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Emotional scenes at Belfast City Airport as families reunited for Christmas

Tears and joy at arrivals hall in Belfast as loved ones return for Christmas

Little Emme hugs her grandfather Paul Smith at Belfast City Airport yesterday
Little Emme hugs her grandfather Paul Smith at Belfast City Airport yesterday
Mrs Claus with Cara (5) and Aoife (10) Murphy
Ethan Shilliday (5) is happy to see his uncle Josh Mayes
Mark Hewitt with his wife Rachel Moses
Laura Maguire with her son Adam Maguire
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

Hugs, tears, joy on faces as families come together - it's what the magic of Christmas should be all about.

On Belfast City Airport's busiest day of the year yesterday, there was an overflowing supply of Christmas sparkle as families were reunited to enjoy the most wonderful time of the year.

"It's just like being in Love Actually," said Paul Smith who had flown in from Cumbria to be hugged by his grandchildren.

With wife Pat, Paul can think of nothing better than to spend Christmas with his two granddaughters who had both drawn welcome signs, pulled on their Christmas jumpers and topped off outfits with reindeer antlers.

"I'd always wondered what the end of Love Actually felt like in real life. Now I know! This is the first Christmas we will be spending with our grandchildren, so it's going to be fun," said an overwhelmed Paul.

Dad Garth, who lives in east Belfast, said an extra-large turkey had been ordered.

"We just want to chill, relax and enjoy being together," he said once the welcome hugs were out of the way.

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As Santa and Mrs Claus danced around the arrivals hall, the flights arrived one after the other, all bringing loved ones back to enjoy the festivities.

Linda Robinson and Stephen Scott from Ballymoney were awaiting the arrival of a loved one - and had decided not to tell son Jamie why he was there. A few moments later his special surprise walked through the gates as great aunt Phyllis Cameron from Aberdeen had just landed.

"He didn't know she was coming," said mum Linda. "We wanted to make it a surprise for him."

That was quite a short trip to make compared to the three days of flying Josh Mayes had just survived.

"I'm knackered!" he said, having made his way back from Australia via Japan to be with his family on Belfast's Ormeau Road.

"I'll go and see my mum, then I think I'll sleep for a bit!"

But he wasn't getting away too quickly from nephew Ethan Shilliday (5) who had made a special sign to welcome his favourite uncle home.

"I travel a lot through work so a few days of relaxation and my mum's home cooking is just what I need," said Josh. It was also time to be reunited for New York couple Mark Hewitt and Rachel Moses.

Mark, originally from Hillsborough and who went to work in New York for two years but never came back, had travelled ahead of wife Rachel. She said she was delighted to be joining her husband just in time for Christmas. "Mark got home earlier than me, but we come to Northern Ireland every year for Christmas. I'm so happy to be here," she said.

Belfast man Peter Conlon is getting a lot more than ever before this Christmas - two newly married couples under his roof for the first time.

Arriving back for a bigger-than-usual Christmas get-together was Scott O'Hagan, reunited with new wife Miriam.

"We live in London, but I've been home here for a while," said Miriam. "We got married this year, so it's fantastic to be spending our first Christmas as a married couple at home."

Dad Peter said he's looking forward to having his newly extended family together. "An extra-large turkey is required! Miriam got married this year and my son got married as well so we're all going to be together for the first time at Christmas," he said.

For Larne man Adam Maguire, first thoughts turned to the traditional family visit to the pub. "I didn't think I'd be getting Christmas off," said the third-year university student who now lives in Greenwich, London.

"It worked out at the last minute, though."

Delighted mum Laura was waiting to bring him back to Cairncastle. "I can't wait to get him home," she said. "We'll be out at a few pubs and having a bit of fun as a family."

Adam said his first night out will be the traditional family visit to Mattie Moore's in his home town. And it turns out a dog isn't just for life - it's for Christmas, too. Ernie has arrived to spend the big day here. The constant companion of owner Aidan Gallogly, a mental health worker in England, Ernie will enjoy Christmas with family in Omagh.

"He's well-trained, he travels everywhere with me," said Aidan. "Now he'll be spoiled, too."

And with that Aidan was "off down the road" for his traditional Christmas in Tyrone.

It wasn't all one-way traffic, however. For 10-year-old Aoife Murphy, an extra-special trip to spend Christmas in London was just about to begin. "I'm excited," she said. "Just two more sleeps until Santa! One if I sleep all day!" Mum Wendy, from Belfast, and little sister Cara (5) are also heading to London. "We're visiting my sister and we'll be heading to Hamleys tomorrow," said Wendy. Aoife jumps up and down with excitement, just one of the 10,000 passengers expected to pass through Belfast City Airport each day ahead of Christmas.

Operations director Mark Beattie said that its flights "are operating to capacity". "There will be northwards of 120 flights each day at the airport," he said. "On Christmas Day the airport is closed, the only day it is fully closed.

"We even have a complementary service near security where passengers can get their presents wrapped," he added.

Belfast International Airport said it had also provided musical entertainment for passengers including choirs, as "lots of meeters and greeters gather in arrivals". It said there would be no flights on Christmas Day though 20,000 passengers have been arriving each day in the run-up to Christmas.

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