A London-based Irish pensioner faced his tenth Christmas alone before taking positive action to ensure he would not be alone again this Christmas Day.
James Gray, a former butler from Midleton in Cork, spoke out this week about not being able to remember the last time he saw someone else on the big day.
His wife died some years ago and they had no children.
Earlier this month Gray began the search for a companion for Christmas Day. He began by placing an advert for company on Christmas Day in the Irish Post newspaper.
The pensioner, who dined alone last Christmas, vowed to find a companion for this year and told the Irish Post “I just want to find someone in time.”
“I am used to the loneliness, but I do not want it to be the same this year.
“I think there must be quite a few lonely people around and I am on my own so it would make sense if someone came here for Christmas lunch.
“This time of year is so hard if you are old and alone because it feels like everybody else around you are enjoying themselves” Gray added.
The 85-year-old, who has no immediate family to call on, was facing another Christmas dinner for one, until The Irish Post made it their mission that Gray would have company this year.
The Irish paper in London reported that Gray has been “completely overwhelmed” by the huge response to his call for somebody to spend Christmas with.
The former butler turned to the newspaper in desperation, but since the Irish Post story was pubilshed he has been inundated with offers from prospective companions.
Gray is now looking forward to receiving his first Christmas cards in years after a Christmas card appeal (see below) from The Irish Post.
“It is so touching to me, after all these years alone, to see this response from people,” he said.
“I’m so appreciative of the offers. I should have done this years ago.”
Gray’s story has taken Ireland and Britain by storm since The Irish Post reported it.
National media outlets on each side of the Irish Sea have joined the campaign to find a Christmas friend for the Irish man.
A number of people have also offered to help Mr Gray break his lonely streak by having Christmas dinner with him this year.
Offers have come from as far away as New York.
Midleton man Gray said he is looking forward to receiving his first Christmas cards in years from some of those who have been in touch with The Irish Post.
“I did not get a single card for my birthday in August, but I just had to put up with it,” he said.
Tom McLoughlin, manager of the Leeds Irish Centre, said isolation and loneliness are a major Irish problem emigrants.
He told the Irish Post he sees the effect of loneliness every week at his Tuesday lunch club.
He also warned that isolation during the holiday season will be a problem for Irish men in particular.
“A lot of them came over here to work on the buildings but now find themselves on their own because they have no immediate family and did not marry,” Mr McLoughlin said.
“The problem is that they are very proud people and will not go cap-in-hand to others.”
If Mr Gray’s story has touched you and you would like to send him a Christmas card, The Irish Post is now collecting cards to pass on to him. Please send it to: ‘Mr James Gray’ c/o The Irish Post, Suite A, 1 Lindsey Street, Smithfield, London EC1A 9HP, UK.