Eamonn Kelly: A Christmas Break

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From top: The Christmas Market, Eyre Square, Galway; Eamonn Kelly

The news is all up in the air. It’s like the same news every week, more or less. Paul Murphy TD called it Groundhog Day. It was becoming surreal, so I’m taking a little time to catch up on some art projects simmering on the back burner.

The Autumn rugby internationals have been a nice break, with a sense of normality about the crowded Aviva stadium, happily witnessing another defeat of the All Blacks. I believe that’s three victories over New Zealand in ten years. Prior to that, victories were so rare that the one victory, by Munster, way back when, inspired a stage play.

Missing Christmas

I must say, like many people, I’m beginning to miss Christmas. To paraphrase Oscar: Losing one was tragic, but losing two seems like carelessness. The head of Limerick’s ICU unit in University Hospital, Dr Catherine Motherway, (what a great name for a doctor) told RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland that she believed everyone would eventually catch the virus, the Delta variant being so transmissible. This would result in a kind of herd immunity, with casualties, of course.

She said the idea was to contain the spread in order to protect the health service from being overwhelmed. This is where the vaccine is useful for those whose immunity has yet to be tested in the field, since it cuts the numbers of people being admitted to ICUs. So the real effort here, for the public, is to protect the health service, the same one that has been weakened for years by successive governments spreading that other virus, neo-liberal privatisation.

Help Us Help Our Business Cronies

In a sense, official Ireland is asking the public to help it buttress a health service that Official Ireland has shown scant regard for. Which suggests that official Ireland may now be in a bargaining frame of mind. Maybe people like the Tánaiste might agree to stop butchering the health service in return for the public’s co-operation in protecting the health service – which is still, essentially, a public health service – by wearing masks, getting jabbed and so on. Maybe it’s time for a little give and take on the question of a true public health service.

I see that new rules have been made to protect the public this winter from cuts, with data centres now being tasked with providing their own generators in times of grid stress. Now that, as they say, is a start; like the old joke of what do you call a dozen lawyers at the bottom of a lake? A similar prioritising for the public Health Service over private profit would be extremely visionary.

Christmas Market

I stood in Eyre Square, Galway with a half hour to kill, taking in the atmosphere of the Christmas market. They were playing songs over the tannoy, and one of them was that song from the 1980s, “Walking In The Air”, from Raymond Briggs’ animation film “The Snowman”. The song has become, I realised, a Christmas standard. It’s funny to have lived so long that you’ve both witnessed the premiere of a Christmas “carol” and seen it take its place in the traditional Christmas fare.

The pubs are suffering. You can re-open a pub, but you can’t necessarily just switch on the atmosphere they once had. Pubs were homes from home for many people. It’s likely that two years of pub closure has resulted in people creating new habits and new ways of socialising. It would be more than weird if the Christmas of 2019 turned out to be the last “real” Christmas of a world we may one day look back on with a bitter-sweet nostalgic longing.

But there was a flavour of that old world in the Aviva stadium, with the crowd singing The Fields of Athenry. And while it could seem callous, to hunger so openly for “normality” in light of those who have died, there is a sense of this being a war situation, where the small joys are felt all the more keenly and indulged in with greater passion than usual.

Memorial

In Barnsley, England, A covid memorial of bronze figures depicting key figures from the pandemic was unveiled. The piece, titled, “Reverence”, by bronze sculptor Graham Ibbeson, features a retail worker delivering groceries; an old man and a young child, victims of the pandemic; an ambulance driver and a health care worker. The memorial is engraved with a poem by Ian McMillan which reads, “Barnsley’s fierce love will hold you forever in its heart.” The project cost £210,000, with the sculptor and poet volunteering their contributions for free.

Ireland needs something similar. A focus for the bereaved to remember this particular “war”, perhaps supplemented by a political vow to protect the public health service in the future and put the days of penny-pinching privatisation behind us, as a mark of respect to the victims of the pandemic and to those who worked with limited resources and the best of their abilities to protect the public, not just from the virus, but from their political masters, intent, it always seems, on putting a premium price on charity and care.

Happy Christmas, and a Healthy New Year. See you in ‘22. Hope it’s not Catch-22.

Eamonn Kelly is a Galway-based  freelance Writer and Playwright. His weekly round-up appears here every Monday.

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet

Pic via Galway Beo

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3 thoughts on “Eamonn Kelly: A Christmas Break

  1. Verbatim

    Great piece! Enjoy your break and wish you all the best with the art projects.
    Not much left in life as we knew it, but grateful for art.
    Disappointed in artists from all over the spectrum and how non-dissident they all are, though.

    Reply

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