Enhanced restrictive public health measures implemented as family embraces sadly missed

Since we last spoke, we have all been living through this never-never land of coronavirus.

The announcement last Friday that older people cannot leave their homes at all has dealt a blow to those of us who were able to get into our car and go for a short drive and maybe a little walk. However, I fully understand the need for such a tight control, and it is a small price to pay if it can, in some way, lead to the halt of the dreaded coronavirus.

So what’s been happening lately? Since Joe McHugh, the Minister for Education, came out and said that the oral language exams will not be going ahead for the Leaving Cert and various other decisions made about the practical part of the Junior Cert and Leaving Cert, I have had a chorus of telephone calls from people asking me various questions.

I have read carefully all that was in the papers and all that the Minister and his officials said.

Of course there have been cries about the unfairness of it all, and particularly the decision to grant 100 per cent to everyone for that side of the State examinations. These cries have come from people who felt they would have done well in the practicals and orals, and yet have now found that people who did no work for them are being given the same mark, 100 percent.

But let’s be straightforward about this. Of course it isn’t fully fair, we all know that. But then, what’s fair about life right now? What’s fair about the global spread of coronavirus, and what’s fair about Ireland being caught up, like so many other countries, in the middle of it all?

There is absolutely nothing fair about all of that, and yet we are living through a time when drastic measures have to be taken in all aspects of our lives.

That has been my answer to the many cries of unfairness and the many suggestions put forward by many other people. Let’s see it take its course and then see what will transpire.

I have two grandchildren who are studying for the Junior Cert – Sam in Dublin, who is the second child of my son Feargal and his wife Maeve, and Sarah in Athlone, who is the second child of Aengus and his wife Lisa.

Both of those were studying hard for their Junior Cert. Their biggest difficulty now is that they do not know if the written Junior Cert examination will take place.

For what my opinion is worth, I do not think the written Junior Cert will take place, certainly not at the time originally appointed. But of course, the Junior Cert can happen any time during Transition Year.

I strongly believe that there is a need for a State examination for young people before they do their Leaving Certificate. If we abandon completely the Junior Cert and say “Oh, it doesn’t matter, we’ll press ahead and have the Leaving Cert”, that is certainly an action with which I would not agree, and which I think should not happen.

If nothing else, the Junior Cert is a play-out for the final State examination, the Leaving Certificate.

But we will wait and see what will eventually transpire. I have faith in the current Minister for Education Joe McHugh. I think he’s a very down-to-earth, sensible person, from Donegal, who does not allow himself to be completely run by the Civil Service, but has a mind and an opinion of his own.

I have no doubt but that the combination of the wisdom of the Civil Service and the character of the Minister for Education will bring about, in the end, an equitable solution.

Try telling that at the moment to Sam and Sarah, who are just beset by worries and particularly the fear of the uncertainty surrounding their first State examination.

So, what do I miss most in this strict regime in which we are living now? For me, as an older person, particularly as a grandmother, it is the loss of almost daily opportunities of tight hugs with my grandchildren, particularly my two younger grandchildren James and Scott.

Whenever they would come in with their Dad, we would all have great conversations together and then invariably big hugs when they were leaving. I miss that so much, that physical contact, but I fully understand the need for it so that we may all be kept safer.

Of course I am continuing to read. The latest one was a book by Jody Moylan, a Roscommon man from Tulsk, who has written a book called Daniel O’Connell: A Graphic Life with wonderful illustrations by Mateusz Nowakowksi.

During the last number of years, I have read many books on Daniel O’Connell, including the very renowned one by historian Patrick Geoghegan, and yet this slim book by Jody Moylan has told me many aspects of his life which I had not hitherto discovered.

So well done to Jody and his illustrator, and thank you Jody for the lovely good wishes you wrote to me on the first page of the book.

In this time of confinement, I am listening to the radio and looking at TV, and I hope that we can discuss some of those matters over the next few weeks together.

Like many of you, I expect, I am very impressed by the chief medical officer of the HSE, Dr Tony Holohan, who has conducted the evening press conferences with great authority and veracity, and who somehow makes us all feel safer when he has finished, even with the many bad statistics he issues.

Despite all the gloom, uncertainty and worry, we are having absolutely beautiful weather – brisk cold nights and early mornings and then bright sunshine throughout the day. We often in Ireland get that March/April weather and it usually coincides with the arrival of Lent and then Easter. I suppose we should be thankful for the good weather now, and the fact that this deadly pandemic is coming to us in the months of February/March/April when we are facing into brighter weather and longer days. The opposite would be awful, if we got the pandemic in the months of November/December when we were facing into rough weather and uncertainty.

Let’s grab the small mercies when they come, and even though you might only have a small outdoor space, get your chair and cushion and sit out for a while at the height of the day, when the sun is at its strongest. The fresh air will do us all some good.

That’s my lot for this week. Hope to talk with you all next week.

In the meantime, go safely.

Slán go fóill.

Mary O’Rourke


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