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The magic of Christmas – by Joe Funge

Popular retailer Joe Funge of Funges of Gorey recalls his childhood Christmases, including Santa parachuting into Gorey – a lovely nostalgic trip down memory lane!

Joe Funge - Funges of Gorey
Joe Funge, a true gentleman of Gorey’s Main Street.

One of my first big memories of Christmas was going to Dublin with my mother to see Santa.

I was about four and it was in the early 1940s. We went by train to Westland Row and then by horse-drawn cab to the Clarence Hotel. In those days, because it was war time, there were shortages of petrol so, unlike today, there were no taxi ranks, just a line of horse-drawn cabbies outside the station.

Santa could be visited in a few Dublin shops, McBirneys, Clerys, Switzers. But the big one was Pims department store on Georges Street. They were noted for their Santa presentation each year but, sadly, they are no longer there.

On arrival, before we met Santa, we went through a magical, miniature display which depicted a fairy tale. On this occasion, it was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and the story was depicted in eight to 10 scenes. Something along the style of Titania’s Palace, except they were all mechanical and moving.

Then, you went through a large curtain and met the man himself and, of course, everyone got a gift. After a brief chat, you were handed a parcel and mine contained a game of snakes and ladders.

Gorey in the 1940s 

Gorey in the Forties was quite a different place then. The razzmatazz and all that goes with Christmas nowadays was very different. But the festive season still brought lots of cheer and was enjoyed and celebrated, albeit in a much simpler way.

When it came to toy shops, they were non-existent but, for the Christmas period, Coughlan Kavanaghs (now House to Home) and Cooke’s Arcade (now Sports Direct) stocked toys usually from the first of December onwards. The windows of both these shops were eagerly eyed up waiting for the first toys to appear. It was only as we got into the 1950s and 60s when Dorans and Webbs especially became full-time toy stockists. Cooke’s Arcade had a balcony upstairs where their toys were displayed.

Cookes Arcade Gorey
Cooke’s Arcade, Main Street, Gorey – a treasure trove of Christmas toys!

The most popular toys were train sets, painting sets, games including Ludo, Tiddly Winks, Dinky cars and, of course, lots of dolls. Annuals were also very popular, especially the Dandy and Beano and Hotspur just to mention a few! 

On Christmas Eve, the tree was usually erected with fairy lights. However in those days the fairy lights often caused problems and if one light went they all went out unless spare bulbs were available. Lights were very often redundant because of this!

Most shops in the town opened until 9pm or 10pm on Christmas Eve which didn’t give Santa much time to get ready. However he never failed to arrive and distribute his toys.

Santa in Gorey

In the 1950s and 60s, on 8 December, there was amass exodus to Dublin to shop and see Santa. So, the traders asked why not bring Santa to Gorey on the 8th and, since then, Gorey has become a permanent stop on Santa’s rounds. He would arrive and leave two postboxes, one for boys and one for girls and would return four or five days before Christmas when he would make a draw for 50 gifts which would be dispatched to the prize winners.

He came by train, by Model T car, by pony and trap, and twice he came by plane from which he parachuted down to land in the Gorey Park! However, the two helpers he had on the first occasion were not quite as lucky and, owing to strong winds, landed in St Enda’s Park! However, they met up and all ended well.

Since then, Santa’s popularity has endured as was witnessed in November when over 8000 people came to Gorey to see him switch on the Christmas lights!

The Big Switch On Gorey 2018
Thousands greeted Santa and Mrs Claus in Gorey in 2018