Curiosity and community spirit draw locals to Balbriggan testing centre

HSE hopes walk-in centres can provide a better understanding of transmission

A dog waits for its owner as a member of the National Ambulance Service waits to test the next patient at the HSE mobile walk-in Covid-19 test centre in Balbriggan. Photograph: Alan Betson

Under the railway arches at Balbriggan harbour on Thursday morning, a stream of locals queued patiently to be tested for Covid-19.

There was a common theme among them – community spirit – with each doing their bit to try to understand why infection numbers have risen in the north Co Dublin town.

Seán, originally from Northern Ireland but living in Balbriggan for years, strolled out of the tented area something of a reluctant veteran.

Members of the Order of Malta ready to greet the public at the entrance to the HSE mobile walk-in Covid-19 test centre in Balbriggan. Photograph: Alan Betson

The 30-year-old, a former rugby player, had been flattened by Covid-19 before, with ambulances coming to his house three times to help him breathe.


“Everyone should be taking advantage of [the testing centres]. There may be a lot of people out there who have had the vaccine, but that doesn’t actually cure you and you can still pass it on,” he says.

The invisible threat of having Covid-19 but not knowing – asymptomatic infections – is largely the reason why a tented outpost was set up in Balbriggan, one of seven locations chosen in the second round of temporary centres established to offer walk-in testing. The HSE hopes the centres can provide a better understanding of transmission, particularly among those not showing symptoms.

“I think they should really be put up all over the place because I know a lot of people who had it and they had no symptoms at all,” said Rachel on her way into the car park hosting the test centre.

She said her husband and daughter would follow later in the day to play their part in the local effort.

“I just think the variant has no symptoms at the moment and it’s spreading like wildfire...I am scared because I don’t want it to hit my home.”

By midday, the queue to get to the two ambulances and the green “entrance” and “exit” tents had shrunk to just four people, but it grew again soon after. The process was fast with results delivered via text message.

Local teacher

Denise, who teaches in the nearby girls’ school, said she was being tested for the sake of her students and colleagues.

Like many of those showing up, she heard about the test centre from friends and there is an expectation that word of mouth will be key to it being a success over the coming days.

“On the 12th of April [when schools reopen] I will be fed to the lions,” she said jovially. “I just want to be sure I don’t have it and won’t spread it.”

Gráinne Dermody, who arrived just after the tents opened, said she had a son in college who was due to start work soon and decided to come “just to know that if I am safe, they probably are”.

Some of those who have not ventured out much in the pandemic came because they were curious and willing to play a part in this latest public health effort.

“Before the pandemic I didn’t go out, now I can’t go out,” said Bernard on his way through the adjoining car park. “I am a quiet person, it hasn’t impacted me greatly... If they want us to do a bit extra, I can.”