Pictured at St Mary’s Church, Nenagh, are, from left: Fr Des Hillery, Rev Rod Smyth, Garda Maureen Finnerty, Deborah Powell, Elizabeth McKeever (Chairperson, CARMHA), Marty Sanders, Paudie Grace, Rev Steven Foster, Pascal Gray, Viv O’Connor (Fundraising Co-ordinator, CARMHA), Rev Terry Mitchell, Rev Paul Fitzpatrick, Fr Michael Geraghty. PHOTOGRAPH: ODHRAN DUCIE

Keeping the Christmas spirit alive in Tipp

By Simon O'Duffy

Sadly there will be no Nenagh Christmas Tree Festival this year but several members of the local community have gotten together to plan a novel festive fundraiser in its stead.

This December was to have seen the seventh annual Christmas Tree Festival, a display of themed creations at St Mary's Church of Ireland that had been gaining popularity every year. Businesses, community groups and individuals entered an array of wonderfully designed Christmas trees that were put on display in the church to raise money for a worthy local cause.

While they can't hold a physical festival this year, the organisers are planning a ‘virtual’ festival, which will involve screen projections of entries from previous festivals in the windows of a local shop. They are also hoping to hold an outdoor event with music at an as-yet undecided location on December 17th, 18th and 19th. Proceeds will be donated to CARMHA (Connection and Recovery in Mental Health and Addiction) in Nenagh, a previous beneficiary of the Christmas Tree Festival.

Organisers Dean Rod Smyth and Rev Paul Fitzpatrick pointed out that this event will be subject to a lessening of Covid-19 restrictions below Level 3. They are hopeful of a more positive situation come mid-December, and are planning the event in conjunction with local members of the Catholic and Methodist Churches, as well as Nenagh Brass Band and Comhaltas.

“It will be something very different, and I think something that's needed as well,” said Rev Paul. “It will be ecumenical and open to all faiths and none, so to speak. It's just an idea of doing something different, and the feedback we have received so far has been very good.”

Their idea is somewhat inspired by Dean Sammy Crooks, who in Christmas 1976 sat on the steps outside Belfast Cathedral and appealed for people to donate money to charity. Dubbed ‘Black Santa’ by the media because he wore a black Anglican clerical cloak to protect him from the elements, the ‘Black Santa Sit-Out’ became a tradition that has been continued by successive deans in Belfast over the four decades since.

Rev Rod pointed out that Dean Crooks made his appeal at a time of great hardship during the Troubles in Belfast. People are struggling in a different way now and efforts are being made to do something about that at a local level.

“He just set out and greeted people to have a chat,” he said of the ‘Black Santa’. “We're carrying on that tradition. It's a way of lifting people's spirits.

“We can't have the Christmas Tree Festival this year but this is a way of keeping the festival in people's minds because, hopefully, we will be able to have it again next year.”

Further details of the plans will be announced over the coming weeks.

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