Eilish Kennedy, creative designer at McElhinneys tells Donegal Woman how she blended the creative and cultural worlds together for this year’s Christmas windows.

A festive celebration brought families and friends out to Ballybofey on Sunday afternoon for the highly-anticipated unveiling of the Christmas windows.

The theme this year was revealed to be ‘The Nutcracker’. The famous ballet theme has brought a great partnership between Eilish Kennedy and Jessica Peoples, director of the ZoNa dance company from Letterkenny.  

Theatre and dance combined at the unveiling, as 25 ZoNa ballerinas danced in the McElhinneys foyer to famous music from Tchaikovsky’s compositions, while four live characters moved in the windows and added to the enchantment.

McElhinneys Christmas Window Unveiling. Photo by Rachel McLaughlin

McElhinneys Christmas Window Unveiling. Photo by Rachel McLaughlin

Eilish Kennedy – McElhinneys Creative Director

Each window materialised as a stunning scene that requires time to take in all the details.

Eilish explains the inspiration behind the many elements: “I came up with the Nutcracker theme over the last few years. It’s no different than a film – you wait for the time to be right.

“From as early as January we travel to shows in different parts of Europe and start to get a feel of what’s happening, what’s changing in the world and in the environment all around us. As a designer, I find out what key fashion items people will be buying in the year to come.

“Inspiration came from key trends this season, such as military style clothes with high shine buttons , luxurious fabrics like velvet and the light elegance of soft ballet skirts.  

“Gold was a key colour in the window as it has replaced silver in jewellery trends. These are all the secret things I do to tie in all the elements,” she said.


Up to 20 dedicated team members have worked together to build and perfect this window in recent weeks, with the entire McElhinneys staff force contributing in their own ways.

A passionate team is required to bring so many elements together. Uniquely, McElhinneys do not bring in outside workers to create the visuals. They employ their in-house carpenter, electrician, graphic designer and own team, who work under Eilish’s direction after she plans the themes and buys in materials.

Last year’s theme was an enchanted magical forest, with white glittering features and crisp white cool tones. This year they have captured the warmth of the traditional red and green colours of Christmas.

The window truly comes alive with moving devices. Magic the McElhinneys dog is back, and is set to feature every year.

Magic the dog. McElhinneys Christmas Window Unveiling. Photo by Rachel McLaughlin

McElhinneys Christmas Window Unveiling. Photo by Rachel McLaughlin

The 200-year-old Nutcracker story is told throughout. The tale centres on Clara, a German girl who is gifted a wooden soldier doll who comes to life in her dreams and whisks her away to lands of magic and wonder.

The left hand side of the window is a traditional home scene, where all the rich velvet clothing was tailor-made by McElhinneys staff.

“Everything was made especially for the window, I was blessed to have the seamstress from the bridal department at hand,” Eilish said.

“The most exciting part for me was the fashion design. It has been brilliant every year to uncover the hidden talents of the McElhinneys staff. For instance, we discovered one girl had trained in theatrical makeup for years in London, so she hand painted all the models’ faces and did their hair.

The other side is a step into a land of wonder. It’s a modern and colourful display, with an entrancing giant rocking horse and a delightful Mother Ginger who has a custom built house beneath her skirt. “That is like a theatre alone,” Eilish commented.

A dazzling blue ballerina emerges from a giant music box and an alluring land of sweets leave children starry-eyed.

Mother Ginger. McElhinneys Christmas Window Unveiling. Photo by Rachel McLaughlin

The monumental group effort was a stunning success and it was a proud moment for many when it was all unveiled.

“I couldn’t do it without the team. Everybody contributes in different ways and it becomes their own window. It brings something to the whole town and it’s exciting for all the families,” Eilish said.

This was the first time that McElhinneys had collaborated with the local Chamber of Commerce – who switched on the lights at the same time as the unveiling.

Such a unique event brought people together from all over Donegal, which is something Eilish wants to do from the early stages in years to come.

The launch brought people and groups together from all over Donegal, including St. Catherine’s marching band from Killybegs, carol singers from seven local schools, Irish dancers from the Murphy/Moore Academy, a Brass Band from Strabane and a troupe of daring fire eaters.

Eilish’s collaboration with Jessica of ZoNa, a creative director of a different kind, was a perfect fit as the ZoNa dancers are set to perform The Nutcracker in An Grianan Theatre this December 12-16th.

Eilish said: “We would like to showcase groups from other parts of the county each year. I want it to be about Donegal and Christmas in Donegal. I hope next year people will start coming to me with ideas and ways they want to be involved.”

Jessica Peoples and the ZoNa dancers. McElhinneys Christmas Window Unveiling. Photo by Rachel McLaughlin

The McElhinneys team also connected with the fashion department of the LYIT and some students helped out with the fashion input of the windows.

“This is an exciting new partnership which we see as having a long term future for both parties.  We would like to acknowledge J.C. from the Butt theatre who gave us his creative input in our windows this year.

“It’s a mix of the culture and all these collaborations that have brought the event down a different route,” Eilish said.

The true magic of it all, Eilish adds, is the terrific teamwork that brings the dream to life.

Paul Logue, John McElhinney and Eilish Kennedy. McElhinneys Christmas Window Unveiling. Photo by Rachel McLaughlin

McElhinneys Christmas Window Unveiling. Photo by Rachel McLaughlin