For those living away from home, Christmas doesn’t really start until they see the bright lights of Derry shining onto the River Foyle.
Local company, Airporter, has estimated that 7,500 passengers will have used their services travelling from Belfast in the two weeks leading up to Christmas.
The ‘Journal’ spoke to three passengers who are making the journey home from England this Christmas, and can’t wait to celebrate with friends and family.
Oncology nurse Leona Hannigan is looking forward to coming home to “create memories with lots of fun and laughter.”
The 28-years-old Donegal native will fly into Belfast this weekend and take the Airporter service to Derry.
Speaking to the ‘Journal’ this week before she finishes up work in the Royal Marsden Hospital, she said: “I am away from home for long periods at a time, but I do try and travel home as much as possible.
“I am an oncology nurse at The Royal Marsden hospital, Sutton branch in London. I trained at the University of Central Lancashire, Preston and before that I studied at the Loreto Convent in Letterkenny.
“I have been living and working in London for a number years while also spending two of those years travelling in Australia.
Oncology nursing has always been a passion of mine and I moved to London as The Royal Marsden is renowned for its fantastic care and opportunities.
“My Christmas plans are to spend as much time with my family and friends creating memories with lots of fun and laughter.
“I enjoy coming home to Ireland as home is where the heart is and as they say ‘it feels good to leave, but it feels even better to come back’,” said Leona.
Patrick McGarrigle is will arrive in Derry tomorrow (Saturday), before travelling to Strabane to spend Christmas with his father.
The 29-years-old works as a teacher in London and has split his time between London and Strabane for most of his life.
“My dad is from Strabane, and when we were younger we used to come to Strabane every six weeks to three months, all of our holidays were spent there.
“I’m living and working in West London at the moment.
“I’m just able to get back at Christmas and for special events now.
“I’m flying in on Saturday afternoon, getting the bus to Derry, and I’ll be going straight out on the bus to Strabane as soon as it Get off in Derry.
“I’m one of the youngest cousins in the family, so most of them have moved on and have families.
“So I’ll be going around to visit them and their kids over Christmas,” he said.
Patrick said he enjoys Christmas in Strabane as it is “very family orientated.”
“All of my family are in Strabane and Derry, and it’s a nice reminder of family, and what I grew up enjoying what I don’t really get to enjoy in London at Christmas,” he added.
Mark Kelly has lived in Birmingham for the last 28 years, and is returning to Lifford for Christmas with wife Lakshmi and son, nine-years-old Ethan.
The solicitor will travel home on Christmas Eve, taking the Airporter to Derry before his dad collects the family.
“I try to get over every couple of years for Christmas.
“I am over during the year, but it’s been a couple of years since I’ve been home since Christmas, so I’ll be home to visit my Dad and my immediate family.
“Tradition wise, having drinks with family, like most people!
“It’s catching up with friends and family, and it’s a good time to get everyone there that you wouldn’t get there at other times of the year.
“It’s that one time when you have an opportunity to catch up with everyone.
“My wife and son love it. My wife has been coming back for a few years, and my son absolutely loves the place. He tries to get me to bring him over as often as I can,” said Mark.
PROUD OF HERITAGE
He added that his son Ethan is “very proud” of his Irish heritage, and has a multi-cultural background as Mark’s wife Lakshmi is Indian.
“He is a blend of Irish and Indian, and he’s very proud of his Irish heritage.
“He has cousins as well that he is looking forward to playing with!
“The one thing about it that he says stands out is that everything tastes so much better back in Ireland!
“It’s the little things like sausages and bacon, they just taste so much better.
“We’re back until January 7, I’m really looking forward to it,” he added.
Jennifer McKeever, Airporter said this time of year is “extra special” for the Airporter staff, as they help to capture the magic of Christmas for their customers.
“For anyone in the service industry, Christmas is the best time of year to serve customers.
“But for us at Airporter its extra special as we get to bring people home to their families.
“They are real Love Actually moments!
“Derry is such a family-focused place to live, and that sense of family stays with people as they go off to study, work and start families of their own. Derry is still “home” and they continue to return for Christmas every year.
“So many people in the North West have family members who live away from home, and it’s a wonderful job when you get to bring people home for Christmas.
“It’s amazing to see our passenger bookings at this time of year.
“We usually have a fairly even split between outbound and inbound bookings but at Christmas time it completely swings towards inbound bookings which demonstrates just how many people we bring home to the city for Christmas.
“This year, we will finish our services mid-afternoon Christmas Eve and we close altogether Christmas Day and Boxing Day, to allow our own Airporter families to enjoy Christmas, and we do the same on New Years’ Eve with services finishing mid-afternoon and closing New Years’ Day.
“In the two weeks over Christmas we are anticipating carrying over 7,500 passengers based on our passenger numbers last year,” she said.