Welcome return of students to the classroom as riotous scenes mar Covid-19 progress

Hello to all the Advertiser readers.

The papers this week are full of lovely pictures of children going back to school, particularly the junior and senior infants age group. We see them jumping from the care of their mother or father and straight into their primary school, whooping with delight as they see their friends and jumping all round the place. I could never have imagined that going to school for very young children would be such a joyful occasion.

There is no doubt but that they missed their pals and the talk and divilment that they would be getting up to all day when they were together again. It all made for delightful scenes.

And then there were the more serious ones of the Leaving Certificate students making their way with their heavy bag of books into their college. Since they went back, I have spoken to my two grandchildren who are Leaving Cert students. They are equally pleased to be back in a routine, to see what their friends are doing and studying, and to listen to their teachers again and to take joy in the interaction between the students and their instructors.

There is no doubt but being out of school has a huge effect on pupils of all ages. It is indeed important for the socialisation of company their own age, the sharing of experiences and, for the senior pupils, the determination to get to grips again with all the days they have lost.

Well done to all of them, and I think it particularly appropriate that it was the infant classes and the Leaving Cert, at the beginning and end of school, who were the first to cross the threshold of learning again after such a long time. Let’s hope the gradual going back to school for students of all ages will work out satisfactorily for all concerned.

Before I go any further in this column, I want to convey my sympathy to Dr Tony Holohan on the sad death of his dear wife Emer. I met Dr Holohan many years ago when I was, for a short period, Minister for Health and he was a bright young doctor in that department. Emer, his wife, was the daughter of Frank Feely who was Dublin City Manager at the time. I can envisage the sense of bereavement and heartache which he and his two young children are having right now. We are glad to have this person of ability in our corner as we fight the deadly pandemic. In the meantime, Dr Ronan Glynn, the deputy chief medical officer, is coping really well with his daily news conferences and giving of his knowledge and skill each day. May Emer Feely/Holohan rest in peace.

I am sure many of the readers were as shocked as I was at the 6pm news on Saturday evening last when we saw the anti-vaccination riots in Dublin, at St Stephen’s Green down into Grafton Street and later over to the GPO in O’Connell Street. These people are against lockdown (aren’t we all! ), against wearing masks, against taking a vaccine. Watching the melee as it unfolded, I wondered how many of the participants in that riot would find themselves ending up in hospital with a bad dose of Covid-19 and expecting to be treated with the latest in medical technology and care, even though they had previously marched against all of that.

I cannot understand their sentiments, and when I saw the vile deed of one guy putting a lit firework into a Garda’s face, I cringed in horror.

I note from the papers that there are two more such marches planned – one for Cork next weekend and another for St Patrick’s Day in Dublin. There is no doubt that apart from the danger to all concerned, these rallies are a hotbed in which the virus can thrive. I just would wish that many of the participants would understand that and would cease their endless marching and shouting.

The last few days saw the announcement by Bank of Ireland of their closure of 104 branches throughout Ireland. The nearest to us here in Athlone is in Moate, a sizeable town which I understand had always a thriving Bank of Ireland. Equally so, the Bank of Ireland branch in the Athlone Institute of Technology.

I have read and listened to all that has been said about it. There is no doubt that the intention of the bank is to ensure that people no longer rely on dealing directly over a counter with someone in the bank premises. They want people to use online banking or any other way which will diminish the interaction between the bank and its customers in a person-to-person sense.

I feel very deeply it is an assault particularly on elderly people who would not be proficient in doing work online, and also on rural communities. It seems odd also to stop the branch in the Athlone college when it is on the cusp of being made a university when it merges with Limerick IT in the upcoming early autumn.

In a week which saw many startling events, one of the most bizarre was the one involving the schoolgirls in Northern Nigeria. Over 200 young girls were abducted from secondary school. Then I later read that the young girls have been rescued on payment of a very heavy sum of money to the rebels who abducted them.

This brought memories to me of a direct link with Edna O’Brien who wrote a highly-regarded book last year called Girl, for which the 89-year-old author travelled to Nigeria to investigate and deal with girls who had been earlier abducted there from a school. I remember being horrified reading the book, and here it is repeated all over again in 2021.

Where has the time gone this week in my column? Here I am at the end of it, and I only have space for a brief mention of the weekend rugby. Firstly, yes, Ireland beat Italy but let’s not get above ourselves or indeed of Johnny Sexton’s showing off during that game. Yes, we won by a huge margin, but so does every other country that meets them. In the Guinness PRO14, the four provinces – Munster, Ulster, Leinster and Connacht – each had a winning success, some by a great margin and in Connacht’s case by just two points due to the skill of Bundee Aki with his late try. We have much more rugby to come and that will be something to look forward to next weekend.

In the meantime, stay at home. It isn’t difficult to do during this beautifully warm weather. Stay at home where you are safe, and we look forward to the vaccine’s coming.

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

Slán go fóill.

Mary O’Rourke


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