Detailed roadmap to lockdown exit unveiled as nation mourns passing of renowned poet

Well, lockdown is over. When I have finished compiling this piece, I am going out my front door for the first time in over five weeks.

So, I’m out of lockdown and I’m allowed to take a short drive, up to five kilometres, and I am not to talk to anyone, which I won’t because I won’t get out of the car, and then I’ll come home. But even to get out will be such a relief.

I am sure that all those who are in lockdown like myself were already beginning to feel sort-of smothered and wondering when we would be allowed to move.

We all have a roadmap now of what is allowed, and the next date will be May 18 when several things will be opened up. It is amazing to see the roadmap with all of the various details on it. Let’s hope we all keep well, and so there will be no need to change any of the date lines or any of the opened-up areas which will emerge following each date.

Last week we had the very sad and unexpected death of the poet Eavan Boland. I am so glad that some of her poems are now on the Leaving Certificate syllabus for English and also in the up-to-date Soundings book of poetry for the State examinations.

Some four years ago, I was invited to Lisdoonvarna to a literary festival, and there I met Eavan Boland. Now I had met her on previous occasions, but only in a very brief way.

However, during the course of the Lisdoonvarna two days, we had plenty of opportunity to talk to one another, and I found myself very engaged in conversation with Eavan. I have always been an admirer of her poetry. On that occasion, we talked over two of her poems which I would recite again and again. One was ‘Night Feed’ in which she, as a young mother, put in wonderful verse the emotions she felt as she got up to give the night feed to her newly-born daughter. It is so real and so evocative, and of course only someone like Eavan would see in what she was doing a cause of joy and emotion, and in that way spread that joy and emotion to all mothers who were engaging in what would be seen as an ordinary, mundane task. But infected with her lines, it assumed a mystical edge.

I loved another poem of hers, ‘Quarantine’, which tells the story of a husband and wife in 1847 travelling the roads of West Cork as they are dying from famine and from illness. He carried her the last ten miles and in the morning they were found dead, both of them, she with her feet up against his breastbone where she would get the last remnant of heat from his body.

Oh, it’s a bleak poem, but so strong and so filled with emotion that you would be quite shaken after reading it.

Eavan Boland will be sorely missed. I always thought her poetry was like Patrick Kavanagh’s, where she made the ordinary extraordinary, just as he did around the farmyard in County Monaghan.

Last week we had May Day, the first day of May. I remember from my childhood being told in primary school that if you went out and bathed your face in the morning dew on May Day, you would be beautiful for a year. I never undertook to do it, but one or two in my class at that time did, and they were always parading during the following 12 months saying “Amn’t I beautiful, amn’t I gorgeous!!”

I know I commented last year on Canon Sydney MacEwan and his beautiful singing of ‘Bring Flowers of the Rarest’, which is a wonderful hymn/poem. I’m commenting on it again this year because I heard it on RTÉ1, and was really pleased to listen and to soar away again with that beautiful voice and those wonderful words.

We are truly into May now, and today is another beautiful day, with the sun shining brightly from morning until evening. I know it has been truly terrible, the whole coronavirus pandemic. But imagine if we were enduring it in bad weather with the rain pouring down outside. As it is, at least we can go out our back door and sit in the sun for a short while and revel in the goodness of nature.

I’m reading a very good book at the moment. It’s called The Arms Crisis of 1970: The Plot that Never Was. It’s by ex-Primetime and RTÉ journalist Michael Heney, and it has got great reviews, even though it has not yet been really launched. But it is for sale, and Aengus got it for me through Eason, delivered by An Post and paid for online. It’s truly an intriguing read, and when bookshops and libraries open up it is a book that I can highly recommend.

The saga of the Leaving Cert trundles on. I thought it had been settled when July 29 was given by the Minister for Education as the start date for the Leaving Certificate, but over last weekend Thomas Byrne, the Fianna Fáil spokesperson on education, has come out saying that, in his mind, the Leaving Certificate should be cancelled for 2020. I do not at all agree with this, particularly as he has not come forward with any laid-out plan of what should happen the Leaving Cert class of 2020. This intrusion into the debate will only lead to further anxiety among the Leaving Cert students. They had enough to cope with up to this, but at least they had a date ahead of them towards which they could aspire and be prepared for and study with their teachers for two weeks before that date.

I hope that there will be clarity soon on this issue; it is far too important to students and to parents, and will only lead to further uncertainty.

The Junior Certificate examination has been cancelled for this year. The students who go back in September into a senior cycle can sit these State examination papers, but it seems they will be corrected by their class teachers. Not ideal, in my mind, but at least it is salvaging something out of the Junior Cert and putting it again on a proper course.

All of life is so changed, that for months and months ahead we will be picking up the pieces as we go around, and life will never really be the same again as it was before the onset of the coronavirus.

I hope the readers are staying in as much as possible: stay safe, and stay at home.

Until we talk again next week, mind yourself.

Slán go fóill.

Mary O’Rourke


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