On the frontline, even on Christmas Day

While the rest of us tuck into turkey, men and women around Cork, in the gardaí, in hospitals, and in emergency services, will be working hard.
On the frontline, even on Christmas Day

Left, Orla Newman, a paediatric nurse in the children’s unit of CUH, with her colleagues Elmarie Deady and Laura Duggan. The three nurses will all be working on Christmas Day.

“We make the best of it, because that is what we have to do. It is our job. We accept that when we sign up,” said Sergeant Fergal Long, who will be working on Christmas Day.

While for most of us Christmas Day is about quality time with loved ones, some people will be working.

The garda, who is based in Anglesea St, is due to commence his 12-hour shift at 7am on Christmas morning. He has three children under 10 and hopes to spend a few minutes with them before he departs for work.

“I have two boys and a girl,” Sgt Long said. “They are all waiting on Santa. I would expect them to be up before I got to work, such are the levels of excitement in the house. I am hoping to have 10 or 15 minutes with them in the morning, before I hit the road to work. That will be nice.”

Sgt Long accepts that working Christmas Day is part of his duties as a member of An Garda Síochána, but it is tougher for his family.

“It is another working day for us,” Sgt Long said. “It is kind of expected at this stage. If the cards fall that way and you are rostered, there is a general acceptance of it. We are all aware of what we signed up for. Not only is it what we signed up for, but it is also what our families signed up for as well. We are used to it and our families have also got used to it over the years.

“It is probably tougher for my family. My wife is at home with the kids. She will be balancing everything, between cooking dinner and spending time with the kids. It is the sacrifice our families make on Christmas Day, rather than the sacrifice we make.”

Sgt Long said the calls they receive from the public on Christmas Day typically range from traffic collisions to domestic disputes.

“We have a mix in Anglesea St, between a residential area and the city centre. The city centre would be quiet, as the shops are closed and the commercial side is closed. The calls on Christmas Day would involve traffic collisions and, on the darker side of it, the odd domestic dispute. Sometimes, later on in the evening, if drink is consumed, it is going to involve family-related incidents. That is the nature of the job.”

The sergeant said the form around the station on Christmas Day is ‘good’, as his colleagues try their best to create a festive atmosphere.

“We will break bread together on our breaks. Everyone will bring in a bit of turkey and ham. There will be a good atmosphere in the station on the day. There will be a bit of Christmas cake and sweets. We will make it as festive as possible. It is not like we all come in and we are ‘bah humbug’, because we are working on Christmas Day. We make the best of it, because that is what we have to do.”

After completing his shift, Sgt Long will travel home to Glanmire, where he will spend Christmas evening catching up with his wife and three children.

“I will have my dinner when I arrive home, and make the most of my time with my kids on Christmas morning and Christmas evening.”

Marc Lake, who is the fire officer in Cork Airport, will also begin his Christmas Day shift at 7am. He said it can be tough working on Christmas Day, but accepts it is a ‘way of life’.

Marc Lake who is the Airport Fire Officer in Cork Airport pictured with his family. Left to right: Dinah, Cody, Kayla and his mother Sheila.
Marc Lake who is the Airport Fire Officer in Cork Airport pictured with his family. Left to right: Dinah, Cody, Kayla and his mother Sheila.

“We must have cover in case of any emergencies,” Mr Lake said. “It can be tough. I am married with kids. There is a lot of sacrifices to work on Christmas Day, as you are gone before the kids are up for Santa and you are coming home when a lot of it is all over. My wife is a guard, so I am lucky in that sense, as she understands shift work. My father was in the fire service for 40 years and he was also in the coastguard. I don’t make any big deal of it. It is part and parcel of the job,” he said. “We have had all types of Christmas Days. We have had some without incident and some whereby the coastal helicopter has come in with casualties. Normally it is quiet, but you always get people coming into the airport on Christmas Day for a walk.

“There is always a fabulous atmosphere in the airport in the run-up to Christmas. The new variant has resulted in a slight bit of a dip, but people are still coming to the airport, as there are lovely decorations and music in the airport.”

Mr Lake will join his colleagues at the airport for some Christmas dinner during their shift and they might watch a Christmas movie.

“There will be four of us working in total. We try to make it as festive as possible.”

Following the completion of his shift, he will join his family at home in Crosshaven. He is looking forward to spending Christmas night with his family.

“I have a 21-year-old, a 14-year-old, and a 10-year-old. My family always waits for me to come home before they have their dinner and open their Christmas presents. They like to wait, so we do it all together. I will enjoy Christmas morning and Christmas night,” he added.

Orla Newman, a paediatric nurse in the children’s unit in Cork University Hospital, is hopeful Santa will visit on Christmas Day.

“I work in the Puffin ward in the CUH,” Ms Newman said. “This ward deals with kids aged between two and 16. There will be five of us working on the day. I will work from 7.30am to 8.15pm. We sort of work Christmas Day every second or third year. It depends on how it falls. You just do your turn. It is tough, but it is good fun on the ward.

Left, Orla Newman, a paediatric nurse in the children’s unit of CUH, with her colleagues Elmarie Deady and Laura Duggan. The three nurses will all be working on Christmas Day.
Left, Orla Newman, a paediatric nurse in the children’s unit of CUH, with her colleagues Elmarie Deady and Laura Duggan. The three nurses will all be working on Christmas Day.

“That makes it so worthwhile. We make it as festive as possible. We have loads of decorations and a Christmas tree up. Hopefully, Santa will come and see the kids.”

Ms Newman said the priority is to make their ward a happy environment for the patients.

“We try to make it as nice as we can. They are our main priority. It is hard on them, but they will still get their presents. Their parents and siblings will call in to visit. It is important to stay upbeat and in good form.

“We will have our Christmas uniforms on. The ward looks great. There are lovely toys. It is all about trying to make as nice and happy environment as possible. We try to make it as much like home as we can for them.”

The West Cork woman said she will have her Christmas dinner with her colleagues. She is looking forward to returning home to Ballydehob after completing her shift.

James Wiggins, a corporal at the Collins Barracks training centre, will commence his 24-hour shift at 8am on Christmas Day morning. The Midleton man, who has previously worked overseas on Christmas Day, said working it is ‘different’ now since the arrival of his two children.

James Wiggins, a corporal at the Collins Barracks training centre, will commence his 24-hour shift at 8am on Christmas Day.
James Wiggins, a corporal at the Collins Barracks training centre, will commence his 24-hour shift at 8am on Christmas Day.

“They are tough, but someone has to do it,” Cpl Wiggins said. “You know when you join up that you will be spending a lot of time away from home and possibly working Christmas Day. I have worked overseas on three occasions on Christmas Day and I also worked in the prison on one occasion. You just have to get on with it. It is a bit different now, as I have two kids. It is not as good doing them as it was previously.”

Cpl Wiggins and his family plan to do Santa on Christmas Eve to spend as much family time together as possible.

“I have two little boys, who are three and seven months old. We will do Santa on Christmas Eve, as, otherwise, my poor wife would have to do it on her own on Christmas morning. I will spend as much time with them on Christmas Eve as possible.”

Cpl Wiggins and his colleagues in the Defence Forces will all sit down together to enjoy their turkey to make Christmas Day as festive as possible.

“There will be around 12 of us in total working in the barracks on Christmas Day. There are decorations up to make it as festive and homely as possible. They put on a big spread as well for us. We will all sit down and eat together. When I finish the following morning, I will be off then for a few days, which is nice,” he added.

John Howe, who is a sub lieutenant in the Irish Naval Service, will begin his 24-hour Christmas Day shift at 9am. John, who lives in Passage West, will serve as the officer of the day on the LÉ William Butler Yeats. He said it is the nature of their job that they have to make sacrifices.

John Howe, a sub lieutenant in the Irish Naval
John Howe, a sub lieutenant in the Irish Naval

“It is tough being away from friends and family on the day,” Sub Lt Howe said. “When you join the navy, you have to accept you will be away and possibly working Christmas Day. These are the sacrifices that you have to make to serve in the navy. The rewards outweigh it. I have no children, so I prefer doing the duty rather than someone who has children.”

The officer will be joined by four colleagues on board the vessel on Christmas Day.

“We will sit down and have Christmas dinner together. There will be decorations around the ship and we will make the most of it. We will be able to celebrate Christmas in our own way and it adds to the camaraderie.”

This will be the third Christmas in a row that emergency medical technician Ed Walsh will spend on duty.

Having worked with the National Ambulance Service since 2016 and the Irish Community Air Ambulance since it launched in July 2019, the Rathcoole resident isn’t fazed by a holiday shift.

“I don’t have any kids, as of yet. I only got married in October,” Mr Walsh said. 

“I am leaving my wife, but I volunteered, so that the other lads can spend some time at home. Christmas will be like any other day. We’ll get the aircraft ready as any other morning and we’ll be ready to go as soon as the sun rises.”

He will have time to go home to his family for leftovers on Christmas night.

“The shift will be from 8am to about 6:30pm, so I’ll get to go home when everyone is having their second servings,” Mr Walsh said. “We built a house about 15 minutes away from the base, near my in-laws, so I can go down to them straight after. We’d all like to be at home, but none of us mind working.”

There will be two other crew members on call on Christmas, which they’re hoping will be a quiet one.

“The first Christmas we worked, we got tasked two or three times and last year we got tasked once, but the ambulance got there before us and it wasn’t as severe as they first thought,” Mr Walsh said. “Anything can happen. There are still people on the road, people are still hanging lights up, or putting up trees. No matter what it is, though, we’ll be waiting by the phone, ready to go if anyone needs us, just like any other day.”

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