The Irish countryside is the best defense against COVID-19

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Photo by Fiona Mitchell

“Keep social distancing, girls!”

The Irish farmer, with a traditional woolen cap on his head, watched us warily as we walked down the street in the little Irish town of Dingle. 

“Don’t worry, sir, we are!” I responded cheerfully, not having time to tell him that we three college girls were, in fact, living in the same household, making social distancing for us impossible. 

“It’s crazy out, isn’t it?” yelled one man to his friend across the street, who responded, “Aye, it is!” as they hurried to the shops to stock up on tea and biscuits. 

The town was in a frenzy. The pubs had been closed for a week. Yet common courtesy and friendly chatter were not diminished in any way. 

It had been about two weeks since we arrived from Italy after our University of Dallas Rome Program was tragically canceled. When we found out that we were being sent home, my sister and I cast an open invitation to anyone unable to go home as of yet to come stay in Ireland with us. 

Most students decided to get home as soon as possible, yet a small group of five made the journey to Ireland. 

After a week of visiting Dublin and a hilariously disastrous train ride across the country to Kerry, the group was hastily reduced to three. 

Two of the girls booked flights last minute to the United States upon hearing that their flights, and all international flights for the foreseeable future, would be canceled. They faced a full night and day of travel to escape the impending quarantine.

The situation in Ireland has been better than most, with only 8,089 cases and 25 deaths at the time of writing. However, the shelter-in-place order has been extended by the Irish Department of Health from April 12 to May 5. 

Nevertheless, our lives could not be more peaceful. We are blessed with a view of the beautiful Irish countryside right outside our windows and two beaches within walking distance. My sister and I have been spoiled by the masterful cooking of UD sophomore Anna Forgét, who is taking this shelter-in-place order as an opportunity to experiment in various cuisines. 

“It’s difficult to be away from my family, but I’m really thankful for all the kindness that’s been shown me,” Anna said. “Even though my Rome semester was canceled, God has given me not the adventure I wanted, but the adventure I needed.” 

Before the cancellation of our study abroad program, the original plan was to spend a week after the semester traveling around Ireland while staying in my childhood home in the Kerry area. 

Now, the three of us are staying here at least until the beginning of May, in the middle of the countryside without a car, a washing machine or central heating. Luckily, we have incredible neighbors. 

Indeed, the greatest blessing is the generosity of our neighbors. 

The local grocery shop owner is sending out her daughter to make deliveries of food and prescriptions to those unable to leave their homes. A woman who I know from my childhood delivered groceries to us, taking time out of her busy day with seven children of her own. Our next-door neighbor (living approximately three fields of cows away) has offered to drive us anytime. We have received gifts of scones, a chicken dinner and even a refrigerator, and the farmer who gave us this much needed appliance was a bit mad that we hadn’t asked for one before!

I lived in Ireland for 10 years. During that time, my family, fondly known as the “loud Americans down the road,” were welcomed into the community. Now, after being away for five years, it is like I never left. 

The coronavirus has caused a great disaster in the world, which we, as Catholics during the Easter season, feel greatly. Yet the virus has gifted us with a true glimpse of human nature, revealing the kindness, generosity and resilience of people all over the world. 

After the storm has passed, we are facing an economic crisis, a huge upheaval of the medical system in most countries, and who knows what else. Yet, we will be facing those troubles with a greater appreciation of community and a recognition of the true superheroes in our lives. 

As a college student far from both my real and my university family, panicked at the thought of virtual finals and missing the companionship of my Rome family, I am truly grateful for this crazy Irish culture I am living in. I wouldn’t change my situation for the world.

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