Pandemonium: Akron Irish

Akron Irish: Pandemonium
By Lisa O’Rourke

Dear Reader, I would love to tell you that these articles are written months in advance and that I am merely polishing my acerbic witticisms whilst this type is eagerly anticipated at another inbox. However, sometimes that is not the case at all, sometimes these ideas are not even mine.

After many inquiries about how lockdown and the pandemic are faring with the people of Ireland, I am going to tell you. Identities may be concealed to protect the, well you see what you think they are.

After all, how did anyone think that it was going to go, putting some of the most social people God ever created, into isolation and lockdown? They try, but like anyone who has ever attempted to deny temptation, it gets pretty tempting. It isn’t just that, but the lockdown restrictions are strict.

I have heard many people complain about things here in the states, but our restrictions are no more than distant cousins of the ones that are in place in Ireland. As I write this, the most stringent level is about to be back in place after a few months of relative freedom. What are these restrictions?

Schools and construction are closed down. Shops are not allowed to do what we would call curbside, but can only do deliveries. All non-essential retail is closed. Residents can’t travel more than 5K from their homes unless they are essential workers going to and returning from work.

Consequences you might ask? Those come in the form of fines of hundreds of dollars and possible jail time. Ah sure, but they aren’t really enforcing that stuff, are they? Yes, indeed they are. There are hundreds of police enforced checkpoints around the country at any given time.

It is surprising that the lockdown restrictions have been what they are, especially in the rural areas. But the Irish health system could be easily overwhelmed. The government run health care, while good in many areas, has tried to save money like everyone else involved in the industry.

The government has moved, over the last twenty years, to increasingly centralized health care. Most counties used to have a hospital of some capacity in their county. Now, those county hospitals are gone.

Roscommon Town
Roscommon town used to have a small hospital with a hundred beds or so. Those in the area in need of hospital services now have to travel at least an hour to a city center. It is far from ideal.

There have been multiple stories of people in rural areas having to travel to get help at a time when time is one of the critical factors.  Ambulances are something that most people can’t afford to wait for. There is no room for error in crisis management here.

The country is blessed to have a population which possess, on balance, a bit more concern for the needs of others rather than their own wants. But nobody is perfect, and they too have had some super-spreader parties. One of these events made the papers in a town in County Galway.

The little village won a minor football championship for the first time in many years; think the Browns. What could they do? They had a sneaky party in a pub that did end up as a super spreader event. For the most part though, the transgressions are small ones, and the complaining is much less.

What are they doing with their lockdown? About the same as here. They are cooking, baking, binge- watching and enjoying the great outdoors.

Climbing Knocknarea
I know one gentleman who has taken to fitness walking. He and his friends climb Knocknarea, the bun-shaped mini-mountain and alleged burial place of Queen Maeve in Sligo, several times a week. It is at least 45 minutes up. They have all become fit men and it gives them a socially-distant chance to have a chat.

Another couple in our acquaintance in Sligo went through a drive worthy of James Bond to get to Dublin airport so that they could end up in their condo in Spain. They packed the car and woke up at two AM and headed straight over the border into Derry. They drove across the country in the North and dropped down into Dublin in the wee hours, avoiding the checkpoint hotspot that Dublin has ironically become. They just decided that they would rather be quarantined poolside with some Spanish wine.

COVID on a Farm
Life on the farm has been fine. The exception being that one of our nieces contracted Covid going to Italy to box, at a time when restrictions were lessened. She was tested and quarantined on arrival, while there, and again on departure and her return to Ireland.

Three days after being home, she tested positive. She didn’t have more than a cold with it though, lucky enough.

Farmers, being in food production, are essential workers. However, the driving restrictions are pretty tough on them there. Not only are they not supposed to drive more than 5 kilometers from home, but there are also not meant to be more than two people in a vehicle.

Many farmers do not have their acreage all in one continuous area, but several plots of acres. Not being able to drive far often subjects them to tussles with the police and their checkpoints. Jobs on the land often require a few people to manage. So, you can’t go anywhere and you can’t bring help.

My brother-in-law was stopped with my nieces and given a warning that he would be fined the next time the police saw the three of them in the truck. Days later, there was a “next” time.

They saw the checkpoint first though. My niece was ejected from the truck. She jogged past the police in her Wellies telling them that she was out for a run. I never saw anyone run in Wellingtons, and I am pretty sure that the police hadn’t either, but what could they do!

There have been some scares too. A dear friend who just had a son, was very ill early on in the pandemic. He recovered thankfully. He was met with so much gratitude afterwards.

It made me think about a cartoon I saw that compared us with the Greatest Generation. It contrasted our current coping skills with how they coped with the Great Depression and World War II.

It showed things like Victory gardens and war stamps, all kinds of ways that people helped out. They looked to contribute instead of take.

Where Are the Heroes?
I am not so sure that we are going to look very heroic to future generations. When confronted with this criticism, people say, “Times were different then”. 

I think that the times were different because the people were different. We are collectively, what define our time. We can define this a better time.

*Lisa O’Rourke is an educator from Akron. She has a BA in English and a Master’s in Reading/Elementary Education. Lisa is a student of everything Irish, primarily Gaeilge. She runs a Gaeilge study group at the AOH/Mark Heffernan Division. She is married to Dónal and has two sons, Danny and Liam. Lisa enjoys art, reading, music, and travel. She likes spending time with her dog, cats and fish. Lisa can be contacted at [email protected].

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