Serena Dunne, Anne Leddy, Jim Dunne, Ann Gumley, Marion Duffy, Santa Claus, Derrin Dunne, Tina Kenny, and Mrs Claus in the grotto at Ballinagh Community Centre. Photo: Damian McCarney

Santa enjoys a warm Ballinagh welcome

“Each year it’s getting better,” says Tina Kenny of Ballinagh’s Christmas celebrations as she takes a well earned breather.

It’s no hyperbole. Hundreds of families got their Christmas season underway with a visit to Santa’s grotto before mulling about the craft fair in the community centre. With the crowds finally beginning to disperse Tina takes the chance to sit down and reflect on how far they’ve come since 1999 when the town was challenged on national radio by the late Gerry Ryan to erect Christmas lights.

When they first had Santa visit the centre, almost a quarter of a century ago, they didn’t exactly roll out the red carpet for him.

“When I think of it now, Santy used to sit down there, in an ordinary chair when we started off first,” Tina says pointing to a corridor below us, “because all the money had to go into the lights.

“But each year we keep adding on to what we have,” enthused the Lights committee stalwart.

Tina nods to a life-size fluffy Rudolf at the door to the grotto as one of the new additions to the increasingly Christmassy celebrations in the town. There was also an eye-catching snowman, and another reindeer posted outside.

No longer was Santa given the budget-airline treatment, but was welcomed into a mini-winter wonderland at the mezzanine, and his wife was invited along too. It was worth it as the Claus couple greeted scores of mesmerised children all afternoon on Sunday, November 26.

This fitting welcome for Santa - on top of the usual bills of electrician for installing the lights, electricity and insurance - was funded by the committee’s bucket collection, a well supported raffle for a hamper, and donations from the community minded local businesses.

“Of course the businesses,” enthuses Tina, who is the group’s treasurer. “The businesses have been absolutely brilliant, every one of them - we thank them for their excellent support.”

The town’s crib was dedicated to the memory of Tina’s son, William Kenny Jnr who sadly passed away aged 41 in a work accident earlier this year leaving a wife and two children.

Tina was eager to pay tribute to her fellow members of the seven strong lights committee: “The dedication and the work they put in is just unreal. I don’t think people realise the amount of work that’s involved in this, but they are a brilliant bunch and they’ve carried me along with them.”