Letter From Lockdown Seven – Home Is Where The Heart Is, But This Isn’t Home

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The usual lunchtime queue for the indoor seats in the restaurant wouldn’t tell you this was a pandemic.

It’s been like that for the majority of the Covid story too.

Then again, nor would the packed city centre streets that echo languages from the world over, as it’s largely been business as usual of late. Indeed out at the airport, the odd warning sign on the wall is lost to the crazed flyers jostling for position ahead of the security checks.

This is Porto though, nestled in a country where both the government and president have long since said that it’s time to get back to and on with life, as at this rate of vaccination it’s already more than likely endemic anyway. Yet it’s also a nation that RTÉ reported as enforcing new restrictions when the truth was they’d been hugely loosened, as all that had regressed was the introduction of a brief nighttime curfew. That was a nuisance to few outside the peeping toms and serial killers, but agendas will do what agendas have always done, and the Irish national broadcaster had one like few others as the cash rolled in.

In this throbbing day-time crowd however, there’s one sliver of solitude to be found, as if a remnant of the dream that many have pushed and continue to push as the way forward. Unsurprisingly, it’s the wing of Francisco Sá Carneiro airport where Irish flights leave from.

Largely deserted, pretty much the only people around are the Ryanair flight crew awaiting their inbound plane to take charge of. This one is always empty and thus easy, they say. Who wants to fly into the longest and strictest lockdown across the EU anyway, they say.

There’s little argument to be had with their rationale which stems from our lack of it.

Waiting for what soon becomes a slightly delayed journey, I take out some cuttings from the Irish papers, ones I brought initially to occupy and prepare once in the skies. They are the same sort of thinking and threats that have existed since this show got on the road.

Leo Varadkar talking of an outdoor summer from an indoor party, while Tony Holohan warns about the dangers of outdoor barbeques due to the sun and heat. The Irish Times doing a Seconds-From-Disaster-style breakdown of a handful of cases that emerged in a restaurant back at Christmas as if it could all happen again if we dare press on, while the Irish Independent are carrying ISAG’s latest nonsense about Long Covid in kids as such academics look to stay relevant for funding reasons. Over on the Newstalk website they’re giving their platform to government advisor Philip Nolan who is now going against the government advice of travelling with a vaccine passport or a negative test, as he demands a nation continue to stay at home. All the while The Journal for all their left and liberal claims are carrying a piece from a professor at the Royal College of Surgeons who is suggesting that those who don’t get vaccinated lose PUP, any access to social welfare, and should be made pay any and all medical bills.

On and on it goes.

An assault on the senses and on sense.

I’m travelling home with a slight trepidation but a grand curiosity. It’s been 19 months since tapping easily into the familiar comforts and routines that existed before Covid yet, in the days leading up to this, I spoke with my mother and sister and realised this was no longer familiar nor routine. There was the not unexpected barrage of demands and worry around masks and distancing and the dangers to children and concern for the already vaccinated.

Statistics was the retort but that only resulted in a row based on the anecdotal and the emotional. I finally hung up for all of our sanity, before a couple of days of radio silence. As someone who has lived so far away for so long, I’ve developed a strong aversion to being told what to do, and bask in the selfishness of the alone.

But this is different. This grates.

These are sensible people but, while some have said the country stopped listening to every expert crawling over each other to get in front of a camera rather than do their jobs, it isn’t that simple. Psychologists say that a year’s worth of programming can take twice as long to deprogramme. But even if the harsh mental effects of this could be shrugged off in an instant, there’s still the economic damage that’s been done that will last for a generation.

I’m nervous. I hope I’m wrong. I’m prepared to bite my tongue, which doesn’t always work out. For a moment, I wish there’s an RTE cameraman and some grunt with a mic asking in Dublin Airport about the scourge and danger of people returning. But probably best not.

Instead it’s back to reality as boarding is finally announced and I quickly check the forecast and turbulence charts as I’ve an irrational fear of flying that goes against statistics and reason. It means not only do I force myself to get on with life and the necessity of travel, but I also don’t demand the plane stay grounded or an industry collapse and thousands lose livelihoods based on what doesn’t make sense when broken down to a logical standpoint.

If only many others could have treated Covid that way. But no.

The aircraft taxis. It raises its nose.

Off towards the overrun asylum.

For all their rules and regulations, there’s no enforcement of them in Dublin Airport. No search for locator forms or the vaccination passport I carry. It’s as it always was in here.

Perhaps NPHET’s warnings and psychological torture are enough.

But outside the car is different, if only in a small but telling way.

Where once the name of the song was displayed on the radio, I’m now told to wash my hands. Big Brother. Beijing Brother. Whatever it is, it seems an incredible waste of taxpayer money, and decades too late for the pink-eye epidemic of many a bygone youth.

There are warnings all over Irish media from on high that go beyond Covid but perhaps are riding on its coattails.

Heat warnings. Rain warnings. Gale warnings.

All colour-coded as the childification of a country gathers pace it seems. A thinking man’s paradise reduced to the worst of hand-holding and arse-kicking nanny states. First you don’t have to think, but before long you don’t remember how to think and then you just can’t think. Someone else should never be let do such important duties on your behalf, yet it seems so many are comfortable with letting others control the big stuff, as if those on the spaceship in Wall-E where inhabitants are thrilled with a sole choice between wearing red or blue.

Being away and seeing things change in staccato is always more confronting, rather than the gradual of the everyday current and gentle erosion going unnoticed. Even by such standards however, a few days knocking about quickly makes you realise this isn’t home anymore. The rest of the world is far from perfect, and has made massive mistakes, but Ireland’s insistence on still making them long after it is obvious that’s what they were is galling.

You see the ripple of such mistakes in places like Athy.

For places like this are the forgotten side-effects of the greed and the money grab.

They’re more pronounced here, hoisted upon those without a voice. In such parts, there aren’t the fashionable issues that are carried like an in vogue brand by those in better or at least wealthier places. In an Ireland of lazy -isms for likes, classism has always had a stay-away sign as attempting to fix it involves high society actually giving up a little.

It’s far from just Athy – a place of great people by the way who deserve better than to be an afterthought in a land fast forging ahead for some. Up and down towns across the Irish midlands, it’s no different. Chunks of main streets long since boarded up as time is filled with chats about plywood, and prophecies of this being a full-stop rather than a promised comma and about how this and that will never open their doors again.

For such folk, in a post-Covid world, this isn’t about keeping the special-blend coffee shop or the vegan restaurant thriving; this is about basic pubs and corner shops that make up the beating heart of so much of the rest of Ireland.

Too late now, I think.

If the physical landscape is collapsing though, it’s dwarfed by the change in many people.

Back in Athy, it’s an interesting one. In White’s Castle on the corner of the square is Dolores Cahill, widely perceived as a demented extremist (and ever since she spoke about Rotterdam being bombed in the autumn, you won’t get pushback here). But nearby on benches some locals cite scientists pushing for five years of lockdown and who tell pensioners to stay at home and the vaccinated that it’s dangerous, and they talk too of the likes of Claire Byrne and her ilk who platformed them under the guise of not just truthful but up front and honest journalism.

These are the voices that have been listened to and repeated to set the terrified tone.

Contrasting this, I happen to think Byrne is every bit as mad as Cahill after a year of using a pulpit few others have to show Sam McConkey knitting masks, and Luke O’Neill in an inflatable ball, and suggesting grandparents eat Christmas dinner through a window, and being on set with dummies in a mock-up airplane, and having an Arctic survivalist speak about the dangers of an outdoor meal. Others though listen as they once did to a priest.

The drip down of extremism from Montrose even washed up in places like this.

In a pub I have drank in for years, I stroll in the door. Excited but worried by what awaits. This story isn’t to cause angst but to give an insight into what’s happened in such little pockets. Walking in, it looks like the set of a film that ran out of money. Unprepared for the return of indoors, with the outdoor effort previously thrown together in a rush, I’ve little time to inspect when the owner calls me over. “I’ve a bone to pick with you.”

Before long they are in a rant, mentioning a person we both know that took a turn, and claiming I mentioned them specifically when criticising the impact on mental health. Of course many took a turn when it came to mental health far beyond the patrons here, yet the likes of these people cheering lockdowns are to blame and still they blame others.

Deflection. Delusion. Guilt manifested as fury.

It’s far from done though.

“You just piss and moan, why would anyone come to this country or this town. Piss and moan is all you do. A nonsense. Sure there’d be no tourists here at all if you’d your way or people listened to you talk about here.”

Not sure if I was going to be served anyway, but unprepared to listen to such early evening pap, I leave.

The irony is lost on others eavesdropping that the sort who wanted restrictions, and serve €8 gin and tonics, and berate customers, are the very people complaining about what was done to business.

Then again, soon after, I’m told by another person of how Ryan Tubridy was about recently and described the place as a wonderland and they ask why can’t I be like him. I keep it to myself but question if they considered if he was having them on, and that if I got half a million from the taxpayer I’d gladly feed people’s egos with lies that do them no good rather than deal in the most important truths.

I’ve always had a distrust of those who bemoan folk wanting to makes things better for more. There’ll always be healthy debate over the methods to achieve that but some just don’t want to achieve it as society is now a see-saw and when one end goes up, their view is lessened.

The journey goes on. Beyond Athy but to more of the same.

In one pub where the old men would go for a pint to watch morning racing and others would gather to break the monotony with a coffee, there are Plexiglas screens separating banter and common connection, as people are boxed away to themselves and from friends. It’s little wonder that over the year this has become a place where many see neighbours as potential infections, where they consider decent humans to be nothing more than virus carriers and spreaders.

At one point on a meander, a woman even walks by in an actual welding mask.

This is where Ireland has reached long after the rest of the continent got on with it.

There’s a queue to get out and I get daily messages about emigration as those who think for themselves can take little more, but throughout the pandemic this is where they were trapped. Caught between the selfishness of some and a fear cleverly crafted by such selfishness. One person tells me of how on the €350 PUP, the owner of the business warned if they were let go they’d be down to dole money so a fair compromise would be to take a hundred off the PUP of each of the nine they employed and trouser it along with a government grant.

That story is repeated several times in many towns and villages. Common practice.

Place an Irishman on a spit and you’ll always find another to baste them.

We are filled with winners that demand others lose. I meet a friend who spent a fortune training as a pilot but lost his work and to pay the bills ended up having to graft away on building sites. Some Aer Lingus staff meanwhile are now delivery men and women for Amazon. But it’s hardly a co-incidence that those most vocal about lockdowns and restrictions, about bloated death and unrelentless misery, have made money. Media organisations against a tide of losses that brought them to the brink; politicians through pay-rises and the excuse of skipping tender processes under a state of emergency that saw a brother of Eamon Ryan and the family of Jennifer Carroll-MacNeill improves themselves by millions for starters; scientists with lazily covered over links to big pharma; academics waiting to get more funding now or a reputational gain to allow for greater funding later.

This wasn’t a wealth transfer. This was theft out of complete opportunism. We can talk about Google and Pfizer all we like, but another Irish boom industry has been sitting at home, convincing others it’s too dangerous to get on with it, and earning a fortune for doing nothing. Nice money if you can get it. Or if you’re willing to ruin others to take it.

It filters down to the local as well, where too many have always been happy for the community pie to shrink so long as their slice got a little bigger. Coincidence or not, a person tells me that the pub of a thousand welcomes is doing well as it’s one of the few places that could cater for outdoor thus business has been brisk. Maybe not. But maybe.

However across this trip I cannot help but think that it’s in Irish nature to make sure no crisis goes to waste. From famine gombeens to British collusion, it was about some enriching themselves. With the church there were those who knew but turned the other cheek not because of what the bible said but because to ignore such horrors meant respect and power. And now an acceptance of the damage of Covid has improved the lot of some. For shame.

There are still lock-ins if you know where to go and go with the right people.

Yet such gatherings have moved from being a night of envy to a reckless move of murderers.

That hyperbole is everywhere. So is the suspicion. There’s a bubbling level of distrust and dislike.

Out west, I get talking to a woman and ask her what she made of it all and the fact restrictions still exist despite 70 per cent of the adult population being vaccinated. “Well we cannot open up,” she says. “Sure look at England since they just threw away all the rules. I don’t know why they did it. People are dying. Aren’t their cases doubling.”

I don’t have the heart to tell her numbers there are actually collapsing by the day.

It’s too late for that.

I don’t feel anger towards the pride in such bellowed ignorance. I do feel pity though.

And that’s a far more heavy emotion to carry towards people.

I’ve always tried to understand all sides, especially those I disagree with most.

But even face to face with people, I simply cannot get to the bottom of the modern Irish left and the new Irish liberal. Believing in something is meant to be absolute regardless of circumstance and these folk are supposed to live and die by a core set of values around freedom and equality.

For 18 months though, they’ve pushed for greater inequality, and a removal of freedoms that will reverberate long into the future as rights they don’t care about are removed from those it seems they despise. That is neither left nor liberal and the only explanation comes back to learnt-off phrases like grifters and granny-killers, rat-lickers and racists. Their hate doesn’t fit in with their be-kind and in-it-together slogans and when all else fails they retreat to mutterings of listening to the experts and following the science.

Perhaps the worst thing about Covid was how it became trendy and attracted these parasites.

Whatever about scientists who forgot the lab because they could make a name for themselves, these bullies searching for their new cause and stumbling on to this was a disaster.

Back in the early stages of Covid I spoke to a woman from near home about her father-in-law. About the nursing home he was in and how it was filled with infected patients taken from empty hospitals. About how he’d friends carted out rigid and white in front of him on trolleys without so much as being covered over with a cloth. About how he inevitably caught it and without visitors and without a fully functioning mind he seemingly agreed to a do not resuscitate order being placed on himself. About how his family had to ring reception on the hour until they were told he was dead. About how no one was allowed at the funeral so they watched the undertaker bury him through gaps in the gates.

That’s what Tony Holohan and NPHET did but the woke crowd didn’t care, for they were busy painting murals and getting in on a growing wave of popularity. They were never for changing no matter what changed, so they terrified others to the point nobody would speak up or speak out due to their mob instincts. They made disagreeing with restrictions impossible for you’d be called out in the most vile terms.

For those who didn’t agree, it was better to stay quiet and worry about the future later.

But that future is fast approaching.

The joblessness. The debt. The emigration. The tax hikes. The cutbacks.

Sadly, still the posts are kept moving by those who will be immune to all that.

Back in February, they said wait for the over-65s to be vaccinated. Now that nearly all adults are protected it’s on to the kids to prolong this farce. The conspiracy theorists have gone from suggesting there’d be a vaccine passport to being conspiracy theorists if they are against the use of them. The shrieks come from those who claim to be sensible yet tell others they must get vaccinated to protect them from what they are vaccinated against themselves.

It’s been a year of ridicule from those who used to demand debate; a year of statement recital from those who used to question; a year of abuse from those who used be friendly; a year of discrimination from those who claim to hate different treatment; a year of disinformation from those who use it as a weapon to put others down if they dare to stand up. A year of disaster. And it’s left Ireland looking like this hollowed out land.

By the end, I’m glad to get out of what was once home.

Not away from friends and family and the good people still sprinkled about, but from the life they’ve been left leading.

In fact heading back, I’m reminded of the lunacy of it all one last time.

It’s hardly a surprise but NPHET’s latest modeling that has kept this all going has been shown to be off by 76 per cent around cases, 71 per cent around hospitalisations, and 54 per cent around ICU and this is accepted as being acceptable. Yet RTÉ’s Fergal Bowers is talking about how the media have done a great job and how this pandemic is only beginning. Meanwhile the Irish Times is tweeting about their latest profit, and in their pages Fintan O’Toole is calling Ireland the most intelligent place in Europe.

He doesn’t say that the Dublin Marathon has long since been scrapped, or that Electric Picnic cannot get a license on health and safety grounds, or that there are hints of a winter lockdown next, or that the country is broke.

That’s what counts as intelligence for some.

Back in Porto meanwhile the queue for the restaurant remains and the world of languages hop off the sides of buildings downtown. I’m trying my best to forget about the onslaught of madness in Ireland when two messages from a land left behind arrive. The first is from a friend who went down the pub after I’d left and took in some conversations.

“The man that spent most of the night talking to himself and his pint said you were an idiot; the woman who is in there every night yet calls every one by the wrong names said you can’t write; the auld lad that knows everything but no one said the owner was dead right to have a go at you and get rid of you.”

I laugh.

The other message however is a clip filmed in the Silver Key pub, which borders Micheál Martin’s back yard. It’s of owner Tony Campion as he stops at a table gloating. I don’t laugh at this.

“I hope Covid goes on for another ten years,” he announces. “We’d 54 staff before, we are back to 40. My pay roll is about 18 and a half thousand a week, it was about €32,000. So everyone gets paid, and the Irish government give me back 15 thousand dollar every week on the government subsidy. Covid has to go on for another 10 years. I’ll get my place in fucking Barbados.”

There are cheers to his words in the videos.

Online many jump to his defence suggesting his words were no more than a joke.

Maybe so, but only because such a joke is on honest people not so much destroyed by Covid, but by this very attitude.

9 August, 2021



  1. Jason Byrne · · Reply

    Ewan, I think you are being very generous and graceful when you say pity people.
    Having lived through this sheer and utter idiocracy for 18 months, I am angry and bitter.
    Angry because self professed intellects are refusing to see what is painfully obvious to anyone with a modicum of intellect.
    Bitter because their blind faith has robbed my kids of their heritage and their future.
    You have hit the nail on the head here on so many things.
    A nanny state exists because the infantile inhabitants allow it to exist.
    They can’t be dealing with issues like their sovereignty being stripped away when the vote on love island is on…….priorities…….
    It’s all about priorities……now let me post my jab picture on Facebook , I’m a little down this evening and could do with some false adoration or “likes”

  2. Shay Dunphy · · Reply


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