As she walked through a park with her young son in Douglas, Co Cork, on Friday, Dara Grzeorczyk was excited at the prospect of getting to meet and chat with other mothers in baby groups as restrictions ease.
The young Polish woman spoke of the huge loneliness felt among first-time mothers during the pandemic and in particular those without family around them.
She has looked longingly at her counterparts in her native country as they lived a “normal life” in recent months while she has felt locked down.
“It is normal there. No mask. You can go to a salon without vaccination. I haven’t been home in two years. I also have a four-year-old daughter. Last year she was in preschool for two months.
“They miss their friends. All time it is isolation. The playground was closed. No toddlers’ group. I am a stay-home mum. I miss normal life. I am living here three years. My parents haven’t seen my young son yet because of Covid. It has been hard.”
She was among many in Cork today who welcomed the easing of restrictions.
Taxi driver John Linehan who was going for a stroll in the park with his wife, Jeanette, said there is a need for caution in terms of how we handle opening up society.
Mr Linehan’s business all but disappeared during the pandemic. “I normally worked nights and they were all gone. I do a few hours in the morning now but that is it.
“At the start of Covid we were dealing with people who had Covid getting in to the car and they were saying they were going for testing . . . In some ways it will be good to have a bit of normality back. We need to learn to live with Covid. But there is also a need for caution.”
Sharon Hourihane, who was pushing a buggy in the park, said she was looking forward to having a “little bit of normal”.
“I am looking forward to being able to go have a drink or something to eat without having to book or wonder how many people I can meet.
“We have spoken of nothing but the pandemic over the last two years. The people I feel most sorry for are the people in their 70s who started off the beginning of this lively and able to go out and at the end of this they may not be in a position to do that anymore.”
In Douglas shopping centre, butcher Liam Bresnan said he hopes the relaxing of restrictions will help alleviate the isolation people have felt. Mr Bresnan, who lives alone, misses the normal bustle of everyday life.
“Last Sunday I got up at half 10, made my breakfast and lit the fire. I didn’t even get dressed. When I came into work on Monday I was as stiff as a poker and in foul humour. I had spoken to three people on the phone; there is no interaction.
“This centre before Covid was like the show The Last of the Summer Wine. There were about 12 to 15 old fellas who would come in and sit in the seats. . . . There has been no chance meetings for them.
“Or you have a fella who goes into a bar. The man could be nursing a pint for an hour. He would have a read of the paper and have chit-chat at the counter with the barman. There has been none of that.
“I am fed up of playing Cinderella. I have been drinking with the same friends in Barry’s pub in Douglas for 35 years. In at six and out at 8pm like Cinderella. We are looking forward to some normality.”