Day one of mandatory face masks: People of Cork say 'que sera, sera'

Day one of mandatory face masks: People of Cork say 'que sera, sera'
Cork people "getting on with it" and wearing face mask while shopping on Patrick Steet today.Picture: Jim Coughlan

On the first day of mandated masks, there was no insurrection in Cork — the people just got on with it, with no fuss, and a stoic attitude of “que sera, sera”.

It has a proud tradition as the Rebel County but Cork people have invariably known when to pick their battles. 

Refusing to wear masks in shops was not one of them, especially with the health of the nation and their fellow citizens at stake.

With wisdom and patriotism that belied his tender years, 10-year-old Derren O'Donovan from Ballygarvan said it best.

"If it is helping others, and keeping everyone safe, then it's no big deal. We just get on with it," the youngster told the Irish Examiner, with bigger brother Ciarán and mum Fiona O'Donovan leading by example and keeping their masks on while strolling on Patrick's St, just to be sure.

Fiona O'Donovan pictured with her sons Derren and Ciarán. Derren says wearing a mask is "no big deal."
Fiona O'Donovan pictured with her sons Derren and Ciarán. Derren says wearing a mask is "no big deal."

There was a collective shrugging of the shoulders from people in the city centre when it came to the threat of €2,500 fines or even a prison stint if mask compliance was not adhered to — the solution was "just wear it".

It was business as usual in Cork city centre, with traders doing their utmost to prepare for mandated masks, and assisting would-be customers of they forgot about the new normal.

Pam O'Regan, a Cork city centre stalwart of business, who has run Saville Menswear on Oliver Plunkett Street with husband Jim O'Regan for more than 40 years, was similarly stoic.

"I've seen The Troubles in the North, lived through a time when tuberculosis was rife in Ireland, and I've been a nurse — trust me, these sacrifices we are making in the grand scheme of things are small if it means we stay safe.

"This disease is not something you would wish on anyone. Yes, businesses have been badly hit, and we are no different than most, but we will do what is needed to keep our city safe.

"I've been giving the lads here a pain in the head for months, drumming it into them daily about the importance of hand cleaning and other measures. We get on with it."

Long-time store manager assistant Lukasz Bukry said nearly every single customer felt similar.

"Our customers have been brilliant. We have plenty of space for social distancing, we are wearing our visors and have masks for customers that might forget to wear them, which can happen in the early days of something like this. To be fair, everyone has been great about all of it."

Brown Thomas staff member on the entrance with customers wearing facemasks, on Patrick Street.Picture: Jim Coughlan
Brown Thomas staff member on the entrance with customers wearing facemasks, on Patrick Street.Picture: Jim Coughlan

The visors were an important aspect for customers who prefer visual contact when staff members are speaking to them, Ms O'Regan added — especially those who are hearing impaired.

Fashion designer Christofer Kaprelien was adamant — if masks help stave off infections, then they are 100% worthwhile.

He has seen how Covid-19 devastated his homeland when the pandemic gripped the country in its insidious clutches back in March.

"I saw in the early days of Covid-19 how Italy suffered. It was terrible. These measures being taken, including those supporting businesses, have been excellent, believe me."

With its popularity reaching cult-like status in Cork, clothing store Penneys could have been a tinderbox for defiance, given its prime location on Patrick's St and its appeal to all demographics.

But there was no defiance. Just people carefully putting on masks and waiting patiently to enter the store, same as every other day, only this time there was one extra measure to be taken.

Penneys staff were the epitome of patience and good nature as they guided their customers in the front door and out the back.

The same could be said for Brown Thomas. Anyone who was gently reminded that a mask was necessary to enter the store took it in the spirit that is was intended. The only cries and exclamations by customers were those of gentle self-criticism, "Oh sorry, I'll put it on straight away, I completely forgot."

The only signs of frustration came from the city street parking and car parks.

Saville Cork staff with their facemasks, Pam O'Regan and Lukasz Bukry.Picture: Jim Coughlan
Saville Cork staff with their facemasks, Pam O'Regan and Lukasz Bukry.Picture: Jim Coughlan

Inevitably, groans came after people left their cars, only to remember 30 metres on that they had forgotten to pack their new essential item.

Trudging back to the car and headshaking in self-annoyance will be commonplace for weeks to come. But like smoking bans, paying for plastic bags and not using cars on Patrick's St between 3pm and 6pm, it will soon be the norm, just another thing to remember as we keep Covid-19 at bay.

Retail Excellence, which represents more than 13,000 stores in Ireland, said the cooperation between shop staff and the public was key.

Managing Director of Retail Excellence, Duncan Graham said: "Since the Taoiseach announced over two weeks ago about the compulsory wearing of face coverings in retail, compliance has steadily improved. 

"We take our responsibilities seriously and will be looking for the support of the public to help make shopping safe for all."

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