These are the strangest of times. At least the expression ‘Take care’ is in vogue…
By Thursday, we knew a storm was coming; increasingly it was becoming obvious that it’s a hurricane. All of a sudden, we are actually nostalgic for life as it was, when the narrative that so preoccupied us was born of Brexit and inequality and homelessness and whether or not the establishment could bring itself to bat its collective eyelids in the direction of Sinn Féin.
Those things still matter, but there’s a new narrative in town…and it’s pretty much overshadowing everything else.
The other day, our nine-year-old casually asked “What happened to the climate change thing?” Indeed.
On Thursday, the coronavirus crisis really began to impact. The Government announced that schools, colleges and childcare facilities would all be closing from that evening. Maybe my mind is playing (unfunny) tricks, but the frontline Government ministers and their HSE advisors all look nervous, ashen-faced even, when I see them at these grim briefings. Of course they must be both tired and deeply concerned. These days, we dance to the grim tune of these serious-faced men in suits. On foot of these closures, parents went into ‘Just Deal With It’ mode. It can’t have been easy. This crisis is ruthless. Parents couldn’t even reach out to grandparents to address their childcare needs. A horrible punchline.
When news of the closures circulated, the car engines quickly purred. I went for a drive through Roscommon Town, and sure enough, so-called panic buying was in full flow. The carparks were bulging as worried shoppers headed, with urgency, for the shops. It was like Christmas Eve without The Fairytale of New York on the radio, without the giddy sense of anticipation, the friendly smiles and greetings.
As families very willingly subscribed to the series of restrictions, those of us who seek respite in sport glumly observed the tsunami of cancellations. Of course health is everyone’s priority just now, but the ‘loss of the sport’ crystallised for us the extent to which normal life was being affected. Also, sport, even televised sport, would be a great outlet now for people who are stressed, largely house-bound, in need of a lift. Still, we are where we are. This damned virus even robs us of the simple pleasures, such as watching Roscommon square up to Armagh on a cold Saturday, being distracted by the Six Nations, and the thrills and spills of the closing laps of the race to glory in the English soccer league.
I was a guest on Shannonside on Friday morning (by phone, due to social distancing). Joe and my fellow panellists tried gamely to analyse this mayhem. It was like being asked to wear a blindfold and enter a dark cave at night and then describe its interior in detail. We tossed every aspect of the crisis around for 20 minutes. When we moved on to ‘Government formation’ it was a relief, but it didn’t feel as important as it usually might.
In the shops, people are still friendly, but just about every brow is furrowed. If someone jokes with you, it’s delivered with a touch of nervousness. People are keeping their distance from one another, as we’ve been told to do. I know that the woman reaching for the potatoes is ever so slightly and briefly uptight…because I too am reaching for the potatoes. Well, that’s how it feels. There are enough potatoes, but it’s the social distancing thing. Personal space is suddenly the valuable currency of our time. Extraordinary.
The shops, large and small, are doing a brisk trade. People are being nice, but there are less smiles. There’s a slightly-disguised tension in the air. We are all going about our business. We are all thinking the same stuff. We are all living on Planet Covid-19.
All through Sunday, rumours that the Taoiseach would soon announce a complete lockdown of the country. As it happens, it didn’t come. Not yet at least. (Mr. Varadkar would subsequently (Tuesday night) show great leadership with a powerful address to the nation). On social media, worrying footage of revellers (mostly in Dublin, but elsewhere too) partying in pubs, and clearly completely ignoring the ‘social distancing’ guidelines. A clamour quickly built for action to be taken. The nation with a proud pub culture wanted its pubs closed. Strange times. The right call, of course.
When the directive came, it brought some order. By then, a number of pubs and restaurants were already…well, self-isolating. Throughout Sunday, businesses in Roscommon were posting social media notices announcing that they would be closing until (at least) March 29th.
Like every small business, here at the Roscommon People, we’re assessing the impact on us. As for every small business, that impact is grim.
We rallied, to keep the show on the road. Advertising cancellations came thick and fast as many of our wonderful, loyal businesses moved towards temporary closure.
We implemented the social distancing guidelines and consulted with our staff. And we went to work. Another practical challenge here in Roscommon People Land, was what exactly do we put in the paper? All sport is off. Ditto social gatherings. No courts, no Council meetings, no public meetings, no pubs and nightclubs in which to take social photographs…‘news’ itself (to a large degree) halted in its tracks.
But, with a combination of coverage of events that happened just before the scaling up of the restrictions, and the actual news (however minimal) that is still to be reported upon – plus much comment from our contributors – we’re out today, and proud to be.
It’s St. Patrick’s Day. The pubs are closed, the parades cancelled. Many businesses in Roscommon have closed over the last few days. Many shops remain open, but the town is quiet. It is certainly an eerie St. Patrick’s Day.
The impact on business is monumental. So many of us have – rightly – pledged to support these businesses more than ever once this crisis ends. Our thoughts are with our local SMEs. Our thoughts are with the business people, and also very much with their staff, so many of whom have lost their jobs. Hopefully these jobs losses will be temporary. Likewise, our thoughts are with families everywhere, so many of them stricken by this economic bombshell.
But it all goes back to health. As an absolute priority, we must do everything possible to protect people’s health. We must adhere to the guidelines we have received. And there will be a big mental health challenge too…as people are stressed and worried, and facing all types of unforeseen challenges.
The heroic men and women in our healthcare sector deserve all our admiration, thanks and support.
Most families in Roscommon are staying in now, virtually house-bound, engaging in social distancing. This is necessary. People can still pop into the shops every now and again. People can still get out for walks. We can keep in contact by phone and social media. There are well-documented positives as well to this unexpected period of being behind closed doors.
Most of all, we must all take care. We must look out for ourselves, our families, and – in particular – the elderly and the most vulnerable. Let’s all work together in a heroic society-wide manner and we can get through this. There have already been wonderful examples of generosity and good neighbourliness, not least by GAA clubs (and others).
Many will also see it as a time for prayer. It is sad that people have been unable to attend Mass, but Masses are still being said. Never a better time to pray to Our Lord, for solace, hope, comfort, strength. And it is a time for community spirit, albeit from a distance.
Brighter days will come. We will shake hands, we will embrace, we will socialise, we will enjoy life. The Fairytale of New York will ring out again, we’ll even talk about Brexit again. We will smile and breathe easier. Take care.
“Parents went into ‘Just Deal With It’ mode. It can’t have been easy. This crisis is ruthless. Parents couldn’t even reach out to grandparents to address their childcare needs. A horrible punchline”