FESTOONING their house with Christmas lights and decorations is a labour of love for Sean and Noreen McSweeney of Drimoleague.
Sean (72) and Noreen (70) pay all of the expenses incurred in powering the lights on their house and the figures and features in their garden – plus all the extras they pay for new lights and new attractions every year – but it is a price they are happy to pay for a pet project that averages an annual €11,500 for charities.
‘We start putting the decorations up in the first week in November,’ Noreen told The Southern Star. ‘We have to start that early because it takes a good three weeks to have everything in place before we switch on the lights on December 8th. And then it is all go right up until the last day on January 6th. But we are lucky to have the help of our friend, Ger Cooke.’ The McSweeneys have been raising money for charity for the last 17 years, but they’ve been decorating the exterior of their house and their garden since 1990.
‘It all started,’ Noreen said, ‘when I put a Christmas tree on that patio. I thought it looked nice, so, the following year, I put out a few more pieces and it just grew and grew and grew.
‘We started very small with four or five figures on the lawn, but that grew too. It was when people started driving by to have a look that a friend suggested we do a collection for charity.
‘Seventeen years ago, we began by putting out two collection boxes, but even at that stage we agreed that we would pay all of the expenses ourselves – everything. And we still do.’
Over the years, many local charities have benefited, but about eight years ago Noreen had a stomach tumour and went to Sean’s first cousin, the late Gerry O’Sullivan – the founder of Cork Cancer Research – for medical treatment.
From that day forth, a hail and hearty Noreen, said Cork Cancer Research has benefited from their annual charitable collection. So too has Marymount Hospice in Cork and Bantry Hospice. And – she says, with a laugh, because it is ‘so near and one day we might be in need of it’ – they always make a donation to Dunmanway Community Hospital.
There is a sociable aspect to the ritualistic illumination of this house at Clodagh in Drimoleague. Noreen said: ‘My daughter, Marian, and her husband, Kevin, get very involved and my husband loves everything about it. He loves people coming in for tea. We have a lot of regulars coming year after year and they always pop in for tea and a bit of craic.’
Noreen said: ‘Some people leave fifty euro notes and we find that touching because we appreciate the gesture and the fact that it goes to charity.’
This annual event is still fun for Noreen, who said the Santa decorations and the crib are her favourites. To pick out yours, drive a mile and a half from Drimoleague as far as Drinagh Cross, from where you will find the house very well signposted.