Coronavirus: Irish citizens trapped in Peru arrive back in Ireland

Near-40 hour trip from Peru brings ends the honeymoon like no other for one couple

Neil Cooney and his wife Kath Cooney from Mullingar after their arrival from Peru. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times

Neil Cooney and his wife Kath Cooney from Mullingar after their arrival from Peru. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times

 

A 17-hour bus journey to Peru’s capital Lima in a rush to board a flight back to Ireland ended a honeymoon like no other for Neil Cooney (34) and his wife Kath (32).

The pair were among more than 100 Irish citizens repatriated on an emergency flight from Peru to London and then Dublin organised by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The entire trip took “roughly 40 hours” Mr Cooney said, as he arrived at a near-empty arrivals gate in Dublin Airport on Monday afternoon.

“We’ve been on our honeymoon since Christmas in South America, we were in Peru for three weeks . . . we had just over six months planned so we cut short three months,” he said.

Peru was put into a national lockdown on March 16th, with military and police patrolling the streets to enforce a ban on non-essential travel outdoors and a strict 8pm curfew, in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The newlywed couple’s flight from Arequipa, in the south of Peru, up to Lima was one of several flights they booked that were cancelled. They estimate they spent about €7,500 on cancelled flights and accommodation, which they hope travel insurance will cover.

Philippa Henderson from west Cork and her mother Anita Henderson after she arrived back from Peru. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.
Philippa Henderson from west Cork and her mother Anita Henderson after she arrived back from Peru. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.
Sarah McKernan from Dublin is hugged by her father, Robert McKernan, after coming back from Peru. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.
Sarah McKernan from Dublin is hugged by her father, Robert McKernan, after coming back from Peru. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.
(Left to right): Ciara O’Leary, Fiona O’Brien and Michelle Daly – all from Dublin – after they arrived back from Peru. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times
(Left to right): Ciara O’Leary, Fiona O’Brien and Michelle Daly – all from Dublin – after they arrived back from Peru. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times

They were among a bus load of Irish citizens who had to take a 17-hour trip by road from Arequipa to Lima, to make the flight leaving on Sunday.

Mr Cooney said it was “good to be back” on Irish soil, as “there was just a lot of uncertainty and we just did not know how it was going to escalate in Peru”.

His parents Nancy and Nicholas Cooney greeted him and his wife at the arrivals gate, and have sealed off an area in the back of their van to bring the pair home to Mullingar, where they will self-isolate for two weeks in a makeshift bed-sit in a business unit the family own.

Philippa Henderson (29) was one of the first through the arrival gates, and her mother Anita rushed to greet her before the pair stopped short of each other, unable to embrace after five months apart due to social distancing requirements.

Ms Henderson is from west Cork and had been backpacking across Central America. Following the announcement of an imminent lockdown she made her way to Lima, but was unable to book on to any commercial flights home. “I was really scared I’d be stuck there for months,” she said.

She said it was “amazing” to see her mother after months of travelling. “I really want to give her a big hug but I can’t, I’m really sad, but I’ve got to wait two weeks and then I’ll give her a hug if I’ve no symptoms,” she said.

Ciara O’Leary (27), from Artane, north Dublin, was one of five young women who had been travelling since January. “We started in Brazil and planned to go to Mexico and over to Asia, but obviously got stopped in Peru,” she said.

During the lockdown there were military troops stationed outside their tourist hostel most of the time. The worst thing was the “uncertainty” of not knowing what would happen, “or if we were to get sick of what would happen”, she said.

Fiona Feeney (29) and Colleen Kehoe (30) had been travelling for six months and arrived in Lima the night the national lockdown was announced.

“We got to Lima maybe at 8pm and we walked into the Irish pub and the president was just announcing a lockdown. We tried that night to get home, the airport was just carnage,” Ms Feeney said.

The two women, originally from Galway, could not get seats on any of the flights out of the country. Prices “were going up by the minute, we tried to book so many flights but they were just cancelled or full”, Ms Kehoe said.

The pair had planned to keep travelling until June, but like most of the Irish citizens on board the rescue flight back to Dublin, now they are just happy to be home.