I love being stuck in Cork... I’m in no rush to go home

When she arrived in Cork for St Patrick’s Day, little did she know then she’d be here still in August. CHRIS DUNNE catches up with 88-year-old Mary McLernon
I love being stuck in Cork... I’m in no rush to go home
Mary McLernon who has been cocooning in Kinsale since St Patrick's Day.

WHEN Tricia McLernon’s mother, Mary, came to Kinsale for her annual traditional St Patrick’s Day vacation — she didn’t bank on her being a guest for the bones of six months!

“Her own home is in Kirkintilloch, 10 miles north of Glasgow,” says Tricia, who is involved in the RNLI.

Mary McLernon, aged 88, has family and friends all over the British Isles and in Ireland.

“My dad died nine years ago,” says Tricia.

“And I have a sister and two brothers who live near mum. She has very good friends at home and a lively social life, but she’s an Irishwoman at heart.”

Mary, who was cocooning in Kinsale during lockdown, is a writer and, with time on her hands, she put pen to paper and realised her dream of being a published writer in her ninth decade.

“Mum’s always been a great letter writer,” says Trish.

“When she sent in some pieces to a magazine during lockdown, the magazine editor was impressed and he asked her to submit a monthly piece as well as a Christmas article. She was rightly chuffed!”

Mary is in no hurry to cross the Irish Sea again.

“She spends a lot of time here and everybody in Kinsale knows her,” says Trish.

“I’m not sure when she’ll go home! She’s in no rush to go anywhere and I am definitely not in a hurry for her to leave.”

While many others spent lockdown perfecting banana bread or getting fit with Joe Wicks, Mary was quite happy to stay put, putting pen to paper recalling challenging bygone days and writing about the modern-day take on Covid 19.

“Mum has had a great lockdown,” says Trish.

“And so have I. Thanks to mum.”

Mary didn’t arrive in Kinsale equipped for lockdown or for the unexpected spells of fine weather during the pandemic.

“I brought all my winter clothes,” says Mary.

“I’ve been coming to Cork for St. Patrick’s weekend for years.”

She’s used to the vagaries of March weather when winter is holding back and spring is pulling forward.

“When I left the Scottish Highlands in early March, the winds were high and the temperatures were plummeting. I packed my heavy coat coming to Cork. I was the envy of all my friends when I told them I was travelling to Kinsale,” says Mary.

She had plans for her stay in Cork’s historical port and fishing town famous for its cuisine.

“I was looking forward to doing a spot of shopping.” Instead she found herself isolated in one spot for weeks on end.

“I think the pandemic brought out the best in everyone,” says Mary.

“Everyone was so kind. I was so impressed with the positive attitude of the Irish people. Every morning there were fresh baskets of baking outside my window and food parcels were delivered to the front door.”

Mary felt quite at home in her home-from-home: Kinsale.

“I felt very much included in the community,” she says.

“It was just lovely. I feel very much at home in Kinsale, not at all like a stranger. I think people made the best of the situation. Myself included.”

Mary celebrated her 88th birthday on May 29. She had glad greetings from near and far, from the locals and from the famous.

“I got a lovely message from Daniel O’Donnell!” says Mary.

“I’m a huge fan. Daniel always impressed me with his big personality and kindness.”

Mary, like many of her generation; was impressed by the way people adapted and blossomed during the on-going Covid-19 crisis.

“I wonder in years to come will people see 2020 as a perfect vision or will it trigger memories of Covid-19 that many young people will carry with them through life?” ponders Mary.

She has a vivid memory of her own.

“I am 88 years old but vividly remember a night in March, 1941, during World War II when the town of Clydebank in Scotland was reduced to rubble by the Lutwaffe,” says Mary. “Some things cannot be forgotten and 2020 will be like that for a new generation.”

Mary realises there is a lot to be thankful for.

And there is a lot to be regretful about with the pandemic.

“Thankfully, there has not been the whole-scale devastation brought by war, but who could forget the lonely deaths and the absence of a fitting funeral; students missing out on exams that might shape their futures; grandparents unable to hold their new grandchildren; weddings, First Communions, and significant birthdays postponed; social and charity events, the lifeblood of communities, cancelled, old family businesses that may never re-open. These are tough times for us all. But the older generation have been through worse and survived.”

Mary admits to being an ‘oldie’.

She adds: “I hope I am permitted to say that the senior citizens have been magnificent.”

Mary is optimistic for happier, healthier times ahead.

“Young people are not the only ones who want to get on with their lives,” says Mary, who having put pen to paper and getting published, is a prime of example of it never being too late to achieve your goal.

“We ‘oldies’ also yearn for happy times with our family and friends,” says Mary.

Resilience and optimism are her operative words. Her two in-built strengths saw her rise above the scourge of the virus.

“Such shows of strength from people like Captain Tom Moore, and Bandon’s ‘grand dame’, Mary Rose O’Donovan, who renewed her love of the harp and shared her incredible talent via Facebook, may have surprised family and carers who thought we were all in God’s waiting room!” says Mary, laughing.

She applauds all the ‘golden oldies’ who looked on the bright side of life during Covid-19.

“With enthusiasm in their voices and a sparkle in their eye, the ‘golden oldies’ answered Ireland’s Call. I am proud to be part of this generation and part of this time in Ireland’s history.”

Kinsale’s adopted daughter has been embraced in her daughter’s locality.

“I always look forward to mum coming to visit here,” says Tricia.

Mary’s upbeat mood is infectious.

“I could get used to having her around always!”

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