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Shuttered-down pubs may have dampened spirits, but bouts of sunshine and free postcards have provided a welcome respite for those under lockdown in Ireland. By Srijani Ganguly
Like a pilgrim bound by an ancient ritual, every tourist in Ireland is compelled to visit the Temple Bar area at least once during their stay. It lies in the heart of Dublin city, framed by the mighty River Liffey on one side, the Trinity College and the commercialised Grafton Street on the other. Once there, you can’t help but crawl from one pub to another, sing loudly (and drunkenly) on the streets with friends, and stand enraptured around street performers and their many tricks. It is an experience that only grows in intensity as St Patrick’s Day, held usually on the 17th of March every year, grows near. Nothing can stop you from getting swept away by the festivities. Nothing, that is, except COVID-19.
This year, five days before March 17, it was announced that all schools and colleges in the Republic of Ireland would be closed due to the growing threat of the novel coronavirus. Several organisations and offices followed suit, but most pubs still remained open. And tourists and locals alike continued to flock to them. With the St Patrick’s Day parades cancelled, there was fear that a lot of people would swarm into tightly-packed drinking establishments on the day. An organic campaign began then, with some people even recording videos of tourists still “having a craic” and behaving like “eejits” at Temple Bar—as referenced in one viral post—despite the spread of the contagious disease. (Craic is a multipurpose Irish word that, here, means ‘good time’, and an eejit is just an idiot.) The campaign worked, of course, and the Temple Bar pub owners collectively decided to shut shop before the big day.
It was a very subdued St Patrick’s Day this year, therefore. Some houses had decorations on the outside in the form of tiny green flags that ensconced everything from their gardens to their houses. I saw the same when I went out on a grocery run where I live, in a Dublin suburb called Lucan. I didn’t meet many people on the street or in the store and felt safe with the knowledge that there was a hand sanitiser tucked inside my coat pocket.
But on March 12, the day the first preventive measures were announced, it was a different matter. The parking lot was full to the brim—something I’ve never seen before—and there were hardly any eggs or pasta on the shelves. Closer home, on the roads right outside their houses, people began to use this time to interact more and more with their families. On several days, I saw kids roller skating outside, armed with helmets and knee-pads. Then there were entire families—parents and children alike—who decided to cycle in the vicinity of the housing estate. This was right after the schools had been closed, so there was still a ‘holiday air’ to the circumstances. Some people, though, took the idea too far and decided to visit parks for picnics. The government then announced a stronger presence of the Gardaí (police) and park rangers
to enforce social distancing.
The opposite effect threatened the bookshops in the country, and many Indie bookstores feared severe losses in the face of lowered demand. There were appeals online, imploring customers to order from the stores’ websites so that their desired novels could be posted to them. But that came to a stop when the second set of measures were brought in, on March 27, which outlined, among other things, that only essential services could remain open.
Thus, books could no longer travel in the postman’s satchel to a delighted customer’s house. But around March 20, when social distancing had seeped into society, the national postal service, An Post, said it was giving every household two free postcards that could be sent anywhere in the Republic without the need for a stamp. I got mine on March 31 and promptly drew a cartoon on it, wrote a short message, and sent it to my friends in Limerick, in the southwest of the country. Amazingly, it arrived on their doorstep the very next day. By this time, there were only a handful of people on the streets. The families on the cycles and the roller skates had disappeared; only the dogwalkers remained.
Incidentally, the one time I accidentally did break the social distancing rule was when I was walking by a dog and the furry four-legged ball of energy stood up and greeted me by placing his front paws on my arm. I laughed off the intrusion, obviously.
Sunshine, surprisingly, has been a welcome respite for me. I’ve grown up in a tropical country and have despised every minute spent under the heated gaze of the sun. But here, where the commodity is so scarce, I find myself enjoying the clean sunlight that comes through some times. More so because right before the lockdown came into place, there was a storm every weekend on this island; strong winds and rain followed everyone from Friday onto Sunday.
Lately though, with the advent of spring, the weather is gentler. There are bouts of sunshine: warm and comforting. The winds are softer, too. I no longer feel like someone is pushing me to move forward. And even when the skies darken for a moment, the gloom never lasts an entire day. Like a well-thought-out metaphor, the sun comes out again.
The writer is a student of Creative Writing at the University of Limerick, Ireland.