Sunday march of the ‘Christmas light brigade’

At 8 am last Sunday morning, the air temperature was sub-zero in Roscommon town. The normally quiet streets were buzzing with the sound of voices and machinery as the Roscommon Town Christmas Lights Committee carried out checks on bulbs at one end of the street while a teleporter was busy hoisting men high above the Bank of Ireland in The Square.

  The volunteers were in jovial mood and there was plenty of laughing and slagging as they went about their important work.

  To the uninitiated, it might seem that this project only gets going in November, but stock-taking and planning began all the way back in September.

  The teleporter roars into operation as Rita Oates, of Eight Til Late, details the hard work involved in lighting up the county town at Christmas.

  “I’ve estimated the amount of hours that go into this whole project. It’s fantastic and it’s not just at Christmas, some of them will put up the flowers in summer for me too!” she says.

  Rita went on to detail the other annual tasks carried out by volunteers in Roscommon town. From the Christmas lights to Halloween decorations and summer flowers, there are plenty of jobs that are completed throughout the year. Without the hard work of volunteers at this time of year, the town would be bare over the Christmas period and lacking that festive magic. Rita sent me a text where she estimated that 700 hours in all had gone into preparing the town for Santa Claus’ visit next Sunday.

  Apart from the stock-taking and planning in September, the crew was out for four Sundays from 8 am to 12 pm plus the night of the big switch-on, when crews work from 3.30 to 6.30 pm. It equated to 19 hours per person and there are well over 30 people involved. There are also evenings were smaller groups go around the town checking bulbs.

  One only has to walk through the town over the Christmas period to get a sense of the amount of work involved. The forklifts and machinery are provided free of charge too, which highlights the generosity of local businesses.

  Publican, John Doorly, took five minutes away from the hard work to speak about the motivation behind such a project.

  “Ah when you’re standing there and Santa’s turning on the lights, you’re relieved! It’s the magic of Christmas when you see the crowd in town and the kids’ faces. The older people seem to go back to it too,” he said, referring to the way in which the older generations seem to get swept along by the festive spirit.

  John said that the process begins with “checking what’s there” in September and continues with “testing and fixing bulbs” in October before the hard work of decorating the town in November.

  “It’s the keeping them on for four weeks!” he says. That’s the part of the job, which can prove most difficult, checking and fixing bulbs over the Christmas period in harsh weather. It’s tough work, but thankfully over many, many years Roscommon town has found a group willing to do it.

  The lights and the tree, which was also erected on Sunday, add a sense of magic to the town, but it’s the hard work of this group of volunteers under chairman, Gerry Dervin, that is sprinkled with the real magic of Christmas. A small army of people coming together and giving up their time to bring light and cheer to the whole town. The spirit of Christmas is alive and glowing brightly in the county town.