Tonight the lights will go out for the very last time on Moate’s wonderful “House of Dreams”.
After raising €160,000 for the Share-A-Dream Foundation in the nine years since they began fundraising, with a dazzling array of Christmas lights, the cost of keeping the lights going has simply become too much for Jim and Helen Dunne.
Helen said it will be particularly hard for Jim, who while he’s 70 in age, is seven at heart and the lights are his life every year.
He battled serious illness before Christmas to check every light to make sure everything was perfect for the hundreds of children who arrived to see the lights switched on in November.
And of course Santa was there too, escorted out of the bog where he had landed by mistake, by the Fire Brigade, the Moate gardaí, and the traffic corps, whom Helen can’t thank enough for their generous help.
“We’ve never, ever taken money out of the boxes to run the lights,” said Helen, “and we always said that when the day came that we couldn’t pay the ESB, that would be the end”.
At midnight, they’ll switch the lights off for the very last time and it will be “like a death in the family,” said Helen, who has welcomed seasonal visitors from Poland, the USA, Russia, and other far-flung locations.
This year it will cost around €800 to power the hundreds of bulbs and dozens of decorations that attracted 430 children on just the first night in November when they flicked the switch to illuminate the Westmeath town of Moate.
“When we first started, people were beating down the door to sponsor the ESB,” she said, and in return, they would put up signs to advertise the companies.
But many of those businesses are no longer there and this year they had just two sponsors.
The couple became interested in Share-A-Dream when they heard founder Shay Kinsella talk to Will Faulkner on Midlands 103 about how a young Dubliner’s simple dream of going to a hotel, to have chips and coke whenever he wanted, came true for his family just days before he passed away.
Since then many families have contacted the couple, hoping they could help make a sick child’s dream come true.
“It has been well worth it to see a child’s face when he gets his dream, and to give a whole family the memory of something wonderful,” Helen said.
“It’s extremely, extremely hard to lose a child,” she added.
“In a way we’ve fulfilled our dream because we’ve done something for those children,” she said, “and we will still do our utmost to give a child a dream”.