In 1967 Ireland’s Prime Minister Jack Lynch begged emigrants living in Britain not to return home for Christmas.

The reason he made such an extraordinary appeal was due to an outbreak of the highly infectious foot and mouth disease in England and Wales.

2,364 cases of the disease were discovered that year and all animals infected had to be slaughtered: the sight of whole herds of cows, pigs, and sheep burnt on bonfires caused grown farmers to weep.

In an effort to prevent the devastating disease from spreading to the island of Ireland, Lynch made the heartbreaking decision that Irish agriculture would best be helped if fewer people came home for Christmas, minimizing the risk that the disease would be carried across the Irish Sea.

In a message thanking those affected, Lynch said: “I want you to know that we fully realize that this involves for you a great sacrifice and disappointment.

"And also for your friends and relatives at home. I want to say to you a sincere thank you for your magnificent cooperation in this respect.

#OTD 1967: Taoiseach Jack Lynch had a Christmas message for Irish people living in Britain: don't come home for Christmas

— BBC Archive (@BBCArchive) December 22, 2017

"I would like to thank also the many organizations and families in Britain who are helping to make this Christmas as happy as possible for you.”

So it appears that 2020 wasn't the first time that Irish politicians encouraged people to restrict their movements at Christmas time.

* Originally published in 2016. Updated in 2021.