‘Are you over from England?” Simply 5 phrases. A easy sufficient query. But delivered by a grocery store supervisor in a small city in County Kerry final 12 months, shortly after Ireland had been compelled into the primary of its many lockdowns, the harmless query appeared to tackle a brand new dimension.
Folks had been ordered to remain inside 2km of their properties, however there have been rumours that rogue components, in these early disbelieving days of the pandemic, had ignored the restrictions and had been persevering with to journey. There was discuss of vacation properties being occupied, of tourists arriving from elsewhere in Eire – and throughout the ocean from Britain.
Few circumstances of Covid-19 had been reported within the county, but there was a rising worry of an infection, of rule-breaking outsiders carrying the virus with them from Dublin and London. We had arrived from Cork, one other perceived hotspot, a couple of weeks earlier, earlier than the emergency measures took maintain, however there have been whispers of subsequent newcomers being reported to the native gardai. The temper was edgy, even just a little paranoid.
Therefore the informal convenience-store question, with its trace of disapproval, its contact of accusation.
“No, I’m not. I stay right here.”
I meant Eire. The supervisor’s expression informed me he was in search of one thing extra particular. If I lived regionally, why did he not recognise me, why had he not seen me within the retailer earlier than?
My companion Jacqueline and I returned to Cork from our home in Kerry later in 2020, and in impact we had two lockdown experiences – one rural, one city. A lot of the time we spent in Kerry was weirdly, guiltily optimistic. I used to be engaged on a ebook, which I accomplished. I had no excuses. In any respect. The lockdown was like some darkish cosmic reward: right here’s a bit of time with no distractions in any way and no distant worry of lacking out on something.
There have been sunny summer time afternoon cycle rides on a Ring of Kerry freed from bulldozing coaches and zigzagging rent automobiles. There was the stillness and solitude of strolls alongside empty seashores, even when they did generally really feel post-apocalyptic – or like starring in your individual episode of The Prisoner.
Again within the metropolis, there have been (distanced) night walks with associates and the revelation of seeing the acquainted anew, of discovering alleyways, cul-de-sacs, homes, gardens, parklands, cemeteries, plaques and statues that I’d blindly whizzed previous in a automobile. We turned vacationers in our personal metropolis, our personal native historical past guides. They had been rambles that jogged my memory that journey is usually extra concerning the explicit than the panoramic; it’s about paying consideration.
The main minus – other than the disappointment and fear and Weltschmerz, in fact – was the shortage of freedom of motion. Whereas the journey restrict was lifted in June, a 5km rule was reimposed on the finish of December – and lasted for the subsequent 103 days. The confinement was once more strictly enforced: there have been nationwide checkpoints and on-the-spot fines for non-essential journey. Most individuals I spoke to in Britain appeared unaware of simply how stringent and repressive the restrictions had been right here within the Republic, that in response to an Oxford College evaluation Eire was “dwelling beneath one of many harshest coronavirus lockdowns on the planet”.
There have been roadblocks on all the foremost routes out of town, and we started to really feel hemmed in. Not solely was this the longest I had ever been with out getting on a airplane and going someplace, particularly again to household and associates in England, nevertheless it was onerous to even enterprise past town limits. It felt psychologically imprisoning – the Divine Republic not of Cork however of Gilead.
Which is why from yesterday, because the lockdown in Eire additional eases and lodges and guesthouses reopen, with eating places and gastropubs beginning to serve folks open air 5 days later, the sense of liberation appears that a lot larger.
You may’t get a room in lodge, particularly one by the ocean or with a spa, or each, for love nor cash, in fact. However you possibly can dream. Once more. Of spending cash on one thing extra luxurious than natural chard. Of going someplace new, and completely different. Of sleeping in a mattress that you simply haven’t your self made. Of placing in your glad rags and wandering right down to a dinner cooked by actual cooks in actual time. Of a pint of Guinness on the bar. Of a late breakfast, the total Irish.
And dream that the enquiry “are you over from England?” will as soon as once more imply what I’ve virtually at all times discovered it to imply – over the 17 vastly satisfying years that I’ve lived in Eire, and even permitting for my naive idealism, each private and historic – welcome.