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By John Kelly
Once upon a time, not so long ago, there was a very special woman who loved everything about Christmas. Now Nannie May was like a big child at this her favourite time of year, and nothing pleased her more than bringing joy and happiness to family and friends.
Every year without fail she would buy each and every one of them, regardless of age or gender, a Cadbury's Selection Box, which always brought huge smiles all round.
Though Christmas for Nannie May was a time to celebrate in time-honoured fashion the birth of Jesus in the manger, she also loved to celebrate life in general with a few tipples of Black Bush alongside her many friends and fellow revellers in O'Neill's bar on Christmas Eve.
On returning home to Ballydowd from one of those festive gatherings, she somehow managed to stuff the turkey not only with the usual sausages, herbs and savoury rice but also with an accidental teacloth, the extra ingredient coming to light only when Jack, her husband, was carving up the festive bird the next day.
There was seldom a dull moment in that special corner of Ballydowd, where the laughter was infectious and the kitchen door was always open, whether you were a patient in St Loman's or a weary traveller who had lost your way.
Nannie May adored her wild holly, and when the season beckoned, her favourite son-in-law - I think his name was Harry or Brian, or maybe it was Kellogs - would head into the woods to harvest a supply.
Year after year everything went to plan - until the Christmas before Nannie May died. That was when the son-in-law searched and searched, but whatever few sprigs of greenery he happened upon, there wasn't a juicy red berry to be found. You see, it had been an exceptionally cold and frosty Advent, and the birds in their season of need had turned their attentions to the sacred tree and its nourishing fruits.
Of course something had to be done. This after all was going to be Nannie May's last visit from Santa, and the family - especially her brilliant daughter Catherine - knew how important it was to have the beloved sprays of holly present and correct.
And so our hero Kellogs was sent back out to resume the search, with resounding orders not to return empty-handed. Dutifully he plunged again into the undergrowth, ploughing with trusty telescopic hedge clippers and black sack through brambles and thorns and creepers in the aptly named St Catherine's Park.
Hour upon hour he foraged without result - and just when it seemed Christmas with Nannie May might have to be cancelled he spied, deep in the covering vegetation, three branches - with berries! - that the feathered friends had overlooked. Going to infinite lengths to keep intact the precious fruits, our intrepid hunter gatherer collected the spoils and hurried home to give Catherine the good news.
Delighted, the devoted Catherine took the precious bouquet and went straight to Esker and the Griffeen Valley Nursing Home, where Nannie May had spent the previous few years of her amazing life in the loving care of her friends Jim and Jo Foley and their dedicated team.
Nannie May was sleeping - now on her final journey, she had been drifting in and out of consciousness - but the first thing she noticed when she came round was the treasured plant on a shelf beside some of her favourite family photographs.
'Oh, the holly with the lovely red berries!' she exclaimed.
It could have been a scene from an old movie where the hero rescues Christmas. Nannie May just smiled, laid her sweet head back on the pillow, and drifted off into another deep and contented sleep.
Whether she was aware of it or not - only Heaven above knows - that night, under the shadow of a crib made by her grandchildren, she had saved our Christmas.
That, you see, was Nannie May's most precious quality: she knew that giving was far more important than receiving. She also loved the simple things in life and knew how to enjoy them - just like the timeless sprig of holly with its lovely red berries.
What a wonderful life it was!
May McNally 1931-2014