Belfast Telegraph

Lapping it up ... more than 100 NI children visit Santa's home thanks to charity's annual trip

The children enjoying Lapland, thanks to local charity Northern Ireland Children to Lapland and Days to Remember Trust
The children enjoying Lapland, thanks to local charity Northern Ireland Children to Lapland and Days to Remember Trust
Ava Gallagher (8) and father James McKernan from Portadown
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

More than 100 children from across Northern Ireland have just returned from a fun-filled trip to Lapland to visit Father Christmas at his home.

The Northern Ireland Children to Lapland and Days to Remember Trust flew the terminally ill, life-limited and other deserving boys and girls to meet Santa and enjoy a magical day of snow, presents and games in his white winter wonderland.

The children and their families, as well as the support staff, including doctors and nurses, checked into Belfast International Airport from 5am on Tuesday.

From there, they took a 8am TUI Airways flight to Roveniemi in Northern Finland.

Despite the early start, spirits didn't wane as all passengers got into the festive spirit on board the three-hour flight.

Under the watchful eye of Santa's cheery elves, thrill-seeking children and their parents enjoyed reindeer rides, husky dog rides, sledging, a visit to the elves' workshop, as well as Mrs Claus' gingerbread bakery factory.

The highlight was a private meet and greet with Santa Claus himself, after which the children continued their festive cheer theme 35,000 feet up on board their homeward bound flight.

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Girda Rupsiene, from Randalstown, was on this year's trip with her daughter Urte (8), and enjoyed a day they'll never ever forget with memories to cherish forever.

"Travelling is such a stressful experience at the best of times, but when you are travelling with a child with medical needs, it becomes much more of a challenge to the point that it can be off-putting," Girda said.

"This trip takes away all those stresses and allows the family really soak up the entire day worry free."

Urte added: "I never thought I would ever get to meet Santa in his home. Everyone was so lovely and we got to do so much. It has been one of the best days of my life."

Joining eight-year-old Ava Gallagher, from Portadown, was her father, James McKernan, who said: "The NI Children to Lapland Trust has given us a trip that we would ordinarily never experience.

"It has made Lapland and all its magic accessible to those who can't travel and for that we are very grateful."

Ava added: "Everything about the day was fun. My favourite part was the reindeer rides and it made me feel like I was a real-life elf!"

Established in 2008 by Larne man Jack Rodgers, the Northern Ireland Children to Lapland Trust has transported more than 1,000 terminally ill and life-limited children to Santa Park in Roveniemi, the official hometown of Santa Claus on the Arctic Circle in Lapland, Finland.

Every child on the trip is nominated by a Northern Ireland health care professional, many of whom will travel on the flight and escort children and their families around the resort.

The charity has expanded to include 'Days to Remember', which runs trips to Disneyland Paris to help children not suited to Lapland's cold temperatures.

Sadly, Mr Rodgers died in March of this year aged 69 after a short illness, but the charity remains determined to carry on his work.

Colin Barkley, chair of NI Children to Lapland Trust, described this year's eleventh trip since the charity was established as a privilege.

"Seeing the children get excited over everything Lapland has to offer is wonderful.

"There is no better Christmas gift to give and on behalf of the children, we would like to say a huge, heartfelt thank-you to all involved," he added.

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