A FAMILY heartbroken by the effects of emigration and separated by nearly 10,000 miles are appealing for the chance to bring their children home for their first Christmas together in over a decade.
Janet and Eugene Bennis, from Granville Park in the city, and their four children – who have all emigrated to Australia – have seen each other intermittently over the years, but haven’t spent a Christmas together in 11 years.
The couple, who are in the 50s, have entered the Supermac’s & Ryan Tubridy ‘Bring Them Home’ national competition to be reunited with their four children, and three grand-children this Christmas.
Last year, Supermac’s flew 23 people from around the world home to 12 overjoyed families and their reunion was broadcast on The Late Late Show.
Up to 30 flights are available this year to bring a small but lucky proportion of Ireland’s diaspora home for Christmas through the fast food chain.
Speaking to the Limerick Leader, Janet said seeing her family come home this year “would be like winning the lottery” and was close to tears at the prospect of seeing this “Christmas miracle” come true.
A Facebook page, which her friends set up last week on behalf of the family to highlight their cause, had over 3,000 likes within just three days.
Janet said she was “completely overwhelmed and in awe” by the response from people all over the world, especially as she’s aware that her circumstances are not unique due to growing levels of emigration.
“It would be amazing to bring them home. Looking at the Facebook page makes it all very real, and pulls at my own heart-strings, and yet at the same time it feels like it’s someone else’s life. We’re just small fishes in a very big pond, so the reaction has been phenomenal. It’ll be such a happy time if this comes true, but we’re not looking for sympathy; we’re aware there’s so many people in the same situation as us,” she said.
The couple said they would love to emigrate to Australia to spend the rest of their lives seeing their grand-children and children grow up, and “would move lock, stock and barrel if we could”, but they are not in a position to do so due to financial commitments at home.
In the past, her children paid for them to travel to Australia or they got out a loan, but she says this won’t always be possible in the years ahead.
“We’re getting older and you feel it as the years go on. My husband wouldn’t be in a position to travel any more due to his health, and we don’t have the thousands of euros needed to fly to Australia.
“When the kids were here it was like living in a railway station or an airport, there were so many of their friends about. But now it’s very hard going home to an empty house. It really is like a grieving process. You get up in the morning and do what you have to do but you’re just waiting for the Skype calls.”
Janet said what she looks forward to each day is communicating with her children in Brisbane and Melbourne through Skype, email and Facebook, and lives for those moments - even though she can’t be physically close to them.
“I could be on Skype with my three year-old grand-daughter and she thinks I’m living in the next town, and says ‘Granny, why don’t you come visit?’”
“We live every night and morning for their calls. We are so lonesome without them and miss them so much it tears at our heart constantly.
“Our home is now a shell and sometimes it’s so difficult to just get out of the bed. We have worked so hard all our lives, sometimes two to three jobs at a same time that now our health is suffering.”
“They all dream of coming home some day but alas they cannot. I have never come to terms knowing every day passes without human contact with my babies and grand-babies.”
Janet said while she would never want to take away from their happy lives and all they have achieved since they left home, “we crave just one Christmas together again”.
Her husband, Eugene, 57, had a triple bypass two years ago, and is no longer able to travel for long periods, while Janet works full-time in the Allegro cafe in the University of Limerick.
Their daughter Jennifer, 29, left 10 years ago on a one year visa to Australia, but loved it so much that she decided to stay there and now works in childcare. She is now married with two young daughters, Saoirse, age three and Teegan, age one.
Eoin, 28, left seven years ago, due to redundancy and is working in Brisbane Airport. He is now engaged and has a one-year old daughter Isabelle, and another baby due in March next.
Janet said her daughter Claire, 25, grew disillusioned with the Irish economy after a number of unsuccessful interviews, and realised Australia was her only option and left two years ago. Her son Cian, 23, quickly followed suit Down Under the same year as the economic gloom became too much to bear.
Janet, who is originally from Liverpool, moved to Limerick aged 17, as her mum was originally from Pallaskenry but moved to England to become a nurse.
RTÉ 2fm’s Ryan Tubridy will hear stories from entrants throughout the country over the coming weeks and people can nominate to have family or friends; one person or a whole family, brought back through supermacs.ie.
“It was one of the most heart warming moments of my broadcasting career to see families reunited after a long time apart, the looks on the faces of the relatives arriving here and those welcoming them home was pure magic. I can’t wait to do it again this year,” said Mr Tubridy.
Pat McDonagh, managing director of Supermac’s, said: “I hear numerous stories throughout the year of Irish people leaving the country to find work, which is a tough decision and a difficult road at times when they are away from those closest to them.
“We had such a positive response to last year’s campaign and brought joy to so many families we knew it had to become an annual drive. Supermac’s has always focused on bringing families together and, with the cost of flights at their highest during the festive period, this is something we’re able to do to help our customers on a wider international scale.”
The closing date to apply is Friday, December 13.