United nation: Six high-profile people on staying strong

United nation: Six high-profile people on staying strong

We're in the eye of a Covid-19 storm but given our history of supporting one another in difficult times, there's every reason to believe we'll get through this crisis. Donal O'Keeffe talks to six high-profile people about staying strong.

With Ireland in lockdown due to the outbreak of coronavirus, the message from President Michael D Higgins and other well-known people is we are all in this together. They tell Donal O’Keeffe how they’re coping with upset routines and ongoing social isolation

President Michael D Higgins

In this crucial period, when we are being asked to take yet more stringent measures to stop the spread of the Covid-19 virus, my focus as President of Ireland remains on being of support and encouragement to those who are responding to the crisis and helping the most vulnerable in society.

Sabina and I are acutely aware of the pain and hardship that so many people are experiencing, and in my messages to the Irish people, at home and abroad, I have sought to express our nation’s sympathies with those who have been bereaved as a result of the pandemic, and to express our gratitude to all those who continue to work to keep our society healthy and safe.

President, Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina
President, Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina

At this dark time, I have asked citizens to look out for each other, and in particular those most vulnerable. It is not only the delivery of basic necessities to vulnerable people that is important, it is the reassuring way that it is done that is even more important. To our elderly and vulnerable citizens, the security of knowing that a bond of concern is being strengthened that is most important.

Early on in the crisis, I took the decision to postpone all events that had been scheduled, and I askedstaff to make preparations to ensure they could work from home effectively.

The future will be radically different and can facilitate not just a good and inclusive response to this crisis, but a response to climate change and inequality that is adequate, comprehensive and that can break new ground in policy responses and scholarly work.

I have every confidence in the resilience and the sense of community of the Irish people. The instinctive recourse to empathy, co-operation and compassion is an Irishness at its best showing that it is indomitable.

I urge all to continue to take the greatest care at this time, to follow advice, and retain their sense of calm, patience and commitment to citizenship at its best at this difficult time of the virus, which will go through phases, but which will pass.


Lilian Smith

Given my lifelong aversion to nine-to-five jobs, it turns out I’ve been self-isolating for years. Father Mathew Street is quiet at 5am anyway and, so far, it doesn’t feel too different. RTÉ has ensured the studios are being kept clean. I’m using hand-sanitiser and we’ve all been given microphone pop shields and I always use my own headphones. So, who’s a fussy crank now?

Lillian Smith
Lillian Smith

I’m getting a lot more audience interaction with Rising Time. People need a break from the news and I’m trying to be as positive and optimistic as I can be. Helping the nation’s mood is an important part of public service broadcasting.

I usually visit my dad after work on Saturday. My main anxiety is regarding him, but he seems to be taking it in his stride. I worry about him being lonely, but we’re all checking in by phone, daily.

My food cupboard is looking good. I had a Brexit fear of running out of teabags, so that’s paying off.

I have a 13-year-old at home, so I need to keep him occupied and sane. There’s a basketball net in the back yard. It’s seeing a lot of action. He’s been getting homework online and I’m trying to keep some structure to the day. I suspect we’ll all settle into a new normal very quickly. I’m aware how lucky I am to live in rural Ireland and we have room to roam.

I can’t imagine how tough it is to try to keep a family safe and healthy in direct provision or deal with long-term homelessness.

When this is over, I hope we take a long, hard look at how we live. We are a community, a society. Not just an economy.

Lilian Smith presents Rising Time, weekdays at 6am, on RTÉ Radio 1; @Lillylatelee

Ultan Conlon

I live with angst on a regular basis, so my first reaction to Covid-19 was a week of sheer anxiety, justified for once. Now that acceptance of the challenge is slowly sinking in, weirdly enough, I’m starting to settle down and think straight.

Ultan Conlon
Ultan Conlon

In many ways, this has been a time for reflection.

I hear a lot of people say, ‘When we’re back to normal after this…’ I’m hoping, in a lot of ways, we don’t return to normal.

I’m speaking to friends I’d lost touch with on video calls, checking in on my Mum every day (by phone), in contact with my siblings, and going for healthy walks.

I’m concerned for the greater good, not just my tiny world. Even our politicians have become sincere, with the ascension of real purpose.

Working from home is productive, it’s more spaced-out, but it gets done. I find cooking my own food meditative, and healthy and healing. This week, I used all the food in my fridge — no waste and no popping out for stuff I don’t need. Professionally and personally, I’m worried about my record coming out soon. Can I keep the boat afloat?

All that is secondary for now, though. In the meantime, I hope our health service can handle this onslaught, and our passion for our communities will help keep it at bay.

Ultan Conlon’s fourth album, There’s a Waltz, will be released on April 17; ultanconlon.com

Liz Nugent

My book, Our Little Cruelties, was recently launched, and all publicity events were rightly cancelled. Bookshops are closed — though many are taking phone and online orders — so sales will be way down.

It’s disappointing, but lives are way more important than any book. I’ll be doing interviews via phone, rather than face-to-face. Hurrah! I get to stay in my pyjamas and won’t have to brush my hair.

Liz Nugent, Author
Liz Nugent, Author

More upsetting is the fact that my dad is in his last days in a nursing home and we can’t get to see him, so I’m writing a card every few days and hope that the kind staff there will read it out to him.

Healthwise, I recently spent three months in hospital, after smashing my knee. I have to keep up with my exercises. My knee keeps swelling and I’m in a bit of pain. This means I can’t really get out for walks, beyond going around the block, and I’m back on one crutch, which is very annoying. Being somewhat of a masochist, I will use this opportunity to do my tax return.

I am currently reading a proof of Louise O’Neill’s brilliant new crime novel, After the Silence, and I am Grippy McGripped. I

have about 15 books to read after that. I’m very excited about Sebastian Barry’s A Thousand Moons, his follow-up to the multi-prize-winning Days Without End. I need to find out what’s happened to Thomas and John and their Native American child. But Rachael English is next in the queue, with her latest, The Paper Bracelet, which I have heard nothing but good things about.

If we were locked down for the next year, I still wouldn’t get through all of the books on my shelves I’ve been meaning to read.

Liz Nugent’s fourth novel, Our Little Cruelties, is in bookshops now; liznugent.ie

Joanna Donnelly

Like everyone, my first reaction to Covid-19 was fear for my vulnerable loved-ones.

All extra activities were knocked on the head, straight away, and I’ve been giving my children what guidance I can.

Joanna Donnelly
Joanna Donnelly

Last Friday, I had myself terribly worked-up, reading too many stories online. So, I muted the coronavirus on Twitter and vowed to get news from The News at fixed times through the day. I feel a lot more able to cope now.

My concerns are for my family. My mother is in her 70s and she’s apart from me, so that upsets me. We’re very close and we usually see each other very regularly.

My in-laws are in the Netherlands, so we can’t see them, either, and that’s an incredibly difficult situation.

My hopes are that we learn from this. People are taking measures to make changes that, ultimately, will improve their health and wellbeing. Working from home is a marvellous solution to traffic congestion.

Engaging with our children and being part of their education is a teacher’s dream. We’ve been for a walk every day since the schools closed.

I’m hopeful that we’ll flatten the curve and cope as the pressure builds over the next few months.

This is going to be so hard on so many. We need to help each other out.

I’m very proud of Met Éireann and the efforts being made to ensure our essential services keep running. Thankfully, we’re over the equinox now, so there’s a grand stretch in the evening.

Joanna Donnelly is a meteorologist with Met Éireann. She presents forecasts on RTÉ 1 and RTÉ 2.

Joe Duffy

It’s what you do when you have nothing to do that will define this emergency.

While the majority of RTÉ staff are working off-site, programmes like Liveline need people to be in place, but the Radio Centre is practically empty, with those of us in situ sitting far apart.

Joe Duffy
Joe Duffy

Everyone’s routine has changed. My early morning gym and swim has gone. I miss the swimming most.

When you’ve nothing to do, why not try something new? I find dabbling with watercolours, while listening to an audiobook, extremely relaxing. You need just one brush, a small set of watercolours, and heavy paper. Anyone can paint — just try it.

If you’re a member of a public library, you can access ‘Borrow Box’ for e-books and countless magazines. I love browsing these magazines, ending up, invariably, somewhere obscure, like Motorhome Monthly.

Why not keep a diary during the emergency? Apart from the therapy of writing, it also means that if you do get Covid-19, you can quickly consult and find out who you might have come in contact with recently.

We’re a great nation of talkers and writers. We can still do it with the aid of wonderful, modern technology. Keeping in touch doesn’t have to mean being in touch.

The emergency reminds us what a rich tapestry of life courses through the veins of Irish society. I hope, when this is over, we will appreciate and support these wonderful activities, from circuses to amateur dramatic groups.

Remember, family, community, friends, and neighbours will get us through times of no money better than money would ever get us through times of no family, community, friends, or neighbours.

Stay well — look after each other.

Joe Duffy presents Liveline on RTÉ Radio 1; joe@rte.ie


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