‘I thought I’d get nine or 10… But there are hundreds here!’ – Lonely Irish pensioner receives first Christmas cards in years

By on December 17, 2013
James Gray

James Gray receives hundreds of cards from Irish Post readers

THE LOOK on his face said it all.

James Gray knew The Irish Post would be bringing him Christmas cards today. And he had been told that his story has touched thousands.

But he did not expect this.

“Do you really need such a big box? Or is that just for the photo,” James laughed outside his south London flat.

Then we took the lid off.

“You said this was just the first lot,” he exclaimed, glaring with wide, shocked eyes into his box of cards.

“I thought maybe there would be nine or 10 cards because I didn’t get a single one for my birthday.

“But these are going to keep me busy until the New Year!”

This afternoon The Irish Post delivered nearly 300 Christmas cards to the 85-year-old, who spent his last nine Christmases alone before reaching out earlier this month.

James took out an advert trying to set up a pensioners group in the hope it would help him find company for December 25 this year.

Last year the Cork-native had prawns and smoked salmon for Christmas dinner, alone at his kitchen table, before turning to his television and a newspaper for company.

But since his story was reported in The Irish Post, the response has been incredible.

The 300 cards he is leafing through this evening are the product of just two days’ worth of deliveries.

James Gray

Fifth class pupils from Gaelscoil Philib Barún in Tramore, Co. Waterford were inspired by The Irish Post’s ‘Lonely James Gray’ article and made this selection of cards to send to the Cork pensioner in London. “They are really looking forward to finding out if his story has a happy ending,” said teacher Áine Breatnach.

For a man who has been alone for so long, it was hard to take it all in.

“This response is overwhelming,” James said.

“When I put the advertisement in, I thought I might get a couple of quick calls, but now I can see that all these people have gone to the trouble of writing, which I could never have expected.

Laughing, he added: “I suppose by having my photograph out there people are thinking ‘Look at this poor old chap, he has taken the courage’.”

Huge numbers of the cards received so far have come from Ireland, with others from as far afield as Copenhagen, Vienna and Geneva.

Some people have been so touched that they have sent a present. The gifts range from a Quality Street toffee penny, which plummeted out of the first card James opened, to a bottle of whiskey.

One card even included a beautiful drawing from a young child, depicting James and his new friends stood by a Christmas tree under the stars.

Deliveries from Uruguay, Hawaii, the US and Australia are expected by the end of the week.

James Gray has been overwhelmed by the response of people. Picture copyright: Malcolm McNally/ Irish Post

James Gray has spent his last nine Christmases alone – “This time of year is so hard if you are old and alone because it feels like everybody else around you is enjoying themselves,” he said.

“It is wonderful that so many people have written to me,” James said after reading the first 10 cards he has received in a very long time.

“I wish I could have all these people in my flat for a party, but those days are gone. There used to be 20 or 30 in here at one time for a party, but not anymore.

“It looks like these cards have come from all over the country. My carer is coming tomorrow and she is going to get a shock.”

He added: “It is a pity I did not do this some years ago, but I suppose it is never too late.”

Since The Irish Post reported on James’ brave decision to try to end his lonely streak by taking out an advert seeking Christmas companions, his story has taken the world by storm.

He is now in demand from newspapers across Britain and Ireland, as well as a number of major broadcasters.

His story has also made it as far as New Zealand, Chile and the US.

Dozens of people have written in asking whether James will be alone on December 25 this year too.

The Irish Post hopes to finalise the details of a special Christmas meal for the retired butler and a few guests in the coming days.

Regardless, James Gray will not be spending this Christmas alone.

Niall O Sullivan

About Niall O Sullivan

Niall O’Sullivan is a reporter at The Irish Post. You can follow him on @Niall_IrishPost on Twitter

13 Comments

  1. Solitude

    December 17, 2013 at 9:57 pm

    Ah that’s lovely.I sent him a card and asked everyone i know to do
    so aswell.Look at the smile on his face

    • Autrey King

      December 20, 2013 at 9:26 pm

      Where does one send a card for him? I would be happy to send him one.

  2. Kelly McMahan

    December 18, 2013 at 9:14 pm

    I am glad that James Gray spoke up – I think he will receive an avalanche of cards now. I hope he is able to create a great “Circle of Friends” through this Christmas tale.

    I sent him a card from here (Colorado) and then wondered who in my circle of friends was also going to be alone on Christmas Day.

    Good wake up call!

  3. Laura Cahill

    December 20, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    To everyone at the Irish Post thank you for highlighting his story. I think its woken people up to the fact that some people are the “invisible” lonely people at Christmas.

    Well done to everyone who helped put that brilliant smile on his face. I know that smile mad me well up. I did send him a card and a little gift and I am so glad I did as the brightness in his face now is great to see.

    Happy Christmas to him and everyone reading this. Lets hope there are far fewer “invisible” lonely people this year because of this story.

  4. Nicole

    December 20, 2013 at 4:18 pm

    Wow, such a beautiful story! I live in Panama and I would like to send him a letter too, how can I do it? Addres? Thanks you

  5. James Kearns

    December 20, 2013 at 6:59 pm

    Hi all at The Irish Post , how about trying to set up a lonely Christmas fund , so that all ‘ on their own Irish people ‘ can have a good Christmas Day .. Similar to other lonely people projects they have in other parts of the UK .. I for one would be willing to give up some of my time & ‘ a few punts ‘ to this worthy project ( in the London area ), but hopefully others could make it a nationwide idea .. Please consider .. Many thanks , Jim ..

  6. harri

    December 20, 2013 at 10:49 pm

    Uutinen ylti suomeen asti…pidetään kodittomista yhdessä huolta!!!kiitos Irish postin toimittajalle mahtavasta jutusta ja maailmalle hyvää joulua ja rauhallista uuttavuotta!!!!

  7. harri jääskeläinen

    December 20, 2013 at 11:08 pm

    Hyvää joulua ja onnea vuodelle 2014….from finland

  8. Maggie Mc Ciormack

    December 20, 2013 at 11:18 pm

    It just makes me wonder how many people spend Christmas alone every year.
    We are having two pensioners who would otherwise be alone so if every family had an alone pensioner for Christmas then perhaps no pensioner would be alone for Christmas !
    Merry Christmas and a healthy and prosperous new year to everyone.
    Xs

  9. chris mullan

    December 21, 2013 at 12:38 am

    when i worked in social services in kilburn many years ago i came across many people like james gray, every christmas i would hold wee party in my home and it was so wonderful just pure joy to see the smiles. i know many pensioners this year who will be alone, and sadly some have familys who live to far away to visit. i am glad the irish post was done something to highlight this. if you know any one alone a neighbour just check they are ok, i live on my own and it can be lonely at times beleive me, my cat murphy is great friend.

  10. Wendy Bardach

    December 21, 2013 at 7:07 am

    It is too late to get a card to him but if he could be set up with Skype we’d love to give him a video call Christmas Day.

  11. Sue

    December 21, 2013 at 8:54 pm

    I sent him a card from Canada. If he lived near me I would go and pick him up and have him spend Christmas day with my family. He looks like a sweet man. I hate to think of anyone feeling alone on Christmas day, and hope he never has to do that again.

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