Shirley O’Shea’s normal job is promoting an active lifestyle for the HSE, but she’s been redeployed into contact tracing for Covid-19; keeping her teenagers active under lockdown is a concern, writes Ellie O’Byrne.
Shirley O’Shea is a health promotion officer for physical activity with the HSE who has now been redeployed and is conducting contact tracing for the duration of the Covid-19 outbreak.
Shirley grew up in Liverpool, to parents from Cork. She worked in early-years childcare until she returned to college as a mature student and graduated from her Health Promotion course at Liverpool University.
She now lives outside Midleton with her husband, landscape gardener Noel Berkeley, and their children Dylan, 15, and Alannah, 13.
“My normal job is all about us trying to promote a prevention message: people taking control of their own health and developing the skills and capacity to do that themselves.
"A lot of my work is with agencies outside the healthcare system.
“We work with the cradle to the grave. Health messages are important to the whole population, so I promote a health message about the importance of physical activity.
“Friday three weeks ago, we were told to go to a briefing in Saint Fin Barre’s, and then from the following Monday morning I was doing contact tracing — anyone that’s been a close contact of someone with Covid-19, we’re following up on all those calls.
“I met my husband on a race; I used to run on an athletics club team and my husband is a former runner. I ended up coming to live here.
"We’re real lovers of the outdoors with a strong sense of protecting the planet and nature, and we’ve tried to bring the kids up with that view, too. We’ve always done things like beach cleans and neighbourhood tidy-ups.
“Noel is involved with the Midleton Community Garden, and has been for years. It’s a lovely space in the grounds of Midleton Hospital. We’ve delved into growing our own food and had hens and ducks for a while.
“We always cycled as much as possible. We’ve always liked the kids to be involved in sport, but what I know from my work is how important it is to build physical activity into everyday life.
"There’s a huge dropout rate from organised sport, but what you tend not to lose is a general love of the outdoors and living actively. If I don’t get out and do something, I know I won’t feel as good as the days that I do.
“So even now, in the lockdown, we’ve been saying to the kids that, once the school work is done, they can have screens in the evening only after they’ve done some exercise or gone out for some fresh air.
"Noel has been going out with his bike with Alannah, or we might just walk the dog.
“The lockdown has been pretty hard on the kids.
"The first week was actually kind of fine, because there was the novelty of not having to go to school, but certainly now — Alannah’s really missing her friends. She’s in First Year, and she’s just making those important relationships.
“I’ve been joking and saying that living with a 15-year-old boy is like self-isolation anyway! Dylan’s not that bad, but he is more of a home bird.
“If we didn’t have the focus of the schooling, I don’t know what we’d do, but they’ve had to adjust to being independent learners and navigating an online system and managing their time.
"I’ve been in and out for work and Noel’s been here but they’ve had to get on with it. And we’ve been building some chores into their day too.
Noel’s work wasn’t initially affected because he could do maintenance work where he’s been outside on his own, so up to now it’s been manageable; his work is very seasonal and the weather hasn’t been great so the growth hasn’t been great. He should be starting to get busy from Easter on.
“On Saturdays, our routine always was that I’d get up and go to yoga and Noel would cycle with the kids to Midleton Farmer’s Market, which was great. We get eggs from the Community Garden and a lot of vegetables too. We find ourselves having quite low waste as a result.
"We compost a lot and all our food goes to the hens as scraps. We recycle all our glass and card and stuff, of course.
“Because Noel is often home more than me, he’ll shop from the local butcher and he’ll either get bread from a bakery or he’ll make it himself; we don’t tend to do huge supermarket shops, instead he tends to support a lot of small local shops.
“We’ve always done the basics like the recycling and the growing and the general trying not to be wasteful; you see a lot of buying for the sake of it and I’m really not into that.
“Alannah’s been vegetarian for nearly a year now and she’s been completely ‘Greta-ised’, as I like to joke.
"I’ve heard people talking about all this environmental stress on teens, but it’s not something I’m picking up from my kids.
“What Alannah’s doing with the Green Schools is really positive and there’s a Climate Action group in Midleton and we’ve been to a couple of those meetings.
“All the discussion is quite positive, and it’s about what we can do, with really interesting presentations on all the sustainable projects that are out there. I don’t feel that stress on them.
“I think it’s the same as it is with this Covid-19 scenario: it would be easy to feel a lot of doom and gloom, but I think it’s all about focusing on the power of one and what we can all do.”