Frank Brandon’s Column

Christmas magic as ‘Toy Show’ delivers memorable moments

ADAM KING (Cork, Age 6) at The Late Late Toy Show 2020, at RTÉ in Dublin, Friday, November 27th 2020.

Frank celebrates a magical and emotional Late Late Toy Show which provided “heartwarming and almost heartbreaking moments that we will never forget”. He also pays tribute to one of his local parish’s best-known characters, the late Noel Hanley…

One of the strange things about me is the fact that when our children were young I didn’t bother with the Late Late Toy Show at all, and would often use it as an excuse to vacate the house and head to the pub for a few quiet pints, back in the days when it was still legal to have a pint or two.

I suppose I always had faith that Santa would rise to the occasion, and, in fairness, despite all kinds of obstacles, including wars and unbelievable weather events, he never failed to deliver, although I am fairly sure that on occasions he didn’t get to Crosswell ‘till very late on Christmas Eve.

I was amazed to discover that the Late Late Toy Show has been going since December 1974. There is no doubt that the programme has become almost a national treasure, with (apparently) people having all kinds of annual Toy Show parties, and dressing up specially for the occasion. However, in all its years in existence, it’s unlikely that, we, as a nation, ever looked forward as much to any show as we did to this year’s. Nor have we ever so desperately wanted it to be a little bit special.

And, credit where it’s due, I think it has been universally agreed that Ryan Tubridy and his team surpassed themselves, and in our time of need – due to the appalling toll Covid-19 has taken on us all – the Late Late delivered in spades and gave us heartwarming and almost heartbreaking moments that we will never forget.

Most years the show gives us a child star or two, including the remarkable Roscommon child, John Joe Brennan, who in 2009 wowed the nation with his extraordinary review of Roald Dahl books, and wowed us even more when he told us that he wanted to be a horologist when he grows up. This year, yet again, we had a number of children who, for different reasons, made us all feel a bit better about the world.

Saoirse Ruane, an eight-year-old girl from Kiltullagh, Co. Galway, who a year ago found a tumour which resulted in having her leg amputated, was one such child. Her bravery and fortitude in dealing with such a horrendous setback was nothing short of inspirational, and her determination is such that exactly a year later she has learned to walk again (with her new prosthetic limb).

As a result of her fundraising efforts, Ryan was inspired to launch the Toy Show appeal to help Childrens’ Charities, and to date (this is Monday afternoon as I write), more than €6.2 million has been raised. Yet again the Irish people have proved that when it comes to supporting those in dire need, nobody does it better.

We then met Cork lad, Adam King, whose delight at being reunited with his favourite porter from Temple Street Hospital, John Doyle, was just so beautiful. When he told us that he would love to be an astronaut, but because of his brittle bones – an affliction for which he is wheelchair-bound – he cannot be one, you could almost hear thousands and thousands of Irish hearts breaking. The extraordinary news for Adam is that since his Late Late appearance NASA has heard about him, and there is no knowing where his astronaut wish may end up – maybe even in space. Fingers crossed.

As if that was not enough for one night, we were to later meet Michael Maloney, a 14-year-old Ballina singer/guitarist who did an amazing job on Dermot Kennedy’s huge hit, ‘Giants’, in memory of his father who had passed away three years ago. Then, when he was joined on stage by Dermot himself, the expression of sheer joy, shock, disbelief and excitement on young Michael’s face would melt the coldest iceberg. It was pure Christmas magic.

And so there can be no doubt that the Toy Show really delivered and I for one say well done to everyone involved with its production. Hopefully next year it can be back to normal, with a studio audience. Wouldn’t that be nice?


In memory of the late Noel Hanley

Out here in Creggs on this miserable Monday morning (as I write) we are bidding farewell to one of the great characters of the parish, Noel Hanley. Noel, a man who was known all over the county, and much further afield, passed away on Saturday morning after a short illness. Noel was a highly regarded farmer, a man who would always find time for a chat, and a friend to everybody, but for me it was his love of football, particularly Creggs and the Rossies, that set him apart. Even well into his 80s (he would have been 88 on December 10th) he attended every match he could get to, and was never found wanting in expressing his opinion on the performance, be it good or bad.

I suppose Covid-19 has hit us all pretty hard, but for the Hanley family, who lost both parents during the pandemic, with Noel’s beloved wife, Colette, passing in May, it must be so heartbreaking. As for we who had the pleasure of running into Noel on a fairly regular basis – including, in my case, having the odd little chat at the back of the church, during Sunday Mass (don’t tell Fr. Donal) – we will miss him. He was a man of the people, and a real friend to many.

Up to a few short years ago I used call Noel, Martin Kilcommons and Mick Roarke the three Muskateers as they met once or twice a week for a couple of glasses of Guinness. All three have now left this mortal earth and there is little doubt we, as a community, are the poorer for their loss.

As Noel is reunited with Colette, all I can do is sympathise with all he has left behind, including his family and friends. May he rest in peace.


And finally…

Finally for this week, some good news, as on the big Christmas brochure from Aldi, it was a great delight to see our next-door neighbour, Rachel Morgan, being acknowledged as one of their top producers of quality Irish lamb.

Rachel, who also finds time to have a nursing career, loves working outdoors and with animals and is a highly committed and dedicated farmer. All we can say is…congratulations. No one deserves the honour more. National recognition does not come easy, so well done Rachel. Keep up the good work.