FEATURE: Covid-19 is giving us all a chance to pause and reminisce

'There is no safer place right now than memory lane'

Justin Kelly


Justin Kelly



FEATURE: Covid-19 is giving us all a chance to pause and reminisce

A few snaps from my own trip down memory lane, featuring myself and twin brother Barry, Devon Kavanagh, Conor Brereton, Jamie Daly, Billy Seery, Kenneth Dunne and Seanie Moore

The Covid-19 story in Ireland is rightly dominated by the surge of deaths in nursing homes and residential care settings. Many of us have lost a loved one, extended virtual condolences instead of an embrace, or stood on the street in a guard of honour. 

These deaths will be the overriding tragedy of this pandemic period when the curve has flattened, a vaccine has been found, and the coronavirus is consigned to poignant episodes of Reeling In The Years. We must not forget the lives these people had rather than their deaths, which are all too often filtered into the public domain by way of a chart or a graph.

That is hard to do in the absence of the usual huddle of relatives exchanging laughs and tales of the past around a kitchen table full of sandwiches. The quintessential Irish funeral - a rare and beautiful thing in modern society - has been lost to the dark art of social distancing. The necessity and good reason for such measures don't ease the human toll the loss of such a gathering has brought to our homes and our hearts. We must grieve alone and find new ways to eulogise those we love. 

While impersonal radio death notices lengthen into the evening, social media is alive with tributes and old photographs. The kind words for the ones we've lost often lead to chatter about the other faces in the grainy shots - 'Who were they again? Where was that taken? God, I remember that well.' It has gone beyond the sombre and into the joyous - a beautiful retelling of a time we were together. 

Various social media challenges have seen us all sharing old photographs and with all but essential workers stuck indoors, we are communicating in a way that both keeps us apart and brings us together in our communities. It's the only place we have in the absence of local festivals, church gatherings or even the humble chat over a pint. 

The reason these pictures are surfacing on Facebook and elsewhere is because we now have the time to trawl through that old box of photographs. How long has it sat in the back room or the attic as we rushed from here to there, sat in traffic and made appointments and excuses for our busy lives? Perhaps we were more socially distant when we were out and about than we are now. 

This pandemic is a very stressful time for many with lost jobs and tragedies, but it is also a chance to pause and reminisce. Take it. A lot of people are settling in their old homeplaces after leaving jobs or college places in Dublin and beyond. Many more have returned from abroad as airport, train and bus station traffic filters to a trickle. 

We're restricted to two kilometres to get out and about but never have we been more grateful for those two kilometres. Our homeplaces have never been more precious. Just the other day, I walked past one of my old schools, St. Mary's Primary School, where I spent my early school days. I've passed it many times over the years, but just not lately, at least not on foot.
I could nearly see my old friends playing on the freshly cut grass - that unmistakable summer scent wafting over the wall brought me right back to soccer sessions with caretaker Larry Swaine. All the time that has passed in between made little difference to the immediacy of that memory. 

As I walked home, I thought of all of the people who would have been in that schoolyard with me who are no longer here. At least three classmates my age who certainly shouldn't have been taken from us so young - Kenneth Dunne, Paul Hoey and my own cousin Billy Seery. Young faces in old class photographs on the wall of that school; friends very much part of the memories being shared now on social media. We're all guilty of ploughing ahead with our own lives and failing to look back.

We can also get caught up in the gravity of the global pandemic we're currently navigating. The news is often bad and relentless. The crisis has, however, brought out a great community spirit - local entertainers streaming free concerts, shouting out to locals at home and abroad, playing tributes to people, people sharing photographs, snippets of old newspapers, lighting candles in their windows for those who have died, as well as frontline workers. These things are all helping to take our minds off it, and even if that's only for a brief moment, isn't it a great moment nonetheless?

We've been effectively running on the spot for years - busy, busy, busy - but this is the time to stop and take stock. Hopefully, it never happens again in our lifetimes, but you never know, it might even change us for the better. As the poet Seamus Heaney once said: "If we can winter this one out, we can summer anywhere."