Cocooning from coronavirus: ‘The spring is coming out of my step’

One older woman is content in Blackrock, while ‘life stopped’ for a man in Inchicore

After initial uncertainty, retired school teacher Mary Hanrahan is feeling safe and content in her cocoon.

The widowed mother of three, who is in her mid 80s, is originally from Listowel, Co Kerry, but now lives in an apartment in Blackrock, Co Dublin.

“I bought it some years back with the idea that I would move up here eventually,” she says. “I have no mortgage. I feel I am very lucky that at my age I am in a comfortable, quiet place.”

The back of her ground-floor apartment opens on to a communal garden reminiscent of Versailles that, as a neighbour explains, has won an award for urban gardening.


Sitting on her terrace, Hanrahan recalls feeling fearful when Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced on March 27th that over-70s should stay indoors to limit the risk of infection during this phase of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I thought, ‘Well this is it. This has come to take me’. It was the first thing that struck me, that if I got this I couldn’t expect to survive. I began to talk to my son about cremation, that we had a plot and so on,” Hanrahan says.

Staying in feels so safe. I love reading and I have the family calling me; I have the groceries delivered

Four weeks on, however, she feels less anxious.

“Now, staying in feels so safe. I love reading and I have the family calling me; I have the groceries delivered.”

That love of reading is sustaining Hanrahan, though it is more tiring now as her eyesight has deteriorated.

She still likes to leaf through her old copy of the school poetry book Soundings, from her days teaching at Presentation Convent, Listowel.

“I am a country girl at heart,” she says. “I like a quiet life and I am very happy where I have ended up living.”

Though she likes French wine, it does not “suit” her recently and instead, occasionally, she has a hot whiskey. She tries to force her worries to the back of her mind.

“The only thing I want to get rid of now is the feeling we are just waiting. What are we waiting for? Even if [restrictions] end, I feel this virus is going to be around for quite a while. We will have to get used to the idea that we will be confined. Nobody knows for how long. You could give way to depression, so I try to live in the present and be grateful that I am so blessed.”

‘Life just stopped’

Across the city, in Bulfin, Inchicore, Jimmy Hughes (72) is reluctantly cocooning. He is a former painter and decorator, divorced with two children, and a social housing tenant.

Hughes was born with spina bifida. He grew up in Fatima Mansions and, having completed primary education in Rialto, went straight to work. Since retiring in 2005, he has stayed active.

“In the local family resource centre we have a men’s group on Mondays,” he says.

Before the pandemic he would go to the local Men’s Shed on Tuesdays and “the old age breakfast on Wednesday mornings”. Thursday mornings he attended a men’s health group and on Fridays he participated in a computer course.

“They were all free and now all gone. Everything. Life just stopped,” he says.

About three days a week, after his groups, he would meet a friend for “a pint of Guinness and be home by teatime.

“I never drink in the house,” Hughes says.

He phones friends regularly. “But it’s not the same as having face-to-face banter in a group,” he sighs.

His daughter is his only visitor, dropping in shopping and newspapers.

“I’m reading Ireland’s Own. Its centenary issues are very good. That, watching TV and the laptop. That’s the extent of my world.”

I am becoming indecisive. I am leaving things to tomorrow and that was never my way

Hughes lives on the State pension of €237 a week and pays weekly rent of €35. While he is spending less at the moment, he does worry about money.

“You cut your cloth,” he says.

He is maintaining his routine: getting to bed by 11.30pm, waking at 6.30am and rising at about 7am.

“Mentally I am still the same but I am becoming indecisive. I am leaving things to tomorrow and that was never my way. I was always: ‘Get up and do it now. Get it done’,” he says.

“I know in my own heart and soul the spring is coming out of my step. I am feeling defeated by the lockdown, the lack of company. The whole world is stopped for me.

“The weeks were flying in from Christmas to March and there wasn’t enough hours in the day. Now, there’s too many hours.”

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times