Magical day as Northern Ireland children visit Santa's Lapland home
Amanda Ferguson joined the Northern Ireland Children to Lapland Trust and some very deserving children on a trip to visit Father Christmas at home.
The broad smiles on their little faces said it all.
More than 100 of Northern Ireland's most special children have made the magical journey to Lapland to visit Father Christmas at home.
Terminally ill, life-limited and other deserving children were treated to a day trip to remember courtesy of the Northern Ireland Children to Lapland and Days to Remember Trust (NICLT).
On December 16, at a cost of nearly £250,000, the children, their families and medical teams, were flown from Belfast to the Arctic Circle to meet the man himself, and take part in winter wonderland events and snow-based activities, including husky and reindeer rides. Among the medical staff was Warren McCue, a doctor in Causeway Hospital in Coleraine, who has just completed his paediatrics course.
"This is my first trip to Lapland with the Northern Trust and charity," he said.
"We had a great time on the plane and everything has been really well run.
"The kids have been loving it. You could see their wee faces light up. Meeting Santa has been very exciting for them."
Broadcaster Gerry Kelly, an NICLT trustee, was thrilled the seventh trip to Santa's home ran smoothly.
"It has been one of the most successful years for us in terms of fundraising," he said.
"Each year it costs more and more to bring the kids here and each year it gets tougher to get the money together, but we have had a huge response from people across Northern Ireland and for that we are eternally grateful. We can't sit on our laurels. We have next year to plan plus events over the summer so would appeal to people to join us in fundraising."
The charity was set up by Larne man Jack Rodgers in 2008 and since then hundreds of children have shared this unique experience that creates memories for families to cherish. Last night, Jack, who received an MBE from the Queen two years ago for his work, told the Belfast Telegraph the people of Northern Ireland "have again stunned us with their generosity".
"People supporting us throughout the year have helped make dreams come true for some of our truly most deserving children," he said. "We had a wonderful time in Lapland and hope to make more dreams come true for other children throughout the year who cannot withstand the journey to Lapland or who sadly will not be with us next Christmas."
- To make a donation or for more information visit http://www.niclt.org
What the children made of it all
Cormac Lennon (18), who has Down's syndrome, and his cousin and carer Margo Brannigan, from Galbally, Co Tyrone, had a brilliant day.
Margo said: "Cormac was meant to go two years ago, but he was sick and last year he was away. He was offered the trip again this year and he has just loved it. He enjoyed every second of meeting Santa."
Cormac said: "I told him [Santa] I had been a very good boy. I love Christmas."
Bronagh Murphy and her son Harry Farrell (5), from Portadown, thoroughly enjoyed their day with Santa.
Bronagh said: "Harry has a congenital heart defect, which means only half the heart is able to pump blood around the body. He has had three open-heart surgeries to date and he is doing well.
"Today has been excellent. So cool, brilliant for the kids. He has been on Angry Birds and a magic train ride."
Teresa Warwick and her daughter Ellie (9), from Belfast, enjoyed decorating gingerbread in Lapland and playing in the snow.
Teresa said: "Ellie was very ill at the start of the year. She had appendicitis and was given 24 hours to live. She has had a tough year."
Ellie said: "I went to Elf School, met Santa and made a cookie to take home. I told Santa I had been good this year and wanted a laptop. That would be good."
Yvette McClean, from Ballymena, and her son Ethan (7), who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, braved the -13 temperatures to see Santa's huskies and reindeer.
Yvette said: "Today has been absolutely amazing. The charity is fantastic."
Ethan said: "I saw the huskies outside. It was cold. They were good. Santa was good. I would like Santa to bring me Lego Dimensions. Santa's house is good. Everything about it is good."