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Bringing joy, happiness in Ringsend

Liam Tilly in his Christmas Garden in Ringsend, Dublin.

By Michael Behan

As the festive season gets underway and the arrival of Santa fast approaches the excitement is palpable everywhere. Of course, the big attraction this time of year is the imminent arrival of the man himself, aka Father Christmas. By now all the children have written their letters, signed sealed and delivered to the North Pole and no doubt as usual their dreams will be met. It’s a lot of work for one man and this is why he enlists the help of certain people to represent him. His helpers carry out Happy Holiday duties and not just on Christmas day but in the lead up to this most wonderful time of the year.

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We all know that this is a time for giving and sharing but we should also spare a thought particularly for those less fortunate in more ways than one. It’s important we take some time to reflect on this during all the joy.

Reflecting is admirable but taking action to help others requires a lot more effort. Many people undertake this call of help from Father Christmas. They go way above and beyond ultimately to help people they have never met. Some do these unconditional acts of kindness drawing on past experiences of events that have moved and touched their hearts. One such person is Liam Tilly from Ringsend, Dublin, a neighbor of mine and an "Official Santa Helper," appointed many years ago. I caught up with Liam recently for a chat.

“I vividly remember as a child at Christmas time and how like many kids found it hard to get to sleep on Christmas Eve night,” Liam said. “Ahh, those Christmas butterflies we never forget fluttering around the tummy anxiously anticipating the arrival of a special visitor.”

It was shortly after Liam married his beloved Rita and they had kids of their own that he was contacted by the North Pole to become an official representative for the Holiday festivities by the man himself, Santa Claus. Liam accepted and every Christmas he dressed up as Santa (as requested by the main man) visiting his neighbors’ children bearing gifts. It's something I remember well to this day. The expense and effort meant nothing to Liam as he believes that “it's all about bringing joy and happiness to friends and neighbors and it’s worth a million dollars to see the smiles on their faces. Christmas is in us all, it’s just some people are called upon to release it.”

Sadly, Rita passed in 1995 following a long illness but she was cared for with love and dignity by Harold’s Cross Hospice in her final days. Liam was deeply touched by the care that the palliative team accorded his wife. He wanted to give something back as these people operate on a donation/fundraising basis while government funding is non-existent.

So, where better to raise a few euro than in your own backyard or in Liam’s case the front garden and what better time to do it than the Holiday Season. In Liam’s words, “We’ve created a grotto for kids to visit while accepting small donations for a very worthy cause.”

He started ‘Tilly’s Christmas Garden" in 1995 with a few lights here and there and year after year added more and more. So popular now is the garden grotto that Liam has appeared on national television. Many a parent, kid and passer-by can donate a couple of euro. Now in its 24th year Liam has raised over €25,000 for the hospice and hopes to add substantially to that figure for 2019.

The official opening was Dec. 7 and another of Santa’s Helpers has appeared welcoming the arrival of all visitors with a gift for everyone. When Liam was asked if his electric bill was a worry, he enthusiastically informed. “The local publican, The Bath, helps us when the lights are switched on. Every donation helps no matter how big no matter how small.”

To make a donation to Our Lady's Hospice Care & Services in Harold's Cross and Blackrock, Dublin, click here.