Airport flashmob spreads festive cheer at Belfast homecoming
There will be many emotional reunions at airports across the world in the coming days, as people arrive home to spend Christmas with their loved ones.
But one family was given a very special, all-singing, all-dancing welcome as they arrived in Northern Ireland from the USA.
As they walked through the arrivals gate at a Belfast airport, the Monroe family were greeted by a flashmob who broke into a rousing rendition of Joy to the World.
Members of Belfast Community Gospel Choir posed as passengers and airport staff, including baggage handlers and flight crew, for the surprise sing-song.
End Quote Roisin Munroe
You can talk on the phone, you can look at each on Skype or whatever, but you just can't substitute the hugs”
The festive greeting was organised by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and was captured on camera.'Overwhelmed'
Last month, it ran a competition offering local families the chance to fly a loved one home for Christmas
It was entered by Roisin Munroe's family in County Down, who had to write 30 words to say why they wanted her to fly home for Christmas.
Their entry was picked as the winner and Roisin and her two children, Brandon, 12, and nine-year-old Kaeli-Ann, found themselves on a flight back to Northern Ireland.
Roisin said she was "overwhelmed" and moved to tears by the flashmob greeting at George Best Belfast City Airport.
She is originally from Drumaness, outside Ballynahinch, but emigrated to the USA in 1992 at the age of 18, leaving behind her parents, three brothers and seven sisters.
She now lives and works in Ohio with her husband and children.
She said she hadn't been able to afford a trip home with her family for many years, and hasn't seen her parents in person for at least six years.
Roisin said: "You can talk on the phone, you can look at each on Skype or whatever, but you just can't substitute the hugs."
It was also the first time Kaeli-Ann met her grandparents. Her older brother Brandon cannot remember his last trip to Northern Ireland as it was more than a decade ago, when he was just a baby.Secret
The winning entry was written by Roisin's 18 year-old niece, Shannen McCusker, entered the competition as a Christmas present for her grandparents.
End Quote Roisin Munroe
When the music started, when the Belfast choir started singing - it was almost like they would have lifted you off the ground”
The trip home was organised at very short notice, and the flashmob greeting was kept secret from the family, but Roisin said she had her suspicions.
"I knew there was something up when we got on the Aer Lingus flight from London to Belfast because we were treated like VIPs, and when I gave in my tickets, they said 'oh no, you're not sitting at the back of the plane, you're up front' and they waited on us hand and foot and made us feel special."
"When I saw all my family at the airport I was just completely overwhelmed. I couldn't stop crying, I couldn't even get a word out," Roisin added.'Memorable'
"I wanted to hug everybody at once but I went round them all and then - when the music started, when the Belfast choir started singing - it was almost like they would have lifted you off the ground."
Roisin said she met nieces and nephews that she recognised from photos but had never seen in person before.
It was also a special experience for Kaeli-Ann, who met her grandfather, Roisin's father, at the airport for the first time.
"She went to give Daddy a hug and he kissed her hand, like a wee princess, and she said 'Oh Mammy, is that what they do in Ireland?', Roisin said. "It's so special, it's so memorable, it will never be forgotten."
The County Down native thanked the choir and the NITB for the efforts they made for her homecoming and said the Youtube video has been making waves in her adopted country.
"My phone doesn't work here but I'm getting emails on it from people in America saying 'I think I've been crying more than you, I can't stop crying watching it'. My neighbourhood has been able to see it and they're emailing, the kids' teachers have seen it," Roisin said.
"It's having such a massive ripple effect across the water. Nothing better could have happened at any better time of year."'Flamboyant'
Belfast Community Gospel Choir was former in 2009 by its director, Marie Lacey and now has almost 100 members.
It has worked with NITB on a number of events since the launch of the Titanic Belfast tourist attraction in the spring.
Ms Lacey said she told her choir members that in order for the flashmob to work, they had to blend into the airport without attracting attention.
So they were instructed to turn with suitcases and wait in airport cafes until the Monroe family arrived.
The choir director said some singers were asked to pose as a hen party, while one of the choir's more "flamboyant" members, Crawford Boyce, was keen to don a pilot's uniform for the performance.
She joked that whoever lent it to him may have some trouble getting it back.