Last December, I found myself through work, in the fortunate position of being in Croke Park on a succession of weekends before Christmas for the conclusion of the hurling, camogie, and football championships, one of which resulted in a welcome and impressive U-20 win for Donall O Fatharta’s Galway team. They were journeys that were different to the norm.
But the strangest aspect for me was the emptiness of spaces that I’d normally seen packed, thronged, overflowing with colour and sound. Jones’ Road, normally a kaleidoscope in summer sunshine. Now a grey backdrop of our national stadium.
Even inside the ground, the mood was different. A handful of us scattered apart across the press areas. And afterwards, with no hanging about, a quick jaunt through the empty streets of North Dublin to the car and the journey home.
They are imprinted on my mind for their lack of soul, just as are many other strange juxtapositions in this time. I am reminded of it every time I pass a school on my run or walk everyday. Near where I live, there are shiny new school buildings, but for the most part, they have lain empty. Monuments of the Great Inconvenience that is this time.
So that is why it will be great next week when our primary schools will be full again, when the remaining cohort of classes will return to live teaching, and not have to peer into the small screens for their contact with their classmates and their teachers.
My, how it is needed. If adults are struggling with the restrictions and sameness of this latest lockdown, imagine how it has been for the children. Last year, the closure morphed into wonderful sunshine and an array of things to do. This time, they have been without the main structure in their lives since they broken up for the Christmas holidays and had to endure this in the heart of winter.
The impact of these closures on their socialisation is well documented. Many children and young adults have perhaps for the first time in their lives, experienced real loneliness in recent months. The lack of physical contact, of sport, of activities, of just seeing how much they mean to others outside their immediate families.
There is a need for a national psychosocial and wellbeing recovery element to teaching over the next while to assure young people of the normal reliability of certainty in their lives, after a time when the unprecedented took place. A generation that in the past might have lost a day or two to bad weather, has now lost six or seven months of the last two terms.
I am sure and I am already seeing evidence of the role that sports clubs in particular are playing in getting people ready for the big return. To remind them of the communality of sports and teams, but this might need to be replicated across all activities so that nobody is left excluded, so that everyone can recover to the same extent from this great disruption.
In this, there is also a need for a look at the levels of anxiety and stress that have been suffered so that this young generation has the confidence and the certainty to see them fulfil their potential.
Getting back to school is a start. Bit by bit, all of us, young and old, will be ‘getting back to school’ over the next few months. And it cannot come a moment too soon. Steady as she goes. Keep safe and responsible and we’ll get there.