Covid heroes

AuthorPatrick Freyne, Rosita Boland
Publication Date19 December 2020
Over Zoom, Catherine's father Eugene, a baker, explains that she and Kennelly struck up their friendship when he would take Catherine and her baby sister for walks during the first lockdown. "I suppose like everyone else we were trying to stay in our own village and go for a walk every day ... So we'd go to the side of the church where we could get Grace to sleep and Catherine could kick a football. And Susan lives just by the church with one of these small, really beautiful gardens and Catherine must have started talking to her about flowers."

"Do you know the church?" asks Catherine.

"I don't," I say.

It's a tight knit community, says Eugene, and an ageing one. "Catherine was the first child born on the main street in 51 years."

What does she talk about with Kennelly? "We talk about birds," says Catherine. "I love birds because they come in different colours. My favourite are robins. And I love space and love it more now I have a telescope. Susan gave me a space book for my birthday. Will I tell you the planets?"

Yes please. She tells me the planets. Then she tells me about the scones she makes with her dad to give to Kennelly. "Who mixes it all up?" asks Eugene.

"Me!" says Kennelly. She likes bringing things to Catherine. "I brought rice crispy buns over for Halloween and I brought hot chocolate for The [Late Late] Toy Show."

Kennelly gives her good ideas. Recently she suggested that Catherine and her dad collect a pile of leaves. Why? "So I can have them dry out and then jump in them."

Is she going to do that? "Yeah!" says Kennelly.

Is it nice having an older friend? "I don't really mind what age my friends are once we both like each other," says Catherine.

"It's funny," says Eugene. "I thought Susan was doing me a favour by chatting to Catherine when I was trying to get her sister to sleep. It's only since she mentioned she was in touch with you that I realised how much it meant to her."

Kennelly writes: "I hope that someday Catherine will realise that all the socially distanced visits to my front garden gave me great hope and inspiration during the first lockdown." Patrick Freyne

Marie O'Malley & Caitriona Winters Marie O'Malley was nominated by Caitriona Winters for her role as a home support worker for St John of Gods in Islandbridge in Dublin 8. Winters cares for her adult son Alyosha who has complex special needs. "Our world has shrunk in size," she writes. "[Marie] has been our window to the outside world for the past eight months . . . A light through tough times. She has come to our window since the sharp days of late spring, through the hot and then wet summer and she is still here, bobble hat on head after blustery autumn days have given way to wintery sunshine. She brings practical assistance, humour, a listening ear and like the Magi, always bearing gifts . . . Thank you, Marie, for everything, for going beyond the call of duty, for your kindness, your fun, your friendship , for getting us through the most difficult of times."

O'Malley for her part, thinks that carers like Winters who are still cocooning because of the vulnerability of the people in their care, are the real Covid heroes and she feels privileged to be working with them. Normally she'd be doing her work in conjunction with the day services and would be taking people on day trips, but that became impossible in 2020.

"What I've been doing since March is calling to the families that we would normally take out. So I have been doing almost like an extended nicknack to the doors. You drop a little something, literally a grab bag with some trinkets or some chocolates or a coffee or, you know, just something that if you or I couldn't get out of our house we'd think 'Oh, yeah, that'd be lovely.' Or I do the groceries or go to the post office run or collect prescriptions. If they've got a little dog I might get something for the little dog. Or I just stand by the window talking, getting stranger looks by the day but sure look it, what do I care? People are dying for conversation. We'd all be lost without it, wouldn't we?"

Everything O'Malley does, she says, is nothing compared to the sacrifices made by the people she visits. "They're the real front line. They're ignored by the State and ignored by many of the governing bodies."

And they rarely complain, she says. "They work so hard and they feel guilty if things are too much for them because they know it's not their son or daughter's fault. They'll say something but retract it four seconds later and add 'but she's a very good girl.' But sure we all know this. Sometimes they just need you to be there so they can say it . . . And then there's something like the Golfgate nonsense...

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