll be back here”.
Her mother Aoife is also delighted to be home and looking forward to seeing all her relatives. “It’s been a few years since we had Christmas here. I can’t wait to see everybody, all the nieces and the nephews and brothers and sisters.”
White Christmases almost never happen here, but that won’t bother Aoife, who was glad to leave behind the cold for a while. “We were snowed in, we missed a flight due to snow. We were kind of three days travelling because of snow,” she noted.
Gráinne Johnson has been teaching in the UK for the last few years. While waiting to be collected by her parents, she said she likes the lifestyle in England but isn’t sure if she wants to stay there in the long term. “I love Oxford, there’s a good quality of life there. I think a lot of my friends in London are coming home now, so I’m deciding if I’m going to make the move home or not.
“I’m 30 now and I think a lot of people in their 30s start thinking about coming home at that point. With Brexit looming, we’re not sure what the situation is going to be like.”
Britain is now a less welcoming place for Irish emigrants, she feels. “Comments that wouldn’t have been made before about being Irish in England are starting to be made now, which is quite unusual,” she added.
Pat Reidy was clearly thrilled as she welcomed home her son, Stephen, from London.
While she was wearing a Christmas jumper, she had bottled out of putting on a pair of antlers. “I’m delighted, look at my face. I was afraid to put on the antlers, nobody else had antlers on! It’s great to have him back home.”
Noreen and Gerry McMorrow from Tipperary were waiting for their son Brian to arrive. “He’s back for the Christmas and we’re delighted,” said Noreen. “There are two more sons in London who aren’t coming home, which is a shame, but next year we might make the trip over.”
Seamus Hennessy is a Kerryman but calls Mountshannon home, even though he is working in Egypt. He was greeted at the airport by his partner Tammy Thornton. “I’ve been there since the collapse basically. It’s a job, that’s about all. I’d rather be here but what can you do.”
With the economy having improved, the construction worker is hopeful that he will soon be able to come back home permanently. “Hopefully, fingers crossed. I’m sending out the feelers but there’s nothing just yet.”
Vivien Lee was collecting her mother and will also be hosting her sister and her children for Christmas. It means she will spend much of December 25 cooking a dinner for 10 people. “I’m all prepared. I did it last year as well. It’s a little bit stressful but now I know what to expect.”
Over 70,000 people are expected to pass through Shannon Airport between last weekend and the end of the year.
By Owen Ryan