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Ready, willing and able

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END IN SIGHT? Pharmacist Jimmy Flynn is hoping that lockdown restrictions can be lifted this week to allow some businesses get back to work. Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Claremorris has adapted during the Covid-19 crisis but hopes are high that some lockdown restrictions will soon be lifted

Town Focus
Anton McNulty

WHEN Leo Varadkar made the announcement from Washington DC on March 12 of the initial restrictions to prevent the spread of Covid-19, the crew from the Clann Machua Drama Group from Kiltimagh were in Claremorris Town Hall busily preparing the stage for their performance of John B Keane’s ‘Sive’ as part of the Claremorris Drama and Fringe Festival.
The festival, which was celebrating its 50th anniversary, was to be one of the highlights of the year in the town hall with ten drama groups from all over Ireland descending on Claremorris to stage a play each evening from March 12 to 21.
After months of rehearsals and planning, the realisation of what the Taoiseach announced hit home to the Clann Machua crew and everyone else inside Claremorris Town Hall. The festival was over before it begun and there was nothing more they could do but pack up and go home.
“The timing could not have been any worse from our point of view,” John Corless, Manager of Claremorris Town Hall said regarding the Covid-19 restrictions.
“The period from February to the end of April would be our busiest time. We would have gigs there every night of the week and it was the period when we made a few pound.”
As well as hosting the Claremorris Drama and Fringe Festival, the town hall was also preparing for the sold out shows for Irish music legend Christy Moore in May and country western star Robert Mizzell, which both had to be cancelled or deferred.
“It is disappointing that we cannot have the door open and the buzz around the place like we normally have. There is usually a good level of banter among the people working there and people are usually in and out and there is a high level of energy and enthusiasm in the place. When you go in now it is devoid of that which is disappointing but understandable.
“If the town hall in Claremorris was the only place closed it would be devastating but it is not and we are all old enough and mature enough to understand that we are part of the problem which has affected everyone. There are loads worse off than we are,” John said.

Ideal location
The south Mayo town is one of the fastest growing towns in the western region and its location close to Knock Airport, Galway City and the Tuam motorway has made it an ideal location for families to settle and businesses to invest.
The two largest employers, CBE and DeCare Dental, escaped relatively unscathed from the last recession and continue to employ people and there are also a number of smaller SMEs situated in the town.
The McWilliam Park Hotel continued to flourish during the bad times when many hotels around the country struggled and with 18 sporting organisations located in Claremorris there was always something to get involved in.
However, since the outbreak of Covid-19 and the restrictions, the town has become ‘eerily’ quiet, with the vast majority of businesses forced to close while the restrictions remain in place.
Only the essential services remain open and among them is Flynn’s Pharmacy, located in the heart of the town. Owner Jimmy Flynn said the shop side of the business has ‘jumped off the cliff’ as he had to close off part of the store from the public, but the dispensary side has been as busy as ever. However, he added that working in such an environment can be very stressful for him and his staff as people learn to live with the threat of the coronavirus.
“We have never seen anything like this in a community pharmacy and will probably never see anything like it again. The goalposts were changing in those two or three weeks, literally by the hour, and we didn’t know what was coming at us next. We had to really adapt and review our way of doing things every day. Screening off the shop was counter intuitive by cutting yourself off from the public but I had to do it to protect my staff. Since we did it, there is an air of security.
“There were so many protocols which crept into pharmacies like any other business and it paralyses your daily work. Most of them have been set aside by the HSE at the moment. For instance, the doctors are using a thing called ‘healthmail’ which is an internal secure emailing service between the pharmacies and the doctors. That has been there for two years but all of a sudden every doctor in the locality is using it to get their prescriptions to the pharmacy. The pharmacy then turns it around and gets it back out to the patient. A lot of things have been set aside which is good and streamlines the process and makes it a lot easier on us to get things done,” he said.
Jimmy said that his business operated a delivery service before the outset of the coronavirus but since the restrictions were brought into being, the service has ‘taken on a life of its own’.

Stepping up to the plate
Like most communities in the county, local organisations in Claremorris have stood up to the plate and have ensured that the most vulnerable get what they need.
“It brings out the best in people, that is what I have seen here and it has brought communities closer together.
“There are people who still need palliative care and people with long term illnesses. That didn’t just stop when Covid came in and these people have to be looked after,” Jimmy said.
Only two people are allowed into his pharmacy at any one time for safety reasons and as the weeks go by, Jimmy has noticed that people’s own attitudes to safety are changing.
“I think you can definitely see the way the public has evolved and are afraid. They are very cautious now when there was a kind of blasé attitude a couple of weeks ago. Day by day people are more and more aware of their own space and security within that space. There is a definite change among the general public.
“When things begin to unlock, I think we will do things totally differently. Until a vaccine comes along which offers some degree of security, there will be social distancing, mask wearing and people will be a lot more aware of their environs. I had three or four phone calls from older people this morning and they are getting fed up, but at the same time they are saying when this unlocks will they be as confident to come out again.”
Local councillor and auctioneer, Richard Finn praised the resilience of the community at large in the way people have responded to the crisis. He believes that while businesses are suffering as a result of the restrictions, he feels that most are happy to continue with the lockdown until it contains the virus.
“People are quite happy to run with the advice of the HSE and the recommendations of the government. Business is suffering but then again everyone is suffering across the board. People are in lockdown and cannot move and there are people cocooning. It should not be one section of the community against the other. It is the one community effort.
“The one positive is we are still attached to the EU and whatever help is available we should latch onto that help. There is no price you can put on life and no matter what government is in power they have to spend to get us over this unforeseen and unprecedented situation.”
As the former President of the Claremorris Chamber of Commerce, Jimmy Flynn knows that small businesses which are closed will need government support when the restrictions are lifted for them to survive. He is also of the opinion that the lockdown restrictions will have to be eased sooner rather than later.
“You have to get the economy up and running again and certain sections of the economy who can social distance need to be back as soon as possible. It is a ‘suck it and see’ scenario. Release one section of the economy and see if you get an outbreak. If you don’t then start releasing the next one. Every fortnight there should be an unlocking of a certain sections of the economy and getting people back to work. I don’t think its a good idea to open the schools before September but we have to get the economy up and running. Hopefully we will start unlocking after May 5.
“We have adapted to this and continue to adapt. Like any situation human nature will always adapt to a crisis it is faced with and Claremorris will be no exception to any other town. Things will slowly start to pick up but we are in for two years of hell in the economy until everything is unwound and everything is up and running again. There will be businesses who naturally enough won’t open again but for those who can it will be extremely important that the government support them whatever way they can.”