The story of our stolen Christmas hamper, which we planned to raffle to raise badly needed funds, caused quite a stir at Christmas time 35 years ago.
Gay Byrne said it was the meanest Christmas deed he ever heard of. Our then governing body said we brought them into disrepute. Cynics said it was a typical stroke on our part!
Gay Byrne was the only one who was right, of course!
We were young, maybe gifted but, a little naive back then. Caitriona, one of our athletics coaches, approached Philip Doyle – who writes the Chess articles on this site – and myself with a brainwave: let’s put a hamper together, sell tickets for it on Dublin’s Henry St, and raise a tidy sum from the raffle. No outlay as all hamper contents could be donated. Sure we couldn’t lose!
The fun began when we started to call to local shops for product donations to fill the hamper. I ended up with a few pairs of socks, gloves and some underwear! Most un-festive indeed! Others who helped out, who included Eddie Lynch, Gus Dorrington and Philip Dunne, fared no better! Ticket sellers who later joined us included Elaine O’Neill, Philip Doyle as well as my brother Christy and late mum and dad.
Irish Blindcraft donated a high quality handmade basket for our low quality hamper contents.
Christmas time in Henry St. was not to work out though. The local casual traders were unimpressed and ran us outatown! There was no space on their patch! Arnotts department store showed the Christmas spirit and gave us a spot under their canopy but we were well hidden away.
Looking back it should not have been a surprise but very few people wished to stop to buy our raffle tickets. Those who did suggested we use open buckets and just take donations.i
The weeks passed and our fundraising was a disaster. It couldn’t get worse, could it? Well, it did!
I was hardly in the door of my workplace, on that December Wednesday morning, when an ashen faced Eddie O’Neill, our hamper custodian, called. Eddie was a good friend of ours who pioneered tandem cycling for blind and visually impaired here. Shaken, Eddie told me of how a thief and broken into his van in his front garden and stolen our hamper.
To this day I’m not sure if I even stopped to sympathies with Eddie and ask him if he was alright? My head was spinning in another direction. Let’s share this rotten Christmas bad luck story with the media and see what happens?
I rang Pat Leahy, then producer of RTE Radio’s Listen and See, the programme for and about the blind. Pat was on the case immediately. On hanging up the phone he walked out of his office and bumped straight into Gay Byrne. Gaybo was about to go on air with his No.1 radio show and immediately agreed to spread the word.
Gay told his hundreds of thousands of listeners about the mean festive season deed on blind sports people.
Pat Leahy, and another RTE radio producer, Robbie Irwin (friend of our member Emanon Casey), told everyone in the RTE Radio Centre what had happened to our hamper. On air Larry Gogan, Ronan Collins and Mike Murphy, among others, told listeners of our sorry tale.
Donations and goodies came flooding in. Another member, Willie Britten, went in for the kill. He rang the top shops and stores and related the story as told by Gay Byrne and his colleagues earlier. More goodies and donations!
Next morning, Thursday, we had turned defeat into victory. Now we had a brand new hamper with real Christmas goodies.
By Thursday evening we were back out selling raffle tickets for the hamper, with several stores offering us attractive indoor space to sell our tickets.
The raffle went ahead that Saturday night and was a major success raising a brilliant 2000 punts. In today’s currency we raised around 12,000 Euros.
Had we really pulled a stroke? No!
Did we bring our then governing body, the National League of the Blind into disrepute. The League’s board passed a motion to say we did. Privately, most board members were impressed!
The moral: no matter how bad your ideas are, keep the faith, work hard, be honest, and you just may get that lucky break.
- JOE GERAGHTY
Feature photo: gaybo - shocked by the stealing of our Christmas hamper 33 Christmases ago.