A Dublin native finds support, encouragement, and entertainment from the Irish ex-pat community in France amidst the coronavirus lockdowns.
Confinement for me in Paris started with being tagged as ‘suspected of having Coronavirus,' and working from bed in semi-quarantine from 19 March. I returned to work on 6 April (the business I work for is considered an essential one) for two days per week, while working three days from home.
I’m lucky to live in a house, with a small garden, and my husband and I enjoy spending the lockdown time with our 19 and 23-year-old daughters. The last time I spent such a concentrated period with my daughters, was when we brought them home as brand new babies and I was on pregnancy leave! Although confinement can be trying, bonds have been strengthened. I haven’t been one of the hyper-productive in lockdown, however, this period has given me the gift of time to take stock of my life, my house, and its inmates, myself included.
At the outset, like everyone else, I was extremely shocked and am still coming to grips with the enormity of the tragedy wreaked by the pandemic, the global death toll and the numbers of gravely ill. Feeling physically weak at the outset of confinement, I looked on in amazement as the Irish community in France galvanised at amazing rapidity and adapted to provide all sorts of back up and voluntary aid through the web, taking on roles as virtual life coaches, entertainers and providing spiritual solace.
My own lockdown baby steps were in great part enabled through virtual connection with the Irish community in France, as well as staying tuned in with friends and family and what’s happening at home. I normally don’t enjoy virtual meetings but have adapted to a “zooming world” in a “when there’s no bread (pubs/brasseries), let them eat cake (zoom)” type situation, finding support, fun and socialising in a new way. Amusing memes, gifs, and YouTubes also became the chocolate toppings on this Marie Antoinette’s “cake”!
At our window every night at 8 pm, with our French neighbours, we applaud the French front line workers, some of whom tragically became infected and died in the line of duty during this pandemic.
Today, I’d also like to take the opportunity to thank people who have entertained and rendered life bearable and at times highly enjoyable during lockdown. IrishCentral has played a huge part in keeping spirits up circulating Irish news and heart-lifting lockdown YouTube, two of which are my favourites: the “Warlords” from Michael Flatley's “Lord of the Dance”, dancing in gratitude in their homes, for all frontline medical personnel, and Belfast’s own Cormac Crummey, gathering Irish musicians and dancers to join together from afar in a stunning performance of musical talent and community spirit.
French postings also brightened my days; one that particularly marked me was the Paris Opera Ballet dancers thanking the medical front line workers as they also danced from home:
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I originally hail from Phibsborough, Dublin 7. Although I left Ireland at 21, and am somewhat in tune with my “inner French woman." I’m still very much a Northside Dubliner at heart. Seeing Twitters of the Dublin ‘Bingo Balcony events’, and especially the Kevin Street, Iveagh Trust flats event, was magical and will remain etched on my memory long after Covid-19 is gone.
Great honour to host #COVID19 Iveagh Trust flats Kevin St Balcony Bingo doing YMCA #InThisTogether #StayAtHome #Ireland help from local businesses to @DublinPride @DubCityCouncil all in aid frontline staff @HSELive @DubFireBrigade @GardaTraffic #StaySafe @IrelandAMVMTV @rtenews pic.twitter.com/rdVkLtf3Rp— Eddie McGuinness (@eddiemcguinness) April 12, 2020
Although the people in the video are “the real Dubs," looking at them somehow reminded me of the Italians on their pandemic balconies. It brought to mind when people describe the Irish, with our love of music, dance and “craic,” as the “Mediterraneans of the North.” The Kevin Street Dub’s community spirit, like a genie let out of a bottle, released great virtual vibes into our Parisian home. Their generosity matched the fun; the bingo balcony event raised €3k for front line medical workers. I was also delighted to see Eddie McGuinness of “The Outing” Lisdoonvarna fame, in action hosting the event. As organiser of the July 2019 Franco/Irish Lisdoonvarna ball event in Paris, I have a special bond with Lisdoonvarna. Chatting with Willie Daly the Matchmaker and hearing his melodious optimistic voice has also been a joy on difficult pandemic days.
For me, the road to becoming a contented confined person was also paved through being part of a close-knit Irish community in France. We are around 24,000 currently living in France and being part of a relatively small community has definite advantages. Many of us already know or “know of” each other.
The real gathering of the Irish clan in France came about when the “Irish in France Association”, IIF, was founded by Paul Lynch in 2017, through their events (including the 2018 and 2019 St. Patrick's Day parades) and with their Facebook platform, which has become invaluable during lockdown. The IIF reeled back from the disappointment of the cancellation of the SPD 2020 parade, after months of hard preparatory work, and immediately funneled their energy into pumping up their site with games and competitions for the kids during confinement, “Lights Round-the-Hexagone Confinement Quizzes," “Stay Safe online Sessions for Parents & Kids," “Slow flow yoga with Elaine Howley,” along with providing an e-mail contact for those who might need help with grocery shopping or other confinement issues.
The Irish Embassy in Paris has been extremely proactive, helping those who needed to get home to Ireland. HE Patricia O’Brien, Irish ambassador to France, recently answered life in pandemic related questions in an “Ask the Ambassador” question and answer session.
The Irish Chaplin to Paris, Msgr. Hugh Connolly, has been recording and posting his Sunday mass at the Chapelle Saint-Patrick in the Centre Culturel Irlandais (CCI) on Facebook since Palm Sunday. His Mass and words of hope, encouragement, and humour are now reaching a far wider audience and he may continue posting mass, even after confinement. He is assisted at his virtual masses by Dan Harvey (author of “A Bloody Dawn: The Irish at D-Day”) who is currently based in the CCI and who multitasks with the readings, giving the responses, and as star choir soloist.
Both Msgr. Hugh and the IIF play a very important part in remembering the dead at Mass and on the IIF site respectively. During the pandemic, our departed at home and abroad will not be waked in a normal way. For the Irish, respect for the dead is paramount; it is important that our relative’s deaths are announced, and their passing acknowledged and that people don’t slip off un-keened during the pandemic’s disruption of life.
I remember, at home in Phibsborough, my father shaking out the daily newspaper and diligently reading every single announcement in “the deaths” and attending funerals of people, even those he didn’t know that well but would have come across in his work as a Garda Síochána in Dublin, while keeping a hawk-eye out for any Offaly (his home county) deaths.
Other events that have kept the Irish morale up in France during lockdown are Paris based Irish musician Paddy Sherlock’s fabulous mini FB concerts every day at 16h.
Paris based sophrologist, Pamela Boutin-Bird provided a Positive Visualization session along with a 2-hour “Sophrology for Sleep workshop” to help us reach serenity and to sleep well during confinement.
Mnà na hEireann Paris, with many wonderful Mnà at the helm, including Shauna Kelly-Lefevre, keep members entertained during lockdown through helpful, supportive, and often hilarious daily postings on WhatsApp.
“The Cercle Littéraire Irlandais,” CLI, introduced weekly Sunday Zoom meetings. Each Zoom is sprinkled with special guests, poets, readers, musicians, and with Dr. Desmond McGetrick, Chairperson of the CLI, in the role of host. Sean Ryan is a great source of relevant information for life in Paris during the pandemic and year-round.
Irish people living in France are definitely putting their best Darwinian foot forward in embracing the "survival of the most adaptable" during this period, while taking the time and effort to reach out, help and encourage others to pass the confinement hump, to stay healthy and to survive.
With a little help from those who were capable of “seizing the (pandemic) day," I can belatedly say I’ve found my own lockdown feet and like Michael Flatley's “War Lords” can be heard shouting “a haon, a do, a tri, a ceathair," as I dance around my salon for a bit of lockdown exercise.
I hope some of “my favourite (confinement) things” in Paris might make you smile, wherever in the world you’re living and surviving the 2020 pandemic.
Stay safe and go n-éirí an bóthar libh.
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