Each year Santa visits Ailwee Caves just outside of Ballyvaughan to greet the children of Ireland. He sets up a workshop in the caves for his elves to make toys and prepare for Christmas. Families from all over the country come to see Santa, receive a gift “to hold them off until Christmas,” and share in the Christmas cheer. To my luck Santa needed some extra help at the caves this season, so I’ve graciously been given the opportunity to join the team of elves he’s brought from the North Pole.
In addition to the elves, Jack Frost and Mrs. Claus make the trip to help Santa and his elves greet the children. Mrs. Claus sits outside of the caves peacefully knitting in a rocking chair by the fireside. She poses for pictures with families before they head into the caves to find Santa. Jack Frost occasionally sits beside her, but is more commonly running around the place. He also poses for pictures, encouraging groups to yell “FREEZE” as the flash goes off. When he isn’t posing for a picture, he can be found pulling off the hats of elves, trying to sneak in to see Santa with groups of children, or sneakily spilling loads of glitter on people and running away…needless to say he’s on Santa’s naughty list. Though I will give him props for making the day more interesting.
In my role (as Trixie), I lead groups through the caves, singing all our favorite Christmas Carols as we search for clues to find Santa. The clues are hidden throughout the cave on large glittery snowflakes. My favorite moments are spent helping Santa choose the perfect gift for each boy and girl. I organize his lists so he can talk with each child about who their best friends are, where they go to school and who their teacher is, if they play a sport or instrument, what their most recent joys and accomplishments are, and finally what they want for Christmas.
It’s very exciting seeing the faces of the boys and girls light up as Santa talks to them about their lives. He’s so detailed and thoughtful in making the moments special for each child…he creates a truly magical experience for all involved.
Apart from seeing Santa, families are welcomed to enjoy complementary minced pies and mulled wine, tea, coffee, or hot chocolate. There are also a few carnival rides set up outside of the caves, which aid in the wonderfully festive feel.
Just down the hill from the cave entrance sits the Farm Shop, Christmas Shop, and Birds of Prey Center. The Farm Shop has delicious cheeses freshly made on-site and fudge to taste test and purchase. The smoked cheese and mint fudge are my personal favorites. In the Christmas shop, ornaments, Christmas decorations, Irish wool accessories, and various knickknacks cover the walls and display cases. In the Birds of Prey Center, the birds show off their hunting skills with their trainers until it gets dark outside, and they fall asleep for the evening.
Needless to say, Santa’s Workshop at Ailwee caves is a great place to work! I have SO enjoyed making friends with the other elves and will definitely miss spending every weekend surrounded by holiday spirit and the excitement of Christmas.