‘I can’t really breathe . . . but you have to wear it’: Cork shoppers comply with new face covering rules

Bookshop owner who received backlash in early summer over facemasks proved ahead of curve

Dublin sisters Yvonne Boylan, Marian Travers and Deirdre Lynch

A bookshop owner who received backlash earlier this summer when she asked customers to wear masks, says that public opinion has changed to such an extent that she is now selling large amounts of cotton which are being used to make home-made face coverings.

Joan Lucey, who owns Vibes and Scribes in Cork city, reopened her shop in June. She asked customers to wear masks for their own safety. If they didn’t have one the shop provided a face covering.

The shop's Facebook page received a negative reaction online with some consumers claiming they were going to blacklist the retailer arising out of her decision.

However, Ms Lucey says that in the last two months face masks have quickly become part of the new normal as society adjusts to the fight against Covid-19.


“Generally now everyone is wearing the masks. We are not having anybody objecting to it. All the staff and customers feel as safe as they can in these times.

“There was a bit of a strain when we first opened up. People felt stressed. We are all a lot more relaxed now. I am not seeing people complaining.

“People are making the effort. They realise that it is worth the effort. That they are not just wearing the mask for themselves but for their neighbour and the person next to them.”

Ms Lucey is selling a large amount of fabric with customers endeavouring to make home-made individualised face masks.

“They are definitely personalising them. We are selling cotton with musical notes. Or cotton with flowers which are being sold to gardeners.

“We are selling huge amounts of cotton. People are choosing what they like. They are not just saying that anything will do.

“They are looking at what suits them. You are seeing people moving away from buying masks in the supermarket and chemist to home made personalised masks.”

‘People need to keep their masks on’

Meanwhile, shoppers in Cork city centre seemed to be in main complying with the now mandatory wearing of masks in stores which came into effect today.

Young Italian tourist Nina Mpoonsah was wearing a mask as she headed towards the main thoroughfare of Patrick Street.

In Cork for a week, she said that she was very vigilant about the wearing of masks having gone through a strict lockdown in her home town of Verona.

“It is important to wear masks. We went through a difficult time in Italy. Covid really hit our economy. We lost more people in Italy to Covid-19 than was reported.

“Initially to go to the supermarket you needed a medical certificate. It was really strict. We were in lockdown for four months.

“I am not a scientist but I think now the virus is a little bit suppressed because it is summer. But once the summer is finished I think there will be a second wave (at home in Italy).

“We need a vaccine. But that will take a long time. People need to keep their masks on.”

On Patrick Street sisters Marian Travers, Yvonne Boylan and Deirdre Lynch were all wearing masks having travelled from Dublin to Cork to visit a relative in hospital.

Marian said she felt more safe wearing the mask while shopping.

“You do feel safer but my glasses are a big problem. I am falling over myself because they are getting misted up! The three of us have chest problems and we all feel the same. We feel like we are suffocating. But you have to wear them.”

Marian urged everyone to wear masks saying she hadn’t anticipated a lockdown happening in the likes of Kildare.

“Look at Kildare. It is not that highly populated. Well Newbridge would be. And they are back in lockdown. We just have to wear masks.”

Yvonne Boylan was getting special marks from her siblings for having a stylish blue mask which colour co-ordinated with her oufit. All three sisters emphasised that face coverings were now a reality and that people had to get used to wearing them.

‘Mandatory a lot sooner’

In the English Market, shoppers Christina Donovan and Bill Rogers from Killeens, Co Cork said that the wearing of face masks in shops should have been made mandatory weeks ago.

Christina Donovan and Bill Rogers of Killeens, Co Cork

Christina admits she is sometimes shocked by the complacency of members of the public during a pandemic.

“We were in Paul Street Shopping Centre a few minutes ago and there was a family of five and not one of them was wearing a face mask.

“The masks should have been mandatory a lot sooner. The rising numbers is scary but maybe its not too late yet if everyone starts obeying the rules. It is not over at all. Hopefully we are going in the right direction though.”

Her husband Bill, who suffers from asthma, was also wearing a mask.

“I can’t really breathe with them because of my asthma. But you have to wear it.”

Orla Lannin, who manages the Market, was sporting a stylish flowery mask as she grabbed a quick cup of coffee on her break. She is hopeful that the public will make more of an effort to wear masks shopping now that it is mandatory.

Orla Lannin manager of the English Market

“The enforcement issue is difficult. I would just hope that people would adhere to the Government rules. We haven’t closed at all so it has been a tough five or six months. Initially we were restricted to having 60 people in and now we have got it up to 80.

“You would normally have a lot of tourists here this time but obviously they aren’t around this summer.

“I hope people have the cop on to know that they have to wear the masks.”

Pensioner Catherine O’Brien from Bishopstown in Cork comes in to the city centre once a month to pick up a prescription from a chemist.

She says the days of wandering around and browsing are gone.

“I only go to the shops I need to go to. Everybody needs to look after themselves and wear their masks.

“Lockdown was difficult. I really feel the wrong instructions were given out. People misunderstood them. Elderly people thought it was illegal to go out and they if they went out they thought they would end up being fined.

“In my age group there was a fear that if they went outside the door they would end up in jail.

“I went out every day with a walk with the dog. In my own area. I chose my time.

“I don’t feel I did anything wrong because mentally I needed that. I get out now but I don’t mix with people that much.

“Coming out of cocooning was more difficult than cocooning itself. Because you had this fear of meeting people and the consequences.

“We have got to take precautions and live the best way we can. That means masks.”