Don’t stop believing

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FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT Ciara Galvin and Johnny Burke from the ‘Believe in Ballinrobe’ initiative are hopeful the town can make a good recovery one the Covid-19 restrictions are lifted. Pic: Michael McLaughlin

In the first of a series looking at how Mayo’s towns are dealing with the Covid-19 crisis, we visit the south Mayo town of Ballinrobe

Town Focus
Ger Flanagan

‘Believe in Ballinrobe’. Never have three simple words been more applicable to the residents of the South Mayo town.
It is said to be one of the oldest towns in the whole county, if not the oldest town, but like everywhere else, it now faces into an uncertain future as the impact of Covid-19 attacks it from all fronts – health, social and economic.
Yet even in the face of such adversity, never has the town been more prepared for the unexpected, thanks to Believe in Ballinrobe. When Pat Donnellan established the volunteer group last May, he could not have known that it would be a vital lifeline for so many in the not-so-distant future, when a global pandemic struck.   
It has helped to bring a large, multi-layered town like Ballinrobe into a tight-knit community, pulling together and supporting each other in a time of crisis.
Just last week, the group organised a ‘Flight for Covid Fight’, where they called on the local people to build a simple thank you message in their back gardens in tribute to the frontline staff, all of which was captured in a drone video and shown on their Facebook page.
“The idea behind the Flight for Covid Fight came about when a local guy, Johnny Burke contacted the Believe in Ballinrobe group and mentioned flying a drone across the town to record messages of thanks for frontline workers,” Ciara Galvin of Believe in Ballinrobe told The Mayo News.
“From there the campaign really grew legs and soon children and families across the town were preparing their messages of thanks in their gardens and driveways. Planks of wood, chalk, turf – you name it – everything was used.
“We were absolutely blown away by the response. To see the effort that was made was just incredible. We hope it has lifted people’s spirits during these really challenging times and especially hope that our frontline workers know just how much we appreciate what they are doing right now, from staff in Mayo University Hospital and our nursing homes, to those in our pharmacies and our supermarkets.”

Community drive
BUT that’s merely a drop in neighbouring Lough Mask in terms of what is being done in the town to combat the impact of Covid-19.
There’s a large group of approximately 70 volunteers on hand in a WhatsApp group ready, as the old saying goes, ‘to do the messages’. Whether that be picking up medication, getting food, trips to the hospital or a general check up on an older or vulnerable person, it’s done in the drop of a hat and with the utmost privacy.
There’s also been colouring, painting and photography competitions, online workouts and interviews with Ballinrobe ex-pats scattered across the globe, while Sunday Mass is also being streamed online – all to ensure that people, even in this time of isolation, do not feel alone.
“Believe in Ballinrobe is a very ad-hoc organisation,” well-known Ballinrobe native Liam Horan added. “It’s a group of people and clubs who have come together for various levels of support.”
Liam said the group is ‘very keen’ to hear from anyone in Ballinrobe and its surrounds who is feeling stuck for anything or feeling isolated. “We’ve comfortably been able to handle all the enquiries so far because of the huge amount of volunteers, and we would feel in Ballinrobe that we are well able to handle a surge in cases if one was to come or if there was serious pressure being put on the health system.
“A lot of local clubs feed into this organisation… and it all falls into the same thing: community response. It’s about saying we’re here as a local organisation to help local people and we’re ready to deal with whatever comes our way.”
With the local economy under heavy pressure, local businesspeople and practitioners have been coming on board to share knowledge through information videos in all sorts of areas, including hair care and beauty.
Horan himself has even managed to virtually replicate a Friday night in the local pub with his venture ‘The Horan Stand’, where people can log on and book a table to converse and have a virtual drink with their friends.

‘Wearing the same jersey’
ALL these initiatives together mean that Ballinrobe people are pulling together and coping well with these unforeseen circumstances, and the general feeling on the ground remains positive.
And that will be key if the town is going to get back to where it was only a couple of months ago.
“The town feels that it just has to fight back now,” local Fine Gael councillor Michael Burke said. “A lot of the younger people have got involved in the community, and it’s great to see such a group of enthusiastic people working to progress our town in times like these.
“Never has supporting your community being more important than it is now and will be over the next 12 to 18 months – that everyone is pulling together and wearing the one jersey.
“We need to stay positive, and people from the West are very good at that, good at coming together and fighting back. We’ve done it before.
“It’s a slightly different issue economically this time because it’s not that people have borrowed a lot of money or invested badly in property and the banks are moving in, it’s that the economy has literally paused.
“Bouncing back will be a difficult task, but it’s something we’ll all have to do by pulling together, with the support from the State and Mayo County Council, to get off the ground again.”