A tale of two St Patrick’s Days... half a lifetime apart

John Dolan's daughter Laura was a toddler bystander at the last St Patrick's Day parade in Macroom - on Thursday, three years later, she stepped out for her debut at the event. It shows the impact Covid had on our children, he says
A tale of two St Patrick’s Days... half a lifetime apart

Laura Dolan before the 2022 Macroom St Patrick's Day parade

TO most adults - particularly those who didn’t suffer the pain of loss, or grapple with serious illness - the pandemic probably went by in the blink of an eye.

One minute, Leo Varadkar was telling us “This is a St Patrick’s Day like no other... a day none of us will ever forget,” the next, it was Thursday this week - and we were out lining up to watch the parades again, with our flags and silly green hats.

Two years gone, just like that!

But for children, time travels much more slowly, and Covid-19 has taken up an inordinate chunk of their lives.

The two photos on this page will underline my point.

In the first one, my daughter Laura is three and an onlooker at the Macroom St Patrick’s Day parade in 2019, watching her two big brothers taking part.

In the second, taken on Thursday, the toddler has been replaced by a girl aged six (and a half!), full of fun and energy, and she is marching proudly through Macroom’s Main Street in the next St Patrick’s Day parade to be held in the town, with her fellow pupils from the Aideen Johnson School of Dance.

Two photos, half a lifetime apart.

The missing three years, the two lost parades, are just one indication of the effects of the pandemic on our children’s lives and rituals.

And the March 17 parade is a ritual, which is beloved by our children - even if many adults watch them pass by with chattering teeth, eager to get back home again to the warm fireside!

These photographs provide a snapshot of how the pandemic will be remembered by the younger generation in Ireland, and also, in myriad different ways, by children around the world.

Covid formed a huge backdrop to their lives during their formative years, at an age when a year can seem like a lifetime, rather than a blink of an older person’s eye.

Laura Dolan, aged three, at the Macroom St Patrick's Day parade in 2019
Laura Dolan, aged three, at the Macroom St Patrick's Day parade in 2019

The St Patrick’s Day parades fell silent two years ago, on the day of Taoiseach Mr Varadkar’s speech, and were cancelled again in 2021 at a time when we were hopeful that the new vaccinations would eventually bring an end to the pandemic.

At all points in the past two years, children’s lives were shaped and affected by the dangerous new virus.

They missed school for weeks, even months on end. They missed out on trips abroad - on holiday and to see family.

Of course, they missed the connections with their friends and family, near and far, as restrictions bit deep into their lives.

They missed birthday parties - their own and their friends’ big days - and often had to wear a mask, which must have been a strange way to view the scary new world.

Some children would have seen their parents out of work and at a loose end at home, perhaps worrying about their job and their finances. Some would have tiptoed round parents working from home, and some, sadly, would have endured the trauma of seeing loved ones, perhaps grandparents, seriously ill or dying of the virus.

Then, in the space of a few weeks at the start of this year, the pandemic was deemed over, and these children must have been bewildered at the sudden turn of events.

It was a return to normal, they were told, but what was ‘normal’? Many kids couldn’t even remember what life was like before Covid arrived on our shores.

You’re left to wonder just how much of a long-term effect the pandemic will have on these young, impressionable minds.

Children can be very resilient, but those early years can also leave an imprint on their minds that lasts a lifetime.

Will they be forever over-anxious about falling ill? Will they fret about being on a bus or in a shop with people not wearing masks? Will they not want to plan too far ahead in case something comes along to upend their agenda?

All of this went through my mind in the past week, as I watched my daughter eagerly looking forward to finally making her bow at the St Patrick’s Day parade, having barely a flicker of a memory of watching the last one take place.

Time seemed to go by so slowly for her leading up to the big day, as she counted down the weeks, days, hours and minutes. (She learned to use our calendar at a young age, and has been known to begin the countdown to Christmas before summer has begun!)

I can remember my own frustrations at time crawling along when I was her age, as I eagerly awaited birthdays, Santa, or holidays. Now, in middle age, time - or at least my perception of it - is completely different! It would be nice to flick a pause button occasionally.

This change in perception of time passing has no scientific basis, that we know of. But research has found that if you ask a 20-year-old person and a 70-year-old person to guess when a minute has passed without counting, the younger person does it more accurately, while time appears to be going slightly faster for the older person.

There’s food for thought!

Anyhow, at 3.45pm on St Patrick’s Day this week, the clocks stopped for a few seconds for me, at least in my mind, as I watched my daughter dancing along Main Street, Macroom, on her first parade.

And another part of our lives which had been lost to Covid was restored.

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