Little Lucas is family's best Christmas gift ever after tragic loss of daughter
Northern Ireland musician Rodney Beggs already knows who is going to be number one this Christmas - his beautiful new son Lucas.
And it will be an extra special Yuletide for the Beggs family because this time last year the Co Antrim businessman and his wife Sinead (37) were grieving the loss of their baby daughter.
Mary was only 20 months old when she succumbed to Cloves syndrome - an incurable one in 50 million disorder - on February 27, 2016.
She died in her mother's arms at the Northern Ireland Children's Hospice in Newtownabbey, for which the couple have now raised more than £30,000, courtesy of the Mary Beggs tribute fund.
Her parents are still trying to cope with the devastating loss of Mary, but there is little doubt that precious Lucas, who was born just three months ago, has brought untold joy into their lives.
"The pregnancy went smoothly, but it was still a very worrying time until he was born and in our arms and we were told that everything was okay," said Rodney.
Describing how it felt to hold Lucas for the first time after his birth on September 12, Rodney (35) added: "It was emotional on both levels of happiness and sadness.
"It brought back a lot of memories.
"It was surreal, it wasn't that long ago I was holding Mary for the last time."
Shortly after Mary came into the world on June 20, 2014, she was diagnosed with the rare neurological condition that required her to have an operation at only two weeks old.
Seven days later she suffered her first seizure and from that moment on she had 50 or 60 of them a day.
Mary wasn't discharged from hospital until she was two months old and the family's life then became a series of hospital appointments and consultations.
But Rodney and Sinead, a former driving instructor, never thought that Christmas 2015 would be their infant's last, which makes this year with new son Lucas all the more poignant.
"He's thriving, he's a good, settled baby," Rodney said.
"Lucas is very interactive, very personable and has developed a character and cheeky grin very quickly. He's developing really well."
The father added: "He smiles a lot, more than most babies, which is lovely because we got very little reaction from Mary due to her condition."
Having Lucas has brought them closer together as a couple, and a family, but Rodney admitted that it continues to be a balancing act when it comes to their emotions.
"It has definitely healed a lot of wounds and brought a wee bit of joy back to us," he said.
Rodney - who is stepdad to Sinead's two sons Tiarnan (11) and seven-year-old Johnny -said everyone was looking forward to Christmas, but admitted that Mary's death still casts a long shadow.
"I love everything that surrounds Christmas, but there's a part of our family missing and it's hard to take; it's still quite raw," he said.
Rodney, proprietor of The Music Rooms, an instrument and music workshop business which now has shops in Antrim, Ballymena and, since September, Coleraine, said that business is booming.
He also does a lot of work in 20 schools across Northern Ireland, supplying music teachers and running workshops.
Raising money for the hospice is very important to the couple, who have now hit the £30,000 mark - most recently donating £1,200 from a Christmas charity night.
"We wanted to give something back," Rodney said.
"We're proud that the spirit of Mary lives on by helping other wee boys and girls who have life-limiting illnesses.
"We're content to give something to the hospice which helped us so much whenever we were going through a really difficult time in our lives.
"The Music Rooms runs a charity gig every year where kids from our music schools perform in a concert in the Braid Arts Centre in Ballymena.
"We always used to give to the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) before what happened with Mary. What we do now is split whatever we raise 50-50 - so this year we gave £1,200 to the RNIB and £1,200 to the hospice."
In the spirit of "having fun with music" Rodney arranged for the children, aged seven to 17, to record a single in a Coleraine studio, with a music video, for Christmas "to give them a platform and get them up online".
So, for the first time, 20 pupils from his private music schools joined those from schools they teach in and can be seen on Youtube and Facebook singing All I Want For Christmas Is You. It has had over 100,000 views now.
Around the same time, Rodney's folk and bluegrass band, The Coves, which plays at weddings and corporate events all over Northern Ireland, did a video and cover version of Fairytale Of New York for Christmas, with Ashleigh Kilgore singing.
"We put it out there. It hasn't been as successful as the kids one because we're obviously all not young and cute, but we've got about 15,000 views, which is great," he added.
While Mary's memory is omnipresent, the Randalstown couple don't have far to look for a physical reminder of the child they lost way too soon.
"Lucas is very like Mary; there are massive resemblances," said Rodney.
"This Christmas we'll be celebrating a new life while quietly mourning Mary. But Lucas is definitely the best present we could have had."
Watch the videos online at https://youtu.be/LTdipkP87rY music rooms Christmas Single and https://youtu.be/QeKUa0DyIzg the coves Fairytale Of New York