‘We don’t need to change the world, just to change someone’s world for 10 minutes’

0
You told us all about the people who have made a big difference to others during this strange and difficult year. Meet the covid heroes of 2020

CATHERINE CRIMMINS
Newmarket-on-Fergus, in Co Clare

Nominated by Susan Kennelly
Interview: Patrick Freyne

Susan Kennelly, who is 66 and from Newmarket-on-Fergus, in Co Clare, writes to us to tell us about her friend, six-year-old Catherine Crimmins, who has been visiting her garden with cards, gifts and scones since the first lockdown. “Catherine is a bit of an explorer and a collector of things like feathers and leaves. We have painted stones with funny faces and we have shared stories, and even a few shared opinions on current affairs . . . As my own family are living in different counties, Catherine’s visits and chats are keeping me going.”

Over Zoom, Catherine’s father Eugene, a baker, explains that she and Kennelly struck up their friendship when he would take Catherine and her baby sister for walks during the first lockdown. “I suppose like everyone else we were trying to stay in our own village and go for a walk every day … So we’d go to the side of the church where we could get Grace to sleep and Catherine could kick a football. And Susan lives just by the church with one of these small, really beautiful gardens and Catherine must have started talking to her about flowers.”

“Do you know the church?” asks Catherine.

“I don’t,” I say.

Six-year-old Catherine Crimmins visiting her neighbour Susan Keneally. Photograph: Eamon Ward

It’s a tight knit community, says Eugene, and an ageing one. “Catherine was the first child born on the main street in 51 years.”

What does she talk about with Kennelly? “We talk about birds,” says Catherine. “I love birds because they come in different colours. My favourite are robins. And I love space and love it more now I have a telescope. Susan gave me a space book for my birthday. Will I tell you the planets?”

Yes please. She tells me the planets. Then she tells me about the scones she makes with her dad to give to Kennelly. “Who mixes it all up?” asks Eugene.

“Me!” says Kennelly. She likes bringing things to Catherine. “I brought rice crispy buns over for Halloween and I brought hot chocolate for The [Late Late] Toy Show.”

Kennelly gives her good ideas. Recently she suggested that Catherine and her dad collect a pile of leaves. Why? “So I can have them dry out and then jump in them.”

Is she going to do that? “Yeah!” says Kennelly.

Is it nice having an older friend? “I don’t really mind what age my friends are once we both like each other,” says Catherine.

“It’s funny,” says Eugene. “I thought Susan was doing me a favour by chatting to Catherine when I was trying to get her sister to sleep. It’s only since she mentioned she was in touch with you that I realised how much it meant to her.”

Kennelly writes: “I hope that someday Catherine will realise that all the socially distanced visits to my front garden gave me great hope and inspiration during the first lockdown.”

Anna Phillips
Anna Phillips

ANNA PHILLIPS
Baldoyle, Dublin

Nominated by Ruth Lynch
I would like to say a huge thanks to my wonderful sister Anna Phillips. Besides running a busy household, being a mum to three young boys, working as an air traffic controller at Dublin Airport, driving multiple fundraising activities, doing shopping for all and sundry… she has made almost 600 beautiful masks as her contribution to “the cause”, all from her little sewing haven in her attic. She made adult size masks for friends working with children with special needs, featuring well known cartoon characters. Not a single cent has ever exchanged hands.

SINEAD BAKER
Athboy, Co Meath

Nominated by Rita and Helen Mitchell
Our neighbour Sinead Baker has made a big difference to all on our terrace of 10 houses in Athboy. Sinead lives with her husband Wil, two children, a dog and some chickens. Her parents, in their 70s and her granduncle (94) who live in different houses along the terrace were all isolating so Sinead swung into action in relation to their care, their shopping, and other needs. Sinead was a very reassuring presence and did a massive balancing act of caring for her own family, her extended family and doing her work as well. Some days she was like a yoyo up and down the terrace. On Easter Sunday we woke up to a delivery of fresh eggs on our doorstep. On her birthday she hired an adult sized bouncy castle and cheered many of us up by inviting us on our first ‘play date’ in decades. She has continued to care and support the older people in our community and to be a positive presence in all of our lives.

MARIE O’MALLEY
Islandbridge, Dublin 8

Nominated by Caitriona Winters
Interview: Patrick Freyne

Marie O’Malley was nominated by Caitriona Winters for her role as a home support Dirty Roulette worker for St John of Gods in Islandbridge in Dublin 8. Winters cares for her adult son Alyosha who has complex special needs. “Our world has shrunk in size,” she writes. “[Marie] has been our window to the outside world for the past eight months . . . A light through tough times. She has come to our window since the sharp days of late spring, through the hot and then wet summer and she is still here, bobble hat on head after blustery autumn days have given way to wintery sunshine. She brings practical assistance, humour, a listening ear and like the Magi, always bearing gifts . . . Thank you, Marie, for everything, for going beyond the call of duty, for your kindness, your fun, your friendship , for getting us through the most difficult of times.”

O’Malley for her part, thinks that carers like Winters who are still cocooning because of the vulnerability of the people in their care, are the real Covid heroes and she feels privileged to be working with them. Normally she’d be doing her work in conjunction with the day services and would be taking people on day trips, but that became impossible in 2020.

Marie O’Malley (right) with Caitriona Winters and her son Alyosha. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Marie O’Malley (right) with Caitriona Winters and her son Alyosha. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

“What I’ve been doing since March is calling to the families that we would normally take out. So I have been doing almost like an extended nicknack to the doors. You drop a little something, literally a grab bag with some trinkets or some chocolates or a coffee or, you know, just something that if you or I couldn’t get out of our house we’d think ‘Oh, yeah, that’d be lovely.’ Or I do the groceries or go to the post office run or collect prescriptions. If they’ve got a little dog I might get something for the little dog. Or I just stand by the window talking, getting stranger looks by the day but sure look it, what do I care? People are dying for conversation. We’d all be lost without it, wouldn’t we?”

Everything O’Malley does, she says, is nothing compared to the sacrifices made by the people she visits. “They’re the real front line. They’re ignored by the State and ignored by many of the governing bodies.”

And they rarely complain, she says. “They work so hard and they feel guilty if things are too much for them because they know it’s not their son or daughter’s fault. They’ll say something but retract it four seconds later and add ‘but she’s a very good girl.’ But sure we all know this. Sometimes they just need you to be there so they can say it . . . And then there’s something like the Golfgate nonsense where they’re flouting every rule and making a mockery of the rest of us, making a mockery of what families like Caitriona and Alyosha are doing. Caitriona is the one who’s really doing the good stuff not me.”

Kevin Boylan
Kevin Boylan

KEVIN BOYLAN
Monaghan

Nominated by Fionnuala Gallagher
I’d like to thank our postman Kevin Boylan. In March and April he went out of his way to chat to all the people on our road who were isolating and he has continued this throughout the various restrictions. My husband is a wheelchair user and I work during the day. Every day Kevin stops to say hello and checks that everything is ok. He always had a smile, always had time and nothing is too much trouble. I don’t think he’d agree, but he definitely is a hero.

OLIVER LYNCH
Ballincollig, Co Cork

Nominated by Emma Cummins
My Covid hero is my eight-year-old nephew Oliver Lynch. When lockdown started, Oliver set himself a challenge to walk 100m every day until he reached 5,000m, and at the same time raise much-needed money for three local charities. This was a big challenge for Oliver who has cerebral palsy, but after 100 days he met his goal, and raised over €30,000. Throughout this all, Oliver achieved his goal with a smile on his face and grew stronger every day.

BEN CONNOLLY
Malahide, Co Dublin

Nominated by Linda Connolly
Interview: Patrick Freyne

Seventeen-year-old Ben Connolly was nominated by his mother Linda for a shopping service he established for cocooning people where they live in Malahide, Co Dublin. “He is an amazing young person and we believe he will always look for ways to help those in need,” she writes.

Even before the crisis, Ben ran a soup run for homeless people several times a week. When the lockdown meant that that had to be temporarily paused, he decided to set up a shopping service for people who were cocooning. “I spent a night typing out a huge document with all the stuff in Super Valu in it and I spelled ‘Supervalue’ wrong – with an ‘e’ at the end.”

Seapark shoppers Ben Connolly (front), Darragh Maughan (left), Matthew Benner(seated), and Enda and Cillian Rooney; with neighbours Jim and Rita Stanley. Photograph: Alan Betson
Seapark shoppers Ben Connolly (front), Darragh Maughan (left), Matthew Benner(seated), and Enda and Cillian Rooney; with neighbours Jim and Rita Stanley. Photograph: Alan Betson

He dropped these into people’s letter boxes. On the Enjoy Malahide page on Facebook someone flagged it as a potential fraud. Poor Ben had to go into the manager of Supervalu and contact the page to explain. Both the management of Supervalu and the organiser of the Facebook page were subsequently very supportive. He sees the funny side. “It was hilarious.”

Ben likes organising things. He quickly established a very streamlined system. He liaised with the supermarket and recruited other young people nearby giving each an area to cover. They were soon each taking four or five orders a day, helping 50 households on a regular basis. He organised a streamlined way of paying over the phone. He borrowed special pull trolleys from the local scouts (“They were meant for grass so they’d be bouncing around sounding louder than a car”) and ensured they wore gloves and sanitised everything as they went. Supervalu assigned a special checkout for them. They printed off special booklets people could write their orders in. “I remember me and one of the other lads laying out the sheets and stapling them on the driveway.”

He quickly realised that for some people the social contact was almost as important as the groceries. “Some would call with a list and really drag it out.” So he made sure to spend time talking to people. He enjoyed it . . . at the end of the lockdown he helped organise a little concert on the green. “It was nice to see people being out and smiling . . . I wouldn’t have known many of my neighbours before but now everyone says ‘Howiye Ben!’”

Ben’s neighbour Jim Stanley had never met Ben before when he first got in touch to ask if he and his wife wanted some shopping done. “I hadn’t a clue who he was . . . We asked if he wanted a few bob for it. He said, ‘No, I’m not doing it for the money, but if you want to contribute to my soup run . . .’ He also has a soup run! I’ve always believed in young people, I was one myself, but he’s a wonderful young man. I’d love to be around to see what he does when he grows up. He’ll be something special.”

PHILIP and TERESA GAFFNEY
Naul, Dublin

Nominated by Liam Garvey
During Lockdown 1 Philip and Teresa wanted to do something for people with small children to entertain – they made free gifts for local kids and left them outside their gate for collection once a week. The gifts were all fairy themed – fairy doors, bridges, houses etc. “Fairy Friday” was created and a new piece was made available every week for 14 weeks in a row. They gave them away unpainted to allow the kids to be creative and to paint them in colours of their own choosing. The parents were able to display them on social media on behalf of the kids. I think Philip and Teresa should be recognised for their generosity, their community spirit.

EMER FLYNN
Dublin

Nominated by Rachel Flynn
My mum, Emer Flynn, is 66, has leukaemia and lives alone with, and is full-time carer to, my Granny, Elizabeth O’Neill who is 95. Mum has provided amazing care to our Granny at an incredibly difficult time. Their household is extremely vulnerable so it’s been very challenging and isolating but she has coped brilliantly and is just an amazing woman.

PAUL POWER
Waterford

Nominated by Clare Kelly Hunt
Interview: Rosita Boland

Paul Power is a social care worker and volunteer with Helping Hands in Waterford. He was nominated by Clare Kelly Hunt for his “unwavering support and guidance” to the group, which ensures “those most vulnerable never went without a hot meal and food throughout the Covid crisis,” she says.

Power became chair of the group, which offers help to vulnerable and homeless people, last year. “There are about 42 volunteers and no paid positions,” he says. “We don’t get any State aid. We provide tents, and sleeping bags and food. We raise money through sponsored events; raffles, bingo nights, and also local businesses have helped us out along the way, and been very good to us.”

Paul Power
Paul Power

The group works six nights a week, providing dinner, soups, coffees and sandwiches. They also make sure any families who need food can get in touch for groceries.

“Before the first lockdown, I knew something was coming, and wanted to make sure we had continuity of service to the people we worked with; about 18-20 homeless people in Waterford,” Power says. “At that stage, there was no Living With Covid plan. It was very hard to get hold of PPE [personal protective equipment]. I managed to buy face masks online, and I drove to Louth to buy 15 litres of hand sanitiser from Listoke gin distillery just before lockdown.

“We lost about two thirds of our volunteers during the first lockdown in March, because a lot of them were either caring for vulnerable people, or in the dangerous age bracket.”

Power used to work three times a week, but “what ended up happening in lockdown is that I came in every night to help serve the food. On no occasion did we ever stop; we kept the service going six nights a week. I was trying to make sure that the volunteers we still had weren’t doing more than two nights a week.

He also saw a rise in need for the service. “The numbers we were helping went up during lockdown to 27 every night. Nobody could sit in to eat any more, so we had to do dinners in take away containers, but the volunteers made sure they talked to them.

“The pandemic has taught me that the community in Ireland has been reaching out to make sure nobody become forgotten. Everyone was prepared to put themselves out there, nobody who were on the fringes of society was left behind. We don’t need to change the world. We just need to change someone’s world for 10 minutes; to give them food and a kind word.”

ORLA HORN and NORAH WALSH
Dublin

Nominated by Mary Mongey
My mam is 91 years old and suffering from dementia. She knows nothing about the pandemic or Covid-19. In an effort to keep her safe, she sees only three of her adult children who care for her. However the Forget-Me-Not Choir has allowed her to see her friends on Zoom, twice weekly. Founder Orla Horn and musical director Norah Walsh are my Covid heroes. Norah has continued teaching the choir every Tuesday on Zoom. On Fridays, she hosts a fun masterclass on everything from Opera to Jazz to Eurovision. Orla recently organised the Annual Tea Dance, virtually. In a time of such uncertainty (and confusion for those with dementia) they have brought us some much-needed stability and turned a time of sadness into joy.

ANNE FOSTER and GERTRUDE HIGGINS
Bray, Co Wicklow

Nominated by Bernadette Maura Donnelly
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in July, was operated upon on October 12th and am currently receiving chemotherapy. I have great support from family and friends. My heroes are my neighbours, Anne & Gertrude (Gertie). They say they are my support group. Together, they prayed for me during crucial times. Anne has been on a similar health journey as mine in recent months and has been so helpful to me, and Gertie and I were also neighbours growing up in Sligo. I feel blessed to have my wonderful support group, in these hard Covid times, when family and especially my eight grandchildren cannot come to visit me. I know my wonderful support group is there for me.

CLAIRE DOWDALL
Nominated by Cathy McCarthy

Interview: Patrick Freyne
Many people have done sterling work caring for loved ones over the course of 2020. Cathy McCarthy wrote to us about her sister, Claire Dowdall, whose husband Shay has Parkinson’s disease and was discharged after an 18-week hospital stint the day lockdown began in March. She writes: “The first few months of Covid were very difficult for her as she was very tired. She carried on, never complaining. She still had time to help her neighbours, friends and family…. She is fun, caring, loving and is always there for everyone.”

Over the phone Claire says: “Looking back on it, I realise we were heading into the unknown [but] all I wanted to do was get Shay home. I was asked, ‘Do you realise what you’re going to be taking on?’ I visited him every day. If he’d stayed in, I couldn’t see him at all.”

Was it difficult? “It’s a bit camouflaged when someone is in hospital. I didn’t fully grasp how much help Shay needed even though it took a lot of planning with the multi-disciplinary team in ensuring all was in order. I felt we’d manage because we always work as a team and Shay is a pleasure to be with and a really nice man. What I didn’t realise was that friends and family would not be able to visit our home. They help and support us as much as they can.”

How long are they married? “34 years.”

Where did they meet? She laughs. “We met in Tamango’s in Portmarnock. Where the gang goes.”

She says she spent the Covid weeks cleaning. “The carers come in three times a day and then when they leave, I clean all the door handles, surfaces, sinks and the taps, etc. I call myself ‘The Clean Queen’. It is fantastic having the carers. They really help with the isolation and bring news from the outside world but most importantly they look after Shay which helps us both. We are most grateful to them.”

What did it feel like when Shay came out of hospital in March? “I couldn’t wait to get him in the door. We have a cat called Chester and I say that once I have my two boys at home, I’m happy.”

ST VINCENT’S SPECIAL SCHOOL
Lisnagry, Co Limerick

Nominated by Breda Fitzgerald
When the schools closed in March, our nine-year-old twins, Annie and MacDarragh, both of whom have Autism and attend St Vincent’s Special School were plunged into possibly the most challenging time of their little lives to date. They love school and missed it so much; their teachers, SNAs and friends. Simultaneously, all other activities they depend on disappeared. It was a really tough six months for us as a family. I wish to highlight the school, teachers and SNAs as our group of heroes. No effort was spared in reaching out to the kids over Seesaw classroom app. Parcels and presents arrived in the post. The school’s community musician hosted a sing-a-long every week over Zoom. I was deeply touched when the teachers hosted class group sessions on Zoom; the gifts and talents of the teachers and SNAs to engage non-verbal children with intellectual disabilities online; bringing smiles and excitement – in seeing their little friends and those they trust the most during such an unsettling time. Our kids need predictability and routine as a basic need; their teachers provided this as much as was possible. Upon return to school, the kids were greeted with enthusiasm and a sense of fun and hope. They are our children’s heroes.

PHELIM NEVIN
Tuam, Co Galway

Nominated by Ciara McLaughlin
I’ll be forever grateful I crossed paths with Phelim Nevin of the National Ambulance Service during the pandemic. I was redeployed on March 20th to work at a community testing site. Since then I have worked with Phelim in community test sites and nursing homes. He has a natural ability to make everyone around him feel safe and at ease, to be able to do this consistently at the height of the pandemic is absolutely incredible. His consistency and calmness to do refresher training every time he met us was key to ensuring that we were all on the same page, as the number of people redeployed was growing rapidly. Phelim instilled a confidence and reassurance that we needed, having been asked to step out of our natural role. I currently am redeployed to a static testing site and recently during a briefing with the new community swabbers, I used the term ‘we need to Phelim them’- meaning we need to share everything Phelim shared with us and pass it along. He has left a positive impact on our Covid-19 journey, one we are forever grateful for.

LOUIS O’CARROLL
Clontarf, Dublin

Nominated by Mary Dickenson
Interview: Patrick Freyne

From the end of March to the end of June, his sister Mary Dickenson tells us, Louis O’Carroll tendered his wheelchair taxi service free of charge to nursing homes and hospitals around Clontarf in Dublin. O’Carroll has a background in pharmaceuticals and marketing, but in 2015 he bought a wheelchair accessible car to help care for his ageing parents and subsequently set up a business called Care Cabs (his father died in 2018; his mother died the following year).

“In March the country started to lockdown and older people were told to cocoon so all of my clients were, by definition, not budging,” he explains. “I was conscious that a number of nursing homes had outbreaks of coronavirus. And Clontarf Hospital, which normally operates as an orthopaedic hospital, had been organised into a Covid step-down centre for Beaumont and the Mater . . . They were still infectious but on the mend.”

Taxi driver Louis O’Carroll. Photograph: Alan Betson
Taxi driver Louis O’Carroll. Photograph: Alan Betson

After an unsuccessful attempt to volunteer with the HSE (he thinks they were too overwhelmed to respond) he went to local nursing homes and to Clontarf hospital directly. He began taking vulnerable people from nursing homes to hospital for necessary procedures and he was also taking patients he knew to have Covid from intensive care to the step down unit in Clontarf Hospital and from that hospital home.

He cleaned his car constantly. “The steering wheel changed colour because of all the alcohol rubbed into it,” he says. In his house he disinfected everything he touched lest he infect his wife and children. Meanwhile, whenever he was on a job, O’Carroll, the patients and the healthcare workers, were all swathed in PPE, which was very difficult in the summer heat. “It was scary, really. I’m 57. I have type 2 diabetes so I’m classically at risk. But everybody was scared. You could feel the tension.”

He often gave the staff lifts home too. “The young healthcare professionals would often be sad, and sometimes crying, because somebody had got sick or a patient had died. Or maybe their mum and dad had become infected by them . . . When circumstances allowed I would stop and get them a coffee or an ice-cream. I didn’t take any money. These young people working in healthcare, they’re unbelievable people and in the early stages they were very much on their own.”

Last month O’Carroll attended a Staff Commemorative Day at Clontarf hospital and received letters of thanks from the hospital board and from President Michael D Higgins. He also got a badge, “It says it’s for ‘kindness, courage and care’ . . . But I had the service and I knew they needed it. Anyone would have done it, honestly.”

LAURIE KELLEHER
Newcastle West, Co Limerick

Nominated by Sharon Noonan
Laurie has been a hairdresser in Newcastle West for approximately 40 years. Some of her clients are of an older vintage and have been regularly visiting her salon on Bridge Street on a weekly basis for many, many years. When lockdown 1 came and Laurie had to close her salon, she phoned her clients every week to check in with them and see if they were okay and needed anything. They were all delighted to hear from her and she kept busy getting messages for them, running to the post office, bringing in their coal, setting fires, buying their lotto cards and whatever other jobs they needed done. Anyone that knows Laurie well or indeed in passing, knows that she is not a woman to sit still for very long. She is on the move constantly and although she is of petite stature, she has a huge heart and carries out multiple acts of kindness unbeknownst to everyone except the recipient.

SHANE BOHAN
Sligo

Nominated by Una McDermott
Shane is a paediatric physiotherapist working with the HSE in Sligo/Leitrim. Last March he was redeployed to the community test centre in Sligo. This was a very worrying and unfamiliar experience for all the staff that were redeployed. I regularly met Shane in the test-centre car park in the dark, early mornings and was always met with a cheery hello and a huge grin. Shane trained as a swabber and treated the people presenting for testing with such an amazing attitude and kindness. He was particularly caring and supportive to the children that needed to be swabbed. He was concerned when he heard about the increase in calls for support to Childline, so he and his friends and colleagues from Leitrim and Sligo GAA completed 100 press ups a day for 7 days and raised €4,700 for Childline. This included 100 press ups prior to beginning his shift in the test centre in his scrubs one day! In September this year he became a dad for the first time, to baby Aoíshe. I would love Aoíshe to look back at The Irish Times from 2020 and see her dad as a Covid hero.

EMMA KATE CARROLL
Lucan, Co Dublin

Nominated by Neasa Ní Argadáin
Interview: Rosita Boland

Nineteen-year-old Emma Kate Carroll from Lucan, Co Dublin, was nominated by herneighbour Neasa Ní Argadáin for running a socially distanced fitness class on their road during lockdown, “despite being a Leaving Cert student, with all the stress that entailed, particularly this year”. All of their neighbours took part in the classes every Monday and Friday morning, and “it was a reason to get up, gather, stay in touch and stay safe,” Ní Argadáin says.

“There were a lot of ups and downs during lockdown,” Carroll says. “I was trying to study for my Leaving Cert, which we didn’t know back in March and April was going to be cancelled.

Emma Kate Carroll
Emma Kate Carroll

“I am very into fitness and I play camogie with Sarsfields GAA Club. We couldn’t play during Covid, so I wondered what else I could do, fitness wise. My brother was giving Pilates classes on Zoom, and he inspired me to start a keep fit class.

“There are lots of kids on my road home from school. I knew a lot of them. I used to babysit them. I thought it would be something good for them. My mam Kathy is in a WhatsApp group with the people on the estate, so she texted them to let people know I was going to be doing it.”

Carroll started the classes every Monday and Friday morning in April. She says about 15 people came every time. “I had kids, their mums and dads, and people up to 60 and older. I brought out my speakers and we played music. I made my own playlist, new pop stuff for the kids and old 80s music for the older people.”

People took part in their own gardens, and Carroll started doing a Zumba class once a week. “They came out every time, even through wind and rain. I was only doing it for the enjoyment, and for seeing people’s faces properly, not through screens.

Carroll also adapted her classes to suit what people would have to hand. “I knew my neighbours didn’t have weights at home, so I asked them to bring out tinned food to use as weights. Two each – one for each hand. I had canned pineapple myself, but I saw a lot of tins of baked beans and they were doing so much shaking around I am surprised they weren’t hot in the tin by the time we finished the class.

“The only thing getting me through the stress about the Leaving Cert was having my own self care, which I got from doing these classes. I was able to do my fitness, and to do it with other people. People told me it was good for them, but I think I got even more out of it, the way it helped my own mental health.

“I did the classes for three and a half months, and then I started a new job. After I got my predicted grades, I got General Science in Maynooth, so that’s what I am studying now.”

EMMA BRENNAN
Dublin

Nominated by Jacinta Dowling
My son’s partner (soon be wife) Emma Brennan worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic as a midwife at the National Maternity Hospital at Holles Street, while looking after their two young sons, aged one and three, and she did it all dedication and good humour.

MARIAN BAKER
Dublin

Nominated by Valerie Mathers
On March 23rd, my neighbour Marian Baker put a note in her neighbours’ doors, telling us that she would be doing Capacitar Tai Chi movements on the green beside us, and invited us to join her. When we could not congregate on the green we continued on our road, each of us at our gateway, socially distanced. She led this every weekday Monday to Friday, at noon until the end of June. (It did not rain on us even 1 day!) She produced certificates for us honouring our involvement. It brought us together, gave us exercise, a shape to our day, and re-connected us to each other. Some of us have lived here over 40 years, but naturally over the years, lives diverge, and it definitely gave us back our sense of community. We will continue.

TED FURMAN
Ballymun, Dublin

Nominated by Margaret O’Sullivan
Interview: Patrick Freyne

Ted Furman is a Ballymun-based GAA player who recently opened up about his struggles with depression. He has established, with the help and supervision of mental health professionals, an online Zoom meet-up called “Ted’s Open Mic” for people who are struggling or feeling low. Margaret O’Sullivan, who has suggested Ted for this feature, praises this “wonderful informal support network”.

Earlier this year, after a relationship break-up and a period spent homeless, Furman attempted suicide. He has since been attending counselling and has begun to get himself back on track. The idea of Ted’s Open Mic came to him after a conversation with friends about people they knew who were struggling during lockdown. “I came up with this idea of a peer support group for mental health, which would be done virtually. I made about a million phone calls to different people, just running the idea by them . . . Now we have three trained professionals – a trained counsellor and psychotherapist, I have a social healthcare worker who is a trainee counsellor and a psychiatric nurse from Beaumont hospital – they are on every call.”

Ted Furman, founder of Ted’s Open Mic. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Ted Furman, founder of Ted’s Open Mic. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Each session starts with Furman interviewing someone well known about how they coped with their own mental health issues. Recent interviewees have included comedian Rory O’Connor (of Rory’s Stories) and Donegal footballer Kevin Cassidy. Then anyone else on the call is free to talk or, if they feel shy, send a message or question. “If anyone is triggered by anything that’s in the conversations, they can go off site with one of the counsellors and there’s help there for them. They’re not left alone.”

He runs sessions twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays. About 20 or 30 people turn up to each session. Sessions are at 9pm and last about an hour. It’s a mixture of men and women, young people and old. Some have issues with their own mental health. Some are worried about family members. For some people, he thinks, it might be enough to simply check in and listen. “There’s no pressure on anyone to speak,” he says.

He tells me about a low point he had when he was homeless and sleeping in his car in the Phoenix Park before his phone inexplicably lit up and he saw a picture of his son. So his son saved him from despair. His voice breaks. “That still gets me,” he says. Nobody knew he was homeless then. Nobody knew he was suffering. He doesn’t want people to suffer alone. “We’re giving people a platform to come on and share and listen to people and hopefully find some benefit . . . the hashtag is ‘It’s okay not to be okay’.”
Ted’s Open Mic can be contacted on tedsopenmic@gmail.com

RÓISÍN RYDER and PAUL O’BOYLE
Dublin

Nominated by Carol Ballantine
When we first went into lockdown, Róisín and Paul organised the neighbours in their community to “clap for the carers” – appropriate, since we live beside St. James’s Hospital. What began as a quick tribute to frontline workers developed into a weekly celebration. With an amp and speakers set up on their front drive, Roisin and Paul organised a socially distanced outdoor concert every Saturday night for months. Neighbours came with fold-up chairs and blankets and dogs, to share their poetry, stories, songs and music. Kids danced, and cars stopped on the road and waited for a pause in the festivities. Thanks to the spirit Roisin and Paul generated, we got to know one another, began sharing our skills and ideas. We had neighbourhood bingo and regular swaps organised over WhatsApp. The Corona Sessions lasted all summer, but the spirit they generated stays with us – it was revived on Hallowe’en night when the spooky neighbourhood kids each did a socially-distanced twirl in front of Róisín and Paul’s house, before getting a packet of sweets and vanishing into the night.

MAURICE MC LAUGHLIN
Churchtown, Dublin

Nominated by Philippa Buckley
Three years ago my husband Pat was diagnosed with cancer for which he still is undergoing treatment. As a consequence he has had to give up work; a job he really enjoyed. Once he was feeling up to going out of the house he used to do the shopping in our local Supervalu; he knew most of the staff who work there by their first name and they all knew him. Covid 19 struck this year and my husband couldn’t go out at all as he was and still is deemed high risk. In the first week of Lockdown the manager from Supervalu, Maurice McLaughlin phoned Pat to say that we should order on-line (something we had never done before) and that they would deliver. To our surprise and amazement Maurice came every single Saturday himself in person to deliver the groceries and have a socially distant chat in the front garden with Pat. I can not express enough how grateful I was and am to him as it meant the connection wasn’t broken with our local supermarket, the people who work there and the personal contact that had been built up over the years. More importantly it was such a lifeline for Pat to keep contact with the ‘outside world’ with people from our local neighbourhood. Maurice was and is my Covid-19 Hero, going above and beyond the call of duty in making these personal deliveries and keeping Pat’s spirits up during a time when life became very difficult for us all but more difficult for those who suffer from an underlying condition and when personal contact was forced away. Thank you Maurice for your thoughtfulness, kindness, generosity of spirit and time taken; a level of community spirit and personal touch that at a time that tested us all was a gesture that meant the world to Pat who, by the way still misses going into the shop …. but each time I do – they still all ask for him .

DONAL MINIHANE
Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare

Nominated by Donal Minihane
Interview: Rosita Boland

Teresa McGann is a volunteer at the Stella Maris Day Centre for older people in Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare. She wrote in to tell us about Donal Minihane, manager of Hotel Doolin, who “took it upon himself to provide meals to our clients who lived locally, free of charge”, during the first lockdown. “He also organised meals to be delivered to any vulnerable person in the area, again no charge,” she says.

Minihane remembers the early days of lockdown. “Everything was new to us, so there was a lot of fear and uncertainty at the beginning about where Covid was taking us. I felt I wanted to do something positive,” he says.

Donal Minihane
Donal Minihane

“At the time, we weren’t aware the Stella Maris had closed, or had stopped serving meals. But there was a lot of talk about older people living alone. So we put up on Facebook and Instagram that if anyone wanted a meal delivered, or shopping done, we’d do it, and the phone never stopped ringing. The calls were mostly from families of older people, who were worried about visiting them.

“We cooked meals every day for three and a half months. There were four of us doing it. John Gimartin, our head chef, cooked the food. Three of us did the driving: me, Debbie MacNamara, head of food and beverages, and Liam St George, the bar manager.”

They delivered meals to 12 to 14 regulars, and six or seven other people, during the three-and-a-half months. “ We did it seven days a week. Our routes took us about two, three hours a day. We didn’t realise until we started doing it that a lot of the people we were going to had been attending the Stella Maris, that was now closed. We might have been the only people that person would have seen in the whole day. We developed a relationship with the people we went to. The drill was; we wore PPE, knocked on the door, left the bag down, stepped back. A lot of people wanted us to come in and chat, but we couldn’t do that. Luckily, the weather was really good, so we’d stand chatting in the garden for 20 minutes or so. Sometimes we brought books and newspapers to them too,” Minihane says.

The hotel funded the meals itself, and the team continued to deliver until the reopened in June. “We got a lot of offers of donations from people all over the world, but we didn’t accept any of it,” Minihane says. “We weren’t a proper charity. We had loads of offers of food donations too, but we couldn’t accept any of that either, due to health and safety.

“There was a monetary cost to it, plus petrol, and there was also the time; it was a big chunk out of our day – but no more than any other act of charity, it was fantastic to be doing something for others. It gave us focus, and we got as much out of it, and more, as the people we went to.

“We still visit some of them; we have built up a relationship now.”

LISA O’BRIEN
Bray, Co Wicklow

Nominated by Berni Killilea
I would like to nominate Lisa O’Brien from Lakers social and recreational club in Bray who held one-hour exercise and relaxation classes every day during lockdown 1. Our daughter has additional needs and this hour a day was my lifesaver during lockdown. I could have a cup of tea or make a dinner as I knew Lana was being occupied (and exercised!) during this one hour. Lisa made it fun and had a lovely kind word for everybody who attended. She will never know how much I valued that hour every day. A true Covid hero.

Max Benjamin has kindly offered to give a small gift to each of our Covid heroes as a thank you for helping so many others

Share.

Comments are closed.