Keep calm, and carry on working: life on the coronavirus frontline

April 23rd, 2020 7:05 AM

By Southern Star Team

Peter Hynes with his wife Paula at their Aherla farm.

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While many of us are working from home, there are still many people working on the ‘frontline’ of Covid-19 in West Cork – and not just in the medical profession. Jackie Keogh and Kieran O’Mahony spoke to some of them about how they’re coping in the crisis


Michelle Harrington,

Centra, Enniskeane

‘WE’RE busy here really, and we just have to keep our heads down and keep going – that is the main thing,’ said Michelle Harrington from Ballineen, who works as a shift supervisor four days a week at O’Donovan’s Centra in Enniskeane.

‘We’re coping fine here and it’s been very busy for us as we are doing both deliveries and collections. So the phones are busy and we’re out on the shop floor getting the orders ready for collection, or to deliver.’

Michelle said most customers are following the strict guidelines regarding social distancing and are using the hand sanitisers when entering the shop, which makes the whole process much easier.

She said she is cautious about Covid-19 but doesn’t want to think too much about it at the moment and is glad she is working away and keeping busy. ‘I’m lucky enough that I live in Ballineen and I can go up and down the street with my young daughter for a walk and it allows us to get out of the house too.’

‘I want to thank all our customers, too, for coming in and supporting us during this pandemic and bearing with us during all these new regulations.’


Peter Hynes, Aherla

WHEN the Covid-19 crisis hit here, Peter Hynes and his wife Paula made the decision to distance themselves as much as possible to protect their farm in Aherla.

‘It has made us very isolated because we are used to having people calling to the farm and that’s all stopped now,’ said Peter. ‘The big thing for us is that we can’t take a break as we would normally take a few days away in April after a busy spring calving season, but we aren’t using relief staff here at the moment.’

He said farmers are used to dealing with crises, so they are somewhat resilient to this.

‘We are probably lucky that the weather picked up just as the Covid-19 virus hit and that keeps the spirits of farmers up when the sun is shining and the cows are performing.’

Peter’s three daughters are at home and they are lucky there is so much room on the farm for them to go outside and explore and self-isolate at the same time.

‘You’d really feel for people living in urban areas and in apartment blocks while trying to self-isolate at the same time.’


Ian Vickery, Bantry

‘THE fire brigade has, up to last week, been preoccupied with gorse fires,’ according to Bantry station officer, Ian Vickery.

‘The brigade, here in Bantry and elsewhere, is on standby to assist with the Covid-19 response,’ said Ian who explained that they have been tasked to help the ambulance service with patient handling and providing access to people living in remote areas.

‘Everyone is well aware that this is an unprecedented time in which to live, but we are all responding as one,’ said Ian. ‘We are all doing what we can to assist wherever we can.

‘The number of gorse fires during the dry spell has, however, kept us very busy, but things are quiet at the moment.

‘I think we have been successful in getting the message across that gorse fires are not only illegal but highly dangerous, and we are greatly encouraged that the public are helping us by immediately reporting fires when they see them.

‘That’s a huge advantage to us because it means we have a greater response time and are less likely to find ourselves dealing with a hill fire that has gone out of control. ‘Gorse fires can be very dangerous because they can be very unpredictable and factors like the wind can whip them up into something bordering on unmanageable.

‘In such situations, we have often found that structures are put in danger by the thoughtless actions of some landowners. Gorse fires, as everyone knows, can do extensive damage to plantations and private property.’


Mairead Wilson,


‘WE are coping,’ said Dr Mairead Wilson, a GP at the medical centre in Rosscarbery. ‘It is a steep learning curve for us: our daily job has changed completely in the last four weeks. That is a source of stress – it is all completely new to us. We have had to take on board, and process, a lot of new information; and the information is changing every day, so it is a struggle to keep up.

‘But we have adapted our practice. There are four of us, four GPs, and two nurses. We also have five receptionists and a practice manager.

‘Our opening times remain the same, but we no longer offer walk-in appointments. Everyone has to phone ahead and we are dealing with a lot of illness by phone triage which is new for us, and difficult.

‘However, we are still seeing a significant number of patients for face-to-face consultations, both Covid-related and non-Covid-related because we are very conscious of the fact that people are still developing serious, acute illnesses that need to be appropriately managed.

‘It is stressful for everyone working here, but we are all mindful of the need to stay healthy and well for the sake of our families and our patients.’


Sgt James O’Donovan,


CRIME prevention officer Sgt James O’Donovan said he has never witnessed such a dramatic change to the force as to how they have restructured it to meet the needs of the community in the fight against Covid-19.

‘It can be a difficult job at times and the added stress of Covid-19 has certainly made it that bit harder, but we are there to serve,’ said Sgt O’Donovan.

‘The tours of duty have been altered, and units have been boosted by additional members and at the start of each day we ensure that all our work spaces, cars and equipment are wiped down clean. And you do that all again before you go home.’

He said he is proud to be a member of the frontline and his partner, Eimear, is also on the frontline having only recently joined the force.

‘We only see each other for 20 minutes a day, either when I go to work or when she is coming home. Covid-19 has changed the way we live in this country.’

He said the way the country has responded to this adversity has made him proud to be Irish. ‘To the nurses, doctors and all the HSE staff and my colleagues across the country, go raibh míle maith agat.’


Mike O’Brien, Castlehaven

WELL-known postman and former Castlehaven GAA player, Mike O’Brien, said: ‘We are crazy busy. It’s like Christmas – the amount of parcels and packages we are delivering is unreal.’

The popular postman on the Drimoleague route said: ‘There’s no denying that these are strange times indeed. We, in the postal service, don’t see really see too many people out on the road. Most people are abiding by the lockdown, especially those who are cocooning.’

Despite the eerie quietness, Mike said the members of the postal service are busier than ever in other ways, too, because they are checking in on people, especially older people living on their own.

‘They look forward to the postman coming because it might be the only person they see in the day,’ he said. ‘You might just be talking through a window, but it means a lot.’

With people shopping more and more online, Mike said: ‘We find we are delivering all sorts, like lots of newspapers and books, and there’s a lot of activity through Amazon too.’

Despite their high public profile, the Covid-19 rules apply to them. too. ‘Every day you have to wear your gloves, change them regularly, and be sure to use the antibacterial gel. We also have to keep the van clean. It has certainly improved hygiene standards, but, on a more serious note, we know how important it is to be vigilant.’

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