Government initiative calls for diaspora to share stories in build-up to Christmas

Government initiative calls for diaspora to share stories in build-up to Christmas

GOVERNMENT-backed initiative To Be Irish is looking for the Irish diaspora to share its stories this Christmas.

Working in tandem with the Government’s Irish Abroad Unit, To Be Irish (TBI) is looking for stories about people moving away from, or coming back to, Ireland – well trodden terrain for the well-scattered diaspora – as well as emotive stories, Covid and Christmas-related accounts.

Aimee Van Wylick, a representative of the initiative, said that they are looking to curate a “tapestry” of extraordinary stories that people can scroll through on the website

Director of the Irish Abroad Unit Phil Grant said TBI was specifically looking to amplify stories with a community aspect, relating to vulnerable Irish communities who may not get to celebrate Christmas surrounded by loved ones even at “the best of times”.

One of the stories on the site is the Irish Sea Christmas Crossings, which offers a compelling account of an Irishwoman’s determination to make it home on time for Christmas.

Unable to get a job in her native Ireland, Maureen Curtis was teaching in London during the Second World War.

Like so many immigrants that made the short channel crossing between Ireland and England, she never lost touch with her Gaelic roots, and was intent – come hell or high water – on reuniting with friends and family for the festive period.

After an arduous train journey across England to Liverpool, Maureen finally boarded the Innisfallen, the vessel that was meant to take her across the Irish Sea.

But the boat hit a landmine after travelling only several miles from the port, scuppering her ride, and any chance of getting home.

Of that night she recalled:

“Suddenly a girl from London called out “we’ve been bombed“  even though there were no planes in sight. We had hit a mine.  We were left standing on the deck in freezing water. My friend fell, her leg broken. We tried to reach her to help, but the sailors roared at us and tried to rush us off deck.  I refused and insisted on saving my handbag that was floating in the water yards away. 

“Waves were pouring over the ship. I couldn’t walk properly and realised that the heels had blown off my shoes and the stockings off my legs. There was pandemonium. Half-clad people were streaming out of their cabins, many shoeless, as they had been lying down.

“The mast had struck the captain who was on the bridge and knocked him out. The first officer and two sailors had gone forward to drop anchor were killed as the front of the ship was blown away. Sailors began to frantically to lower life boats and they helped us in. We managed to pull away from the sinking ship and the sailors rowed us ashore.”

The initiative will run throughout December 2021, and you can share your story here.