Trepidation and optimism in Kerry as Ireland locks down again

Ireland has entered one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe, with people banned from socialising and pubs, restaurants and bars closed.

Prime Minister Micheal Martin announced the measures earlier this week and said they would last for six weeks from today.

The measures include:

  • Closure of non-essential shops, pubs, bars and restaurants – but they can offer takeaways
  • Banning of social gatherings indoors and outdoors
  • Restriction of residents to within a 5km radius of their homes
  • Weddings capped to 25 people
  • Schools, childcare facilities and construction sites allowed to remain open

In the final hours before the new rules came into force, Sky News’ Ireland correspondent Stephen Murphy spoke to people about what is in store for the next six weeks.

I had never seen Killarney so empty.

The County Kerry town, one of the jewels in Ireland’s tourism crown, usually has a unique frisson, even in October.

Americans crowd the pavements, piling into the jaunting cars (horse-drawn carriages) for a leisurely tour of the National Park and the lakes, stopping off at the 15th century Ross Castle.

This year, of course, there are no tourists.

With hours to go before the Level 5 lockdown kicked in on Wednesday, the frosty streets were still and quiet.

Outside the International Hotel, under a temporary marquee, 15 locals – the maximum number permitted – were bundled up against the cold, savouring the last few hours of normality.

That’s an extremely relative definition of normality, as they were already barred from dining indoors.

Siobhan Kelleher took a break from her Peking duck and wine to talk to Sky News.

Although her “heart bleeds” for the hospitality and retail workers who will now be laid off, she feels that the harsh lockdown is for the best.

“Unfortunately it is the right thing to do. We’re going through a crisis, and we have to keep a foot ahead, and do this together, and we’ll get out of it,” she said.

“We’ll just be positive and stay positive, and we’ll get out of it.”

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Mabel Counihan and her husband Dennis were out hunting “a last steak”.

They give up on the International due to the sheer demand for the 15 spots.

Before they left, Mabel told us: “I think the government is doing the right thing, but are they going far enough?

“What happens now is we lockdown for six weeks, we open up everything again, then people go mad, and we’ll have to do the same thing all over again.”

But how can the government go beyond Level 5, already one of the most severe lockdowns in Europe?

“Don’t get me wrong,” says Mabel, “I’m in business in the town myself, I hate to see anything locked down. But it is the right thing to do. It’s a necessary evil.”

The International Hotel’s duty manager is Les Browska, a gregarious Pole.

When he called last orders shortly after 11pm, there was an ironic cheer from the shivering punters. He seemed genuinely gutted to see his customers off into the chilly evening.

“This is devastating,” he said.

“We are heartbroken that we will not be able to look after our local community and serve our guests.

“Hospitality is all about welcoming the people, what we do is truly genuine, and this is what we’re going to miss the most, what is going to hit us the hardest.”

Hospitality is just one of the sectors that will bear the brunt of the next six weeks.

In Tralee, owner of Ballyseedy Home and Garden Nathan McDonnell shut up shop for the second time this year on Wednesday night.

“It’s certainly going to be a huge challenge for us,” he said. “But look, we’re resilient, we’ve been through this before and we’re confident we’ll get through this period.

“Hopefully they [the Irish government] will bring it back to four weeks from six and give us a chance to get the Christmas period and try to get some good trade in again.”

He’s just one of the optimistic Kerry voices we met on our journey through The Kingdom in the dying hours of Level 3.

Now Ireland faces six weeks of Level 5, which the government freely admits will cost €1.5bn (£1.35bn) and 200,000 jobs.

It remains to be seen if that optimism will persist that long, as a cold and dark winter draws in.

(c) Sky News 2020: Trepidation and optimism in Kerry as Ireland locks down again

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