Over the course of the night of Christmas Eve 2010, an incredible series of events took place involving Santa Claus and his reindeers - and the Mulready family who live on a remote farm in Co. Wexford.
In the very early hours of Christmas morning 2010, the Mulready's received a truly unexpected visitor.
The story began when Santa Claus and his nine reindeers set off from the North Pole on Christmas Eve. Santa Claus's team of flying reindeer are Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Rudolp, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen. They had journeyed half way across the world, working through all the time zones to ensure each child in every country received their Christmas gifts on time.
After a rough landing just outside Edinburgh in Scotland, Blitzen (one of Santa's reindeers) hurt his hoof badly (and everyone knows that reindeers get their ability to fly from their hooves). Although clearly struggling, Blitzen bravely attempted to carry on - but just as Santa arrived over Ireland, it quickly became apparent that Blitzen would not be able to continue. He needed immediate assistance.
Santa Claus had a decision to make. If he went back to the North Pole, carrying Blitzen on his sleigh, there is no way he would have time to deliver all his presents to all of the children all over the world in one night. This could have been the first time ever that some children did not receive their presents in time for Christmas.
Imagine the Mulready family's surprise when they heard a knock on the door in the very early hours of Christmas morning. None other than Santa Claus was standing at the front door, covered in snow flakes. He asked if the Mulready's could help him out. "There's been an accident in Scotland', he said glumly, 'Would they be kind enough to take Blitzen in and nurse him back to health as he just couldn't go on?' The Mulready's didn't need any time to decide. The decision was made there and then - they would do whatever it took to bring Blitzen back to health.
As it transpired, it took nearly twelve months to get Blitzen back to full fitness and it was only in early December 2011, that Santa Claus came back to collect Blitzen - just in the time for this Christmas.
Dave Moore - head of 'Astronomy Ireland' was watching Santa's progress from the Dunsink Observatory outside Dublin and picks up the story:
"Every Christmas I watch Santa make his epic worldwide journey through my telescope", said the ace star gazer. "He usually leaves the North Pole, travels high into the night sky and uses the moons gravitational pull to sling shot him and his sled at amazing speeds across the world, so he can begin his massive delivery. He begins in the south sea islands near New Zealand" says Dave, "And from there, he begins the gigantic voyage and circumnavigation of the globe - delivering presents to all the children asleep in their homes . Normally, he finishes up in Hawaii, returning home to the North Pole via the light of the Persius star constellation (where I believe Mrs Claus is waiting for him with a warm mug of tea).
"Last year, there was nothing unusual about Santa's jounrey - UNTIL he arrived in Ireland. In an area in the South East, over Co. Wexford, I noticed that one of his Reindeers was missing. It didn't make any sense. I'd never seen anything like it before. He ALWAYS had six reindeers - but I could only see five. I was completely bamboozled!"
"So the following week, I drove to Wexford to the area that coincided with my telescope coordinates - and was amazed when I arrived at a long laneway into a very remote farmhouse. I drove up the lane, towards the lights of the farmhouse, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw a reindeer, who I believed to be one of Santa's reindeer, lying down under some trees. He had a cast on his hoof and was munching away on some grass - I was gobsmacked."
I asked the Mulready children, Colm and Lynn, about their famous visitor who turned out to be Blitzen, and they said it was the greatest Christmas present they could have ever imagined. But Santa had sworn them to secret. I was the only outsider to be left in on the secret.
Twelve months on, the Mulready children are so excited that they can now talk about their amazing year with one of Santa's reindeers. "It was so amazing to meet Santa on Christmas Eve," said Colm, "but to have Blitzen on the farm for a year, it was just the best thing ever." "But, said Lynn, "trying to keep it a secret all year was the most difficult thing ever. I couldn't tell my teacher, my cousins - not even my best friend! I'm so glad that we can finally tell everyone about our amazing year and the best experience of our lives."
'The Reindeer Santa Left Behind' features interviews with the Mulready's - Pat, Olivia, Colm and Lynn and tells the story of a magical year spent with Blitzen. There is also an exclusive interview with Santa Claus who, for the very first time, talks about Blitzen's injury and the debt of gratitude he owes to one Irish family. "They helped saved Christmas by looking after Blitzen and letting me continue my delivery," says Santa, "and that has to be one of the greatest gift anyone has ever given to the children all around the world - ho ho ho ho ho..."
Narrated by Áine Lawlor
Produced by two ginger Elves in the 'Documentary on One' unit.
An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One - the home of Irish radio documentaries.