Thursday, 4 March 2021

It’s a year since I have
been outside Ireland, but
I hope to travel again soon

Old shopfronts on Princelet Street, off Brick Lane in the East End of London, seen on 4 March 2020 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

It is a full year today since I last travelled outside Ireland. It’s hard to believe that I was in London a year ago today (4 March 2020), and that since then I have been in lockdown, mainly in west Limerick.

I took part in a Zoom meeting yesterday with trustees and staff members of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), and in one aside we recalled how on this day last year I was receiving a briefing on a planned visit to Myanmar to join the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Anglican church there.

We soon realised the dangers of travelling there and not being able to return in the event of a pandemic lockdown in Myanmar. Little did we realise then how a pandemic lockdown would eventually become part and parcel of daily life here too. Nor did we foresee that another lockdown would be imposed in Myanmar through the recent military coup.

Before and after that trustees’ meeting in London on this day last year, I spent a little time first in the morning and later in the afternoon wandering through parts of Spitalfields and the East End close to Liverpool Street station, visiting the sites of Holy Trinity Priory, and the Great Synagogue on Duke’s Place, Sandy’s Row Synagogue, the site of the first Bethlehem Hospital, and walking through streets such as Brick Lane, Fournier Street and Princelet Street.

A farewell to England at Stansted Airport on this evening last year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Once I was back in Ireland, the effects of the rapid spread of the Covid-19 pandemic became bitterly obvious. The parades on Saint Patrick’s Day and an invitation to preach on 17 March in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral were cancelled, along with an invitation to preach in Saint Flannan’s Cathedral at the installation of the Very Revd Rod Smyth as Dean of Killaloe.

Soon all Sunday services were cancelled too, and for the first time in my ordained ministry I was unable to mark Holy Week and Good Friday or celebrate Easter in a church with a congregation.

Within a very short period of time, all foreign travel was cancelled. Not only did I not get to Myanmar on behalf of USPG, but travel plans were cancelled for Crete (April), Warsaw (May), Bari (June), Lichfield and the USPG conference in Swanwick (July), Thessaloniki and Halkidiki (August and September), and Paris (November).

There was some compensation when the restrictions were eased for a while, and two of us spent two weeks on a ‘road trip,’ travelling through counties Kerry, Cork, Waterford, Tipperary, Kilkenny and Wexford.

But, apart from this ‘road trip’ and occasional visits to Dublin for the annual Irish CND commemoration of Hiroshima Day and consultations with my GP about my Sarcoidosis and B12 deficiency, I have spent most of the past 12 months in Co Limerick, and I have not been outside Ireland since this day last year.

They say travel broadens the mind. As my travel plans were wiped from my diary, I hope my mind did not become more closed or that my vision narrowed. But my eyes certainly felt the strain with more-and-more Zoom meetings as the weeks and months passed. On some days, I have been at three Zoom meetings in a day, one after another.

The roll-out of the vaccine seems to be much slower in Ireland than in other countries, particularly in the United Kingdom. I know that appearances can be deceptive, and perhaps this perception is heightened by an unrequited wanderlust.

But, earlier today, a posting from one of my favourite places to stay, the Hedgehog in Lichfield, announced, ‘We are so excited to finally be able to reveal the news! Provided all goes well we will be opening on 12th April for outdoor hospitality! … We cannot wait to welcome you back!’

I cannot wait either. But the anti-vaccine, far-right protesters in Dublin last weekend, and student behaviour in Limerick this week continue to set back the chances of a hasty lifting of the lockdown in Ireland and an easing of travel restrictions.

But, after a long, long, year, I’m hoping once again that soon I shall be able to travel again.

The Hedgehog Vintage Inn in Lichfield … hoping to reopen on 12 April (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Indeed - let's all hope for brighter days ahead.
Thank you Patrick.