Every year we ask some of our favourite people to share their festive memories and experiences. This year, Nathan Carter, Peter Casey, Erin McGregor, Daniella Moyles and many, many more tell Chole Brennan and Liadan Hynes how they will spend Christmas and reveal their personal highs and lows of 2018.
This year has been very good to me. I have had a very nice time with work. I have just published my latest book, What Matters, which was launched by Mary McAleese in October. One of the chapters in the book deals with last year, because I was very exhausted and realised that I had some of the symptoms of burn-out. I realigned my life, and I take things much easier now.
This year, I have had opportunities to travel. After Easter, I went to China with my sister, Deirdre. We had never been away on holiday together, just the two of us, and we complemented each other so well. We stayed with our cousin, Noelle, in Bejing, and had the most delightful time. Deirdre is interested in alternative spirituality, so it was lovely to be visiting temples with her. It was very relaxing. Noelle and Deirdre are great singers, so we had some sing-songs in Noelle’s apartment.
In the summertime, I went walking in Italy with friends. I spent time on the Aran Islands, in Kerry and in Donegal. For work, I travelled to Edinburgh; Ethiopia; Kenya; and to Belgium, to commemorate the end of World War I. And all of those trips were really interesting, stimulating and life-affirming.
I feel that I am at a moment of reflection and valuing the loveliness of the life that I have.
My son, Tom, got engaged this year to Shona, during the summer. Shona’s family are coming to visit from Australia and California, so that will be lovely to talk about next summer’s wedding. So it really has been a great year.
We alternate Christmas in my family. I host every second year, and this year it’s my turn. There will be a big crowd of 16 for dinner on Christmas Day. Everybody helps out. I love setting the table, cooking, having people around, and all the decorations.
A tradition we have is we put a candle in the window on Christmas Eve. In my day, it was a way of welcoming Mary and Joseph when there was no room at the inn. In modern times, its significance is for people to know that your door is always open. Every night, I light a candle in both of my sitting rooms. It’s an important tradition to me. I also used to read A Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve, too. I still put it out every Christmas Eve, as the children all have nice memories of that as well.
I will spend New Year’s with my daughter, Eva, and her husband, Benny, in Glenstal Abbey in Wicklow – we will go for a big long walk all around the grounds of Glenstal Abbey with all the dogs.
My nephew, Dermot, is a singer, and he’s on tour in the States at the moment. And my daughter, Lucy, is his photographer, so she is with him in the States. They will be home for Christmas. They head off on St Stephen’s Day for the Australian leg of the tour, so it will be so special to have them there at the Christmas table.
At the start of the year, I was in Dublin and kept busy. I was working for Xpose a lot. I did a great piece, ‘Vegan vs Farmer’, with Ear to the Ground, which was nominated for an award in the Guild of Agricultural Journalism Awards. I worked with the Dublin Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals [DSPCA]. I was also working on my fitness and athleisure collection, which has just been announced recently.
Myself and Ryan did a lot of exciting things in 2018. We got to move to a different country together [the UK], and back home again, too. It was a mad year. We moved house three times. Moving house can be difficult. During it, my car broke down twice and I ended up having to buy a new car, as we only had one day to get our things together and move home. We had to pack up the car with all of our things, our dogs and ourselves, and drive back to Ireland from the UK. My niece, who is also my god-daughter, was born this year – a huge highlight for me.
For Christmas this year, Ryan is spending it with my family and me, which I really nice. I alternate between my parents on Christmas Day; I go to my mum in the morning and my dad in the evening. So we will spend the morning with my sister, my mum and my sister’s kids, and we are hoping to go to the Forty Foot for the Christmas Day swim. Although it will be incredibly cold, so we will see how that pans out. We will go and see my dad in the evening, which is always really lovely. I usually end up cooking Christmas dinner for myself and Ryan, because, bless my dad, he gets confused when we can’t eat meat!
Christmas traditions aren’t mad in my house. I was the baby of the family until my sister had kids, so we haven’t really had huge Christmassy traditions. I suppose lots of family time and plenty of food would be our main traditions. I have no plans for New Year’s Eve yet, but there was talk of encouraging my mum to have a party in her house. It depends how persuasive we can be.
In the New Year, Ryan will be busy with Dancing With The Stars again, so hopefully I can help him out. I’m looking forward to being part of his journey again this year. I don’t have to be on camera – I get to help in the background, which is ideal.
Now that I’m home from the UK, I hope to do more work with the DSPCA. I have some new projects coming up with them, and I find that it’s good for my soul, as I know I want to help the animals. I did a colouring book with them last summer, and I painted a canvas of one of the animals, Stevie, who was a blind dog. I’m hoping to go down a more creative route this year. I have loads of ideas in my mind; it’s just a matter of getting them started.
I hope 2019 brings more love, happiness, success for all of my family and friends. And I hope that we can overcome some of the struggles our country is facing.
This has been a brilliant year for me. It has been fantastic. I kicked off 2018 with the second season of Can’t Stop Dancing, the preview show for DWTS. That took over the first three months of the year. After that, I went back to normality for a few months, and started focusing on radio, and began working with Xpose, too.
We headed off to Mexico for the month of July. My brother was getting married over there to a Mexican lady, so we were all over celebrating the wedding. A few weeks after the wedding, Charlie and I were travelling around Mexico, and Charlie proposed to me. All the beaches were quite busy, and eventually he found this quiet beach. We had to go through seaweed and rocks to get to it and, as we put down the blanket to relax and sunbathe for the day, Charlie said, ‘I have something for you’, and I just opened my eyes, and he had the ring. I went into shock. I was genuinely not expecting it. The rest of the trip turned into celebrations. We told our family and friends – we were so excited, we couldn’t wait until we got home. It was so lovely coming home and having our engagement drinks with all of our family and friends.
This Christmas Eve, I will be on the radio. Afterwards, I head to my brother Uisneagh’s house, where we all exchange gifts, and there’s a Christmas party for all the kids. On Christmas Eve, we stay in Kilcoole, in Charlie’s mum’s house, and head to the pub that evening. There are people you only ever see on Christmas Eve, so it’s a nice catch-up.
I go out to my mum’s house and help her with the dinner for the afternoon. Some of my siblings will start to arrive, and it sort of turns into a bit of a session. The kids go off to bed and all my brothers are musicians, so we end up having a sing-song until the early hours. Stephen’s Day is a lazy day for us all.
I’ll be taking it easy this New Year’s Eve because I go back to work the next day. I begin filming Can’t Stop Dancing. I’ll have a couple of months to finish the finer details of the wedding.
Two thousand and seventeen was the year of me being a mother and staying home with my son, Harry. I feel like I lost my identity. Anything that I enjoyed before, such as fitness and fashion, didn’t appeal to me. There was nearly a sense of loneliness involved. When I was in the gym, there was a huge social circle that I was part of. And as a hairdresser, I was constantly getting free therapy sessions with my clients. But when you’re a mother, you can forget about yourself, and you tend to put yourself last. Somewhere along the way, I got a bit lost. I was determined to come out of the babymoon phase and find something for myself again; something that would set me on fire.
So 2018 was the year to find myself again. I’m quite a determined and goal-oriented person. I took the drastic measure and decided to do something where I knew there was no turning back. I knew that if I signed the contract [for Dancing With The Stars] there was no getting out of it. It was definitely a scary time for me, but my family played a huge part in reassuring me. I would throw any fear I had towards them and they would bounce positive answers back. It gave me a new lease of life. I look back now, and I’m so grateful that I got that opportunity.
I find that when life is happening, you don’t take a moment to take it all in. I live a very regular life – cleaning and cooking and pick-ups and drop-offs to the creche – and sometimes when I look back at things that have happened to me, I have to take a step back and appreciate it all.
Every year, we spend Christmas with my family. I couldn’t imagine spending it anywhere else. We gather in my mam and dad’s, usually. Every Christmas, from as far back as I can remember, I get a new set of pyjamas and bedclothes. It wasn’t Christmas Eve until you had those things. It’s a tradition I’ve kept up, and I’ve brought it into my family home.
I always ask my family and friends to get me a gift voucher. I save them all together and buy an investment piece. I prefer to do that. And I put a lot of thought into the piece, and make sure I will get good use out of it.
I never know what my brother Conor will get me for Christmas, it’s always a surprise. He is so generous to everyone in the family, so Christmas is really fun. The small kids in the family – my son Harry, and Conor’s son, [Conor] Junior – bring great such excitement around Christmas, even though they don’t fully understand what’s going on.
This Christmas and New Year’s Eve, I’m starring in Polly And The Magic Lamp in the Olympia Theatre – it has just started, and I’m really enjoying it.
I rang in the beginning of 2018 with a memorable few days in Ballyfin [Demesne, an exclusive hotel in Co Laois] and we fell in love with the place. The interior is simply beautiful, with the loveliest staff that welcome you like their own family and, of course, the most delicious food. Christmas is about family, so we really make the effort to spend those few days together with some proper quality time.
The two main highlights in 2018 include working for a second year as a global ambassador for TanOrganic, and designing nutrition-focused wellness menus for the Constance Hotel and Resort group, which has eight hotels across the Indian Ocean. My husband, Wesley [Quirke] has just launched his new business, the Carlton Casino Club on O’Connell Street, which is an absolutely beautiful, art deco-style luxury casino, poker parlour, bar and events venue. It’s been a huge amount of work for all of us involved, but we’re really excited about it, and the response has been incredible so far. I’ve always been brought up to focus on the positives and try to avoid dwelling on the negatives, or at least use them as an opportunity to learn from them and grow stronger.
Thankfully, there haven’t been any major low points in 2018, although I’m studying full-time for an Master’s degree in nutrition this year, and it’s been a huge challenge to combine it with normal work and other commitments. I’m treating it as a nine-to-five job, so I tend to work weekends and late into the evenings, too. But it’s only for a year, and I’ll be finished by January.
This Christmas, there will be lots of relaxation, food, silly jokes, messing and general merriment with family and friends. We try not to get caught up in the commercialism of Christmas, and just like to keep things simple. We’ll be spending Christmas Day at the family home in Wicklow, getting cosy in front of the fire, and I’ll be helping my mum to prepare Christmas dinner. We all get together on Christmas Eve to watch a festive movie, and then meet up with relatives on Christmas morning, before exchanging gifts and tucking into the Christmas feast.
This will be the first New Year’s Eve in my entire life that I’ll spend at home in Dublin, because we’ve always spent it abroad as a family. As my brothers have made plans with their other halves, we’ve all decided to do our own thing this year. My Master’s dissertation is due in mid-January, so we might go away for a few days of R&R after that, but nothing is planned so far.
As always, I hope for good health and happiness for my family and friends in 2019. Anything more than that is the cherry on top!
I’m going to be in Liverpool for Christmas – I’m going back for a couple of days. Myself and my brother, Jake, are going to spend Christmas in my mum and dad’s new house in Childwall. They’ve downsized as we’ve all moved away, so Christmas is going to be in the new house this year. It’s literally around the corner from where I grew up as a kid.
It will be myself and Jake, my sister Ciara, mum and dad, my nan and grandad, and probably my mum’s sister’s family as well. There will probably be 13 or 14 of us around the table. We always do a big one, to be honest. I absolutely love Christmas. Getting to see the family. I don’t really see much of my cousins and aunts and uncles throughout the year, so that’s nice.
My mum and my nan generally do the cooking, and they send the boys out to the pub on Christmas morning. We’re more hassle than it’s worth in the kitchen, apparently. They like to take control; we don’t complain. The youngest of all the nine grandchildren is now 11, so we’re normally up about half-nine, 10 – we get a bit of a lie-in, as there’s no young kids. We do the presents in the morning.
We normally eat dinner at two o’clock, and then we take it easy, I think like every family. Watch a bit of TV, slob out on the couch, open a bottle of wine.
One of my long-term friends who lives in America and comes home every Christmas, throws a party on Christmas Eve every year. I catch up with old friends that I’ve known since I was a kid. On Christmas Day, I normally have a bit of a hangover, to be honest.
We would normally have a sing-song on Christmas night. After dinner and watching a bit of TV, the family would get a few instruments out. Jake would get the guitar, I’d be at the piano. My grandad loves singing – we would sing until god knows what time in the morning.
When I was young, Christmas was the best time of the year. I remember being four years old, and asking for an accordion from Santa, and I got it. I absolutely loved it.
My brother and sister were only about one year apart, so they got a trampoline together one year; I think I was about 12 or 13. It snowed really heavily that year, and I remember my dad having to try to set up the trampoline without them seeing. The next day, we got up to [find] the trampoline completely covered in snow. I always remember the kids out in their dressing gowns, bouncing on the trampoline in the snow.
The first week of 2018 was when I found out that I was going to lose my hair from chemotherapy. I was getting ready to go into my second session of chemotherapy [for breast cancer], which was 16 sessions spread over 20 weeks. I was nervous as to what was going to come in the New Year. While everyone was going back to work and getting back to normal after all the Christmas fun, my hair was falling out in clumps. It was a very difficult start to 2018. I had moments of just staring at myself in front of the mirror, wondering what was to come.
The night I shaved my head turned out to be one of the most special nights of my life. It was up there with my wedding day, the day I got engaged, and the day I had my baby, which is something I never thought I would say. But it was because of the support in the room. It didn’t matter that I had no hair. I had this amazing group of people around me, and that’s what I focused on. But the days afterwards were very difficult.
I finished chemo in the last week in May. Once I got to the halfway mark, I could start counting down. Every single week I had so much support from my family, and my best friends, Audrey and Rebecca. Everyone was willing me on, which gave me strength. My friends gave me space, yet they were so supportive, and were with me for all the big milestones along the way.
I had a two-week break before I began my four weeks of radiotherapy. Finishing radiotherapy was, in a way, anticlimactic. I didn’t anticipate feeling like that. But I dealt with it, and I tried to adapt my life in a positive way.
I mourned the loss of my old life, and it was difficult for me to imagine [my daughter] Pia not having the same relationship that I do with my mum. When I looked at Pia and [my husband] Jamie, I decided, ‘I’m not going to let this take our happiness’. Every morning, I woke up to Pia smiling and laughing. She absolutely transformed my cancer journey. Cancer is a part of my every day, and it will be for the rest of my life. I did have days where I cried, and let it all out, but overall, I was more positive than negative.
In August, we had planned a big family holiday and we went back to Cape Cod, where Jamie and I went on our honeymoon. We wanted to put an end to what had happened.
I began to think about work a lot. I was still in pain from the chemo. I had been in constant contact with my employer, Communicorp, and they didn’t pressure me to come back [before I was ready]. I had an extra six weeks when treatment finished so I could sort my head out and take a moment for me. Nobody ever put me under pressure to do anything, so when I decided to go back to work, to 98FM as news anchor, I felt like I could give it my all, because my strength had come back.
This Christmas will be different than last. I had my yearly scan a month ago, and it came back clear. We are going to go all-out this year. We are all heading off to Tipperary for three days, to take time out and be together. My brother, Michael, has just had a baby boy, Finn, so there’s a new addition to the family. I feel like the luckiest person in the world right now.
In many ways, cancer hasn’t been the worst thing that has ever happened to me. It has given me a whole new perspective in my early 30s, and taught me things I never knew. I always saw the light, and that’s because of the people around me. They were encouraging me and telling me I was strong.
I just want normality for 2019. I want to progress in my career, and go back to enjoying fun times with my family. We are already making plans for trips next summer. We want to move on, and get back to the life that we always wanted for ourselves.
I am also enjoying being an ambassador for Breast Cancer Ireland. You don’t think that it’s going to happen to women under 50, and I feel like I’m a messenger. I have a voice, and I’m going to use it.
I had just sold a substantial chunk of my business, Harmonia, in December of last year, and then I skipped off to do Dancing With The Stars. So it was a very strange time in my life. I had made a big decision to let go of the business. I kept Woman’s Way. I don’t think, at any point in my life, I have ever had time to just devote to myself. It was a huge decision to join the DWTS team. It was phenomenal; the best thing I have ever done. People underestimate just how much work goes into it. Over the course of the two months, I lost two stone. I hit the New Year full of life and full of energy. It was a fantastic bridge from my old life to my new life.
I think it has taken a long time for me since [my husband] Richard’s death to let go of things from my old life. I considered Harmonia to be my baby. It was the best day of my life when I bought it. The politically correct thing to say is the day I married my husband and the day my baby was born. But the reality is, I still remember leaving my solicitor’s office, walking down Baggot Street having just bought Harmonia, thinking how wonderful it was. It was one of the biggest highs of my life. When Richard died, I don’t think I ever owned up to the fact that my life had changed dramatically, and maybe it wasn’t right for me to continue wanting to run that business. I did pretty much everything else for the last few years. I worked with Newstalk, and I did documentaries with RTE, and I started writing again.
A bit of it was avoidance, but I am comfortable with the fact that sometimes we have to have a journey before we are ready to let go. The day I sold it, I sat at home beside a portrait of Richard in the sitting room, and had a cup of tea with him and said to myself, ‘I should have done that ages ago’. I felt that when I hit the New Year in 2018, I had so many possibilities, because I had let go of the past.
I had decided that a chunk of my year would be spent doing the pro bono work that I had always wanted to do. I devoted my time to the Magdalene survivors reunion [the Dublin Honours Magdalenes group]. I was delighted to do it. A good solid three months of no weekends and no evenings. I was just devoured by it. I thought it would just be an event, but it turned out to be so much more. I had convinced Michael D Higgins and Charlie Flanagan very early on to come on board. We had the greatest partnership at the highest level. It ended up being so wonderful. I know that it was totally worthwhile.
I became a global ambassador for Vital Voices, a Hillary Clinton-inspired group from Washington. I went to India for the first time, and picked up a Woman Of The Decade award from the Women’s Economic Forum, and I started to do some work with the Dochas Centre.
When I look back over the year, I did a lot of things that I’ve always wanted to do. Things I wished I had had the time to do. And now that I’ve done them, I feel that I’m going into this new year hopeful that my new life is going to be about something that I feel quite passionate about. I have been quietly working on my new venture, Planet Woman, for the last six years. My goal is to help women find that ladder and find their way – especially young women and women coming back into the workplace, having left; who find it difficult to chart their way up to their career.
I am not letting go of everything else, I am just paring it back and focusing it on Planet Woman where I feel I can make a difference.
In the new year, I’m taking [my son] Dara off for a month, and we are going to Asia. We are spending time with friends in Hong Kong, and then we are taking time to go to Taiwan, Vietnam and Cambodia. I have had a really interesting 12 months that have been important to me – this is genuinely the new me.
Running for President has always been a goal of mine. It has been my ambition for many years. I was in hospital last August, having just returned from America. I was in intensive care for eight days. Gavin [Duffy] and Liadh [Ni Riada] had already announced that they were running [for President] so after about four or five days, while I was still in intensive care, I decided that I was going to run. At that time, Sean Gallagher had strongly indicated that he was considering it.
The hardest part was getting the nomination. I was so late getting into the game. It was very challenging, because Michael D Higgins had left it so late to announce that he was running; a lot of the county councils had already gone on their summer break, and they didn’t start doing interviews until August, with many of them having already made up their minds.
Three of the country’s major parties were backing Michael D Higgins, so it was always going to be an uphill battle. It was a very humbling and exciting to see the count that came – to end up getting more votes than the other candidates put together.
My father died on Christmas Eve, so it’s always a bit of a sad day in a way. We usually spend Christmas in America. At the moment, my son Ryan is in Atlanta running the company, and taking over my crazy travel schedule. [My daughter] Neala is going away to New Zealand for her Erasmus; [my daughter] Ailisha is in university in Georgia; and [my other daughter] Siofra is hoping to get into UCD or Trinity College Dublin. This year, all of our children [Peter and his wife, Helen, also have another son, Fionnbarr] will be home in Ireland for Christmas.
It’s the first time we have all been together in the new house in Donegal. We were up in Donegal for a couple of days in November, and Helen was starting to get the house all prepared.
I’m looking forward to the New Year. I have been amazed by the number of emails and letters of support from people who have said, ‘Stay in politics’.
I spent New Year’s Eve last year in Lima, Peru. I was travelling with one of my best friends who had come out to spend eight weeks with me. I was also with a big group of backpackers whom I met while travelling through the San Blas Islands in Colombia – so there was a nice little crew of us. We had a party in our hostel, and went to the beach to watch the fireworks, drinking cheap Champagne, while wearing yellow underwear for good luck – a tradition in Peru. We also ate 12 grapes and made 12 wishes, one for every month of the year ahead. It was cool and really different.
I feel so lucky to say that my family, my boyfriend and my boyfriend’s family are going to be joining me in Tulum in Mexico. We always have traditional Christmases at home – turkey, drink, sleep, visit the neighbours – and I think we realised that without any kids around, the magic of Christmas is not completely there. So we decided to take advantage of this window of a few years where we can have an alternative Christmas. When there are kids in the future, we can go back to having our traditional Christmas.
The best thing I did in 2018 was put a backpack on my back and travel. I feel like I put my whole life into a mixer and shook it around for the last year and a half. It’s hard to look at what’s ahead with any of the same logic that I would have prior to going backpacking. Everything was somewhat linear back then. I knew my day-to-day routine, but now it’s so different. As cliched as it sounds, I really have grown in the last year in a way that I find hard to articulate. For the last six months, I’ve been on a journey to figure out what I want to do next. I’m trying to really listen to my instinct and do something that I truly love and want to do.
I’m taking a Plant Based Academy course on January 15, in Ubud in Bali. It’s actually run by an Irish guy called Darren Maguire, and it’s the first year they are running it in Bali. By the end of it, I will be a qualified raw-food nutritionist, and qualified in natural cosmetics and skincare. The course also touches on learning about natural medicines and the benefits of bacteria in your gut. My dad is a chef, so the interest runs in the family. I find cooking very therapeutic.
I want to keep learning and moving forward in ways that are true to me. I never want to get as stressed and burnt-out as I did before. I want to live a life that’s just full of happiness.
I am so grateful for my health when I wake up every morning. My mum has had health problems throughout her life, so it was something I was exposed to a lot when I was young. It was something tightly bound to the anxiety that I went through. I have broken that cycle of anxious thinking, and it has allowed me to be so grateful.
I started off 2018 at home. I drank a couple of rum and sorrels to start the year right, but it was a very low-key beginning. I knew I had a lot of work that lay ahead that I had to get through, so I wasn’t feeling super celebratory at the time.
This whole year was just all about work, to be honest. I wanted to get through it, so hopefully now I can relax and enjoy 2019, which I very much intend to do. Certainly, though, finishing my book, Don’t Touch My Hair, was a huge high for me in 2018.
For Christmas this year, I’m heading back to Dublin from London to see all my family. I’m really looking forward to it. I’m hopefully going to head to Johannesburg for New Year’s Eve – that’s if I get my act together!
I’ve got some really exciting projects in the works for the beginning of the year – so watch this space.
I definitely want to spend more time with my family and hang out with my friends. They’re who matter most. I also hope to travel in the next year, too. Very simple things are what make me happy!
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