'I’d swap ten bumper tourism seasons on Arranmore to make sure that nobody becomes a victim of Coronavirus'

Arranmore Islanders say the loss of tourism worth it to protect the health of the community.
'I’d swap ten bumper tourism seasons on Arranmore to make sure that nobody becomes a victim of Coronavirus'
Arranmore Island off the coast of Donegal, which has a population of around 500 people, have shut themselves off from the mainland. File picture.

People living in one of Ireland’s few communities not to suffer any cases of Covid-19 have vowed to keep the virus out.

Arranmore Island off the coast of Donegal, which has a population of around 500 people, have shut themselves off from the mainland.

Islanders declared a lockdown on the island as far back as March 15 when they actively discouraged visitors from making the five kilometre ferry boat trip to their island.

Jerry Early, who runs the popular Early’s Bar and hostel said they believe they made the right decision if only one life is saved.

He admits that the tourism industry on the island will be decimated this summer but he said they are will to pay that price for the health of the island’s community.

He said “We made the decision to lockdown early because we could see no other way of keeping the virus out.

“Yes, we’re going through tough times like everyone else. We depend on the tourism season each summer and that is all but gone now unless things change drastically.

“But do you know what….I’d swap ten bumper tourism seasons on Arranmore to make sure that nobody becomes a victim of Coronavirus and we all get through it.”

He paid tribute to the operators of the two ferry companies which service the island for their strict policy of vetting everyone visiting the island.

Mr Early has been the unofficial spokesman on the island for many years.

He can be seen and heard most nights across sitting rooms in Ireland in the Three television advert for broadband on the island.

Last April the communications giant helped set up a digital hub on the island called Modem is a bid to entice people to the island to live but with excellent connectivity.

Jerry said the campaign has been a huge success even though his children make fun of him when the advert comes on.

“People, including my own children are sick of the advert. It gets a lot of plays on the television but it has been great for the island.

“I really think we were looking forward to a great summer on the island thanks in part of the advert campaign but that’s all probably gone now,” he said.

A decision to cancel the Irish summer colleges across the country means that 600 pupils who stay on the island annually between June and July will now not be coming.

Early estimates the revenue from the students was worth close on €1m to the island including the 30 families who took in the students for the six week period.

Life on the island is similar to that on the mainland with the elderly population cocooning while the students from the one secondary school and two primary schools being home-schooled.

Locals are taking walks on the island and the traditional ways of setting potatoes, turf and cutting lawns are all ways people are keeping busy.

Jerry thinks the Government are doing a good job in general especially on the financial side although he thinks the Minister for the Marine could respond more to the needs of fishermen.

“I think they’re doing a good job in general in the circumstances. We have no real industry on Arranmore and we are dependant on the tourism industry and that’s probably gone,” he said.

He has five siblings around the world and he doesn’t know when he’s going to meet them again.

The population of the island swelled by around 50 to 60 when news of the pandemic and the lockdown began to filter through.

“Whoever is here is staying here,” he said.

The islanders are lucky that they are well-serviced on many fronts on basic needs.

Their health is looked after on a daily basis by two doctors and a public health nurse who come to the island each day and the two ferries bring across all the necessary food and other supplies to the local shop.

Like many Jerry is hoping the pandemic will change things for the better for future generations.

“I think we had to change and I think we will change. Money will mean an awful lot less after all this and that’s a good thing. Values will change,” he said.

And despite being on lockdown on an island that is cut off from the mainland, Jerry said the people of Arranmore are content - for the moment.

“We’re doing okay but I do worry a little about people’s mental health long-term if some of the measures aren’t eased. We need to get back to a bit of normality again at some stage and there has to be an end point.

“A friend said the last day that Ireland is the best place to live with this pandemic and that Arranmore is the best place to live with it in Ireland. I can’t disagree with that,” said Jerry.

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