Michael Moynihan: We've survived worse things than Covid-19 — and life is looking up

Past experiences have shown Corkonians to be strong in the face of adversity — and better times are on the way, writes Michael Moynihan
Michael Moynihan: We've survived worse things than Covid-19 — and life is looking up

Winthrop Street and Patrick Street after the Burning of Cork in 1920. Picture: Cork Public Museum

Farewell then to 2020, which has now lasted roughly 22 months by my calculation. It ends this evening, thank God: after midnight it will never be 2020, or twenty past eight, again.

At this stage, one of the many lessons taught by the pandemic revolves around presumptions – as in all of those comfortable presumptions about what 2020 held for us, which didn’t survive past March. We won’t be making that mistake again.

But — there’s always a but — we also have to look forward and plan, and be confident and assertive in our beliefs. After all, there have been worse years.


If you were reading this newspaper in recent weeks, you would have seen the terrific 100th-anniversary coverage of the Burning of Cork.

On a parallel track with the devastation wrought by crown forces in the city in December 1920 was the tale of resilience and courage told by those living in Cork at the time.

They told that story by simply carrying on: take as an example the advertisement in an edition of the old Cork Examiner days after the burning. It stated: "Owing to my business in Mutton Lane having been destroyed, business will be carried on as usual at No 10 Grand Parade Market."

Issued by one John Nagle, its matter-of-fact description of the kind of blow that would floor an ordinary mortal, the wanton destruction of a premises, allied to the simple direction to new premises, combines to form a stark kind of poetry.

It’s also an indication of the refusal to be cowed that Corkonians showed then and have shown ever since. For most of us, 2020 has been a horror show of a year from around the end of February to now, but in 1920 the stakes were higher, if anything.

Crowds of onlookers throng Patrick Street on the day following the burning of Cork city centre by crown forces on December 12 1920.

Crowds of onlookers throng Patrick Street on the day following the burning of Cork city centre by crown forces on December 12 1920.

A trip to Patrick Street at that point entailed picking your way through burnt-out buildings and piles of wreckage and broken masonry, not to mention walking past trigger-happy soldiers who had busied themselves setting your city on fire the night before.

It adds a little perspective to the inconvenience of having to wear a face mask to do your weekly shopping.

There have been tough years since then as well. In 1956, a polio epidemic struck Cork and its effects then are eerily familiar to us now: school openings were deferred and social and commercial life in the city was sharply curtailed. Polio hit children in particular, so it was a terrifying time for parents.

There was even a foreshadowing of the toxic world of social media when Cork reached the All-Ireland finals in hurling and football that year. Letters to the newspapers from Dublin residents expressed what might kindly be termed a lack of solidarity with Cork people. "Let Cork’s own town keep their polio and not infect our clean city" was a charitable excerpt from one such letter.

Many readers will recall the shadow that polio cast over the city at that time, but Cork survived the fear and uncertainty, and rose to thrive in the '60s and '70s.

Almost 30 years after the polio epidemic, Cork suffered again. A dismal decade reached a peak of sorts in 1985 with the Air India crash, widespread unemployment and closures, terrible prospects and high emigration – not to mention moving statues in Ballinspittle – although there was a brave attempt to raise spirits with the Cork 800 initiative that year, a celebration of the granting of Cork’s charter by Prince John in 1185.

Typical of the time, when an air show was scheduled to celebrate Cork 800, it had to be cancelled because of cloudy skies.

Cork came through that time as well and the confidence that Cork can come through the coronavirus is based on those past experiences: however dismaying and overwhelming they seemed, in time those challenges were met and overcome.

That confidence is also based on the knowledge that better times are ahead.

What makes me say that?

Consider these your milestones to a better year, starting with the prospect of a vaccination becoming widely available in the new year.

This is a stunningly fast development according to epidemiologists (real epidemiologists, not the fella who chimes in on your WhatsApp group around 11pm after his few cans).

There are other encouraging signs. Take the fact that the Shakey Bridge is now open again.

A couple of weeks ago, Eoin English of this parish reported on the fact that a small ceremony meant a return to action for Daly’s Bridge, its formal title.

There is a whole other column, or perhaps a whole set of columns, to be written about Cork’s relationship with its bridges, as befits an island city, but the Shakey Bridge is a structure apart. Its wobble is its defining characteristic and credit is due to those who carried out the refurbishment for preserving that slight shake.

If it were eliminated, we’d have just another ordinary bridge. Who’d want that?

There are also better times ahead for those who use the roads of the city and county. Again, this newspaper reported that almost €90m in funding for Cork roads has been granted by Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) for 2021.

I mention this here because those who spend much of their time driving around Blackpool will wonder how much of that allocation will be spent trying to fill in a pothole near a well-known fast-food outlet in the area, but the real breakdown is €85,700,000 for improvement works in Cork county, with €1,290,093 for maintenance; Cork city was granted €1,660,000 for improvements and €344,776 for maintenance.

(On second thoughts, that pothole may actually swallow up a good deal of the city allocation.) This is good news on a local level, I hear you say.

Is there good news on a wider level? There’s plenty of that too, whether it’s the introduction of the James Webb Space Telescope, which will take over from the Hubble space telescope and reveal some of the deepest secrets of the galaxy, or the EU’s ban on single-use plastic items, which comes into effect in July.

This is what I mean when I say planning for the future. From the local – city potholes – to the global – plastic pollution – people are focusing on improvement and progress. I offer these morsels to show that there are encouraging signs in the big picture as well – and the picture doesn’t get much bigger than those due to be beamed in from the James Webb Space Telescope.

If you want something on a smaller scale, can I point you to season four of Fargo, which airs on TG4 next week? Another positive for the coming year, even if someone in this house is crowing about the return of Call My Agent.

Next year won’t be so bad. It’s already ahead of the posse by virtue of the fact that it’s not 2020.

Happy new year to all.

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