We all had our plans for 2020 - but so did Covid-19: Leader reporters pick their favourite stories from the last year

Donn O'Sullivan, editor

Reporter:

Donn O'Sullivan, editor

Email:

news@limerickleader.ie

We all had our plans for 2020 - but so did Covid-19:  Leader reporters pick their favourite stories from the last year

Marian and Pat O'Connor pay a cheeky visit to their grandchildren - socially distancing of course! This photo was one of series taken by photographer Kaspars Sarovarcenko of Black Diamond Photography

PICKING out a ‘favourite’ story from 2020 was never going to be easy. The Limerick Leader staff have written thousands, not to mention our contributors. All top drawer stuff.

The story I chose began in February. In a time when things were ‘normal’ and it stuck with me.

On February 10, Jerome O'Connell wrote that “The Limerick footballers have suffered a blow with confirmation that they are planning without forward Jamie Lee for the remainder of the season”

The star Newcastle West attacker had departed for Australia.

Several weeks later on May 9, mid pandemic, Nick Rabbitts reported that Lee was enjoying life ‘Down Under’

“Jamie keeps in touch with his family on a twice weekly basis - upped from weekly - through a family Whatsapp group, which includes his father, the senior football manager Billy Lee” Nick added.

The story of Jamie Lee, who was in Australia with fellow Limerick footballers Darragh Treacy and Sean McSweeney struck a chord with me.

The story almost summed up the year. Our love of sport, love of family and love of travel, all affected by Covid-19.

The Limerick footballers were denied a chance to play in Croke Park in a national league final. But in 2020 that did not matter. What mattered was, that like thousands of other families, the Lees were apart.

Life went on for us all, over Zoom and Skype, but we all wanted to be back to normal. What is normal?

The core of life is family and this year has thought us that even though people might not share our second name, we are all in this together.

Jamie was joined in Australia by his friends, but they too found it hard to get work due to Covid-19.

The pandemic was everywhere.

I suppose that is the striking point of this story. Covid-19 did not and does not respect borders, social classes or sporting passions. It affected us all, whether we were in Limerick or abroad. The Lee story was repeated many times over.

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Betty, 103, an oasis of calm in an upside down world 

IN A year of heightened anxiety, when we have all, at various stages, felt a loss of control over our lives, Kilmallock woman Betty McElholm left it all over her head.

And at 103 years of age, why wouldn’t she?

I remember March 18 vividly. We were coming up to deadline and I had a front page slot for a story with Betty. It was her 103rd birthday that day.

I had gotten some details over the phone but I needed some more. We were only a week or two into learning about this new virus and were, as a country, battening down the hatches.

There was an ongoing furore over the full four days of the Cheltenham Racing Festival going ahead; St Patrick's Day had been more or less cancelled.

Under pressure with the deadline approaching I headed off for Betty’s house on the main street in Kilmallock to get a few more words from her on what she made of it all. Sitting in front of an open fire, she was an oasis of calm and common sense.

While she’d been watching “a nice bit” of the coverage of the coronavirus outbreak, Betty announced “I don’t bother my head with it.”

She hadn’t a pain nor an ache that day and was just after a bowl of rice when the Leader arrived, observing all social distancing and hygiene guidelines.

Betty was going to spend her afternoon doing some reading. “I get books up from the library every Friday and Saturday. I’ve got through all the books so I’m going to go through Ireland’s Own now,” she explained. Each evening she negotiates some 17 steps of a staircase which leads to her bedroom.

When I asked her what she thought of Covid-19, her reply was this: “If I get the virus, sin a bhfuil!”

Born on March 18, 1917, Betty had arrived into a world where the Great War had led to millions of deaths and the Spanish Flu was about to claim the lives of millions more.

Betty has seen it all and a little global pandemic called Covid-19 isn't going to rock her.

Áine Fitzgerald
News Editor
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General Election was last major event before Covid

IF you asked me this time last year what I expected to be the biggest story of 2020, my immediate answer would have been the general election.

At that stage, we didn’t know when it would take place or that it would be called, by the then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, just weeks before the first case of Covid-19 was confirmed in Ireland.

Between the campaign and the three-day count, it was an intense few weeks and sleep was at a premium.

It has since transpired that it was one of the last major events where public health guidelines did not apply and where people were allowed to meet and embrace each other without fearing the would spread or catch the virus.

From meeting ordinary members of the public while on the hustings with candidates to reporting on every aspect of the count at Limerick Racecourse, Patrickswell, General Election 2020 was one of the highlights of the year.

And it didn’t disappoint either – from the elimination of former Minister Jan O’Sullivan in the Limerick city constituency to the election of independent candidate Richard O’Donoghue in Limerick County, there were stories and headlines around every corner.

Personally, I love crunching the numbers and analysing the tallies and early trends during the rolling coverage in an effort to keep readers informed and up to date.

Elections are also one of the few events in our industry where it’s ‘all hands on deck’ for a giant team effort ‘for as long as it takes’. 

It was a genuine team effort and now acts as a stark reminder of what life was like pre covid. Many of those who were ‘on deck’ in February has since moved on to other things while the remainder of us are working remotely and have, in some cases, have not met physically since.

The online interaction and the figures confirm our coverage of the election proved popular with reader and to receive a Local Ireland Media Award for our coverage was an added bonus.

David Hurley
Head of Multimedia/News reporter

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Limerick pensioner walks around the World & more

This year has taught us to celebrate every single accomplishment, big or small.

Limerick pensioner Vinod Bajaj, 70, completed his “earth walk” in late September, 1,500 days since he embarked on his journey.

Vinod’s chalked up an impressive 54,633,135 steps walked in 8,322 hours, burning 1,497,232 calories on his way to completing 40,107km, about 32km more than the distance around the earth.

The pensioner started his walk at 5:30am each morning in order to allow time to complete tasks in the afternoon.
“Typically, I started walking early in the morning and completed mostly in two intervals, the first one was always for a longer duration.

“There were many times I did the entire walk in a single attempt. Starting early allowed me to finish by early afternoon which gave me plenty of time to do things such as shopping, bank work, house and garden work,” Vinod said.

Covid restrictions didn’t stop Vinod from achieving his goal.
“Restrictions in movement within 5km from the house during lockdown posed a minor challenge and I had limited routes for walking and ended up using the same routes a few times a day to meet my daily walking goal,” he added.

He walked 7,704km during heavier Covid restrictions from March to August, which equates to 41km per day within 5km of his home in Castletroy.

Vinod’s mantra is: “If I can do it at 70 years of age then anyone can do it”

Martin Mongan
Leader intern

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Generosity of Limerick people knows no bounds

THERE isn’t one story per se but a constant theme for me during 2020 was the generosity of Limerick people to fundraisers.
At a time when money was tight, many workers furloughed, many more lost their jobs, others worried about their future, the kindness shown was incredible.

One of the first was Kilcornan AFC’s Quarantash – growing moustaches to give supplies like walkie talkies to frontline workers in UHL. Then monies were being collected for PPE for hospitals and nursing homes.

Aideen Fitzpatrick, of Elm Court Service Station, with the backing of Limerick GAA played a big role in this. She organised members of the 2018 Limerick hurlers and ladies football panels and their managers to take part in a video. 

Local GAA clubs were at the forefront of helping out in their localities. And then, of course, you had the Limerick hurlers hitting the woah for Milford which raised spirits and smiles. Praise must go to all those running these events as a lot of the hard work is never seen.

There are too many to mention but two stand out – Dáithí Lawless in Martinstown and Theo Murnane, Murroe. After a terrible accident while riding his bike back in April a committee started the Rise4Dáithí campaign. Their goal of €100,000 was to cover the cost of suitable transport for Dáithí and to cover as much of the cost as possible for alterations needed to the family home. To date around €130,000 has been collected.

Then in December, Team up for Theo commenced. A target of €375,00 was needed to bring Theo for a cancer trial in New York in January. That target was hit in less than three weeks. 

Redemptorist priest, Fr Gerard Moloney summed it up when he said: “People’s generosity this Christmas has been extraordinary. Even though the final figures haven’t been added up yet, we took in far more money and food in 2020 than last year, despite having to curtail many of our regular fundraising activities. Such goodness is heart lifting.”

Donal O’Regan
County reporter

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Record-equalling dogs ‘tail’ goes around world!

IT’s not often, as a local reporter, you get to write a story that goes around the world.
But that’s exactly what happened to me in early September, when I was lucky enough to cover a story in the first week of September around Crecora woman Mary Allen Killing’s record equalling litter of puppies thanks to her dog Bella!

Archie, an Irish setter/English springer-spaniel and Bella, a labrador/border collie produced a brood of 16 puppies.

While one baby dog has sadly died, the incredible birth equals the second largest number of puppies in a single delivery – and is understood to be the largest in this country.

Were it not for Covid-19, Bella would have been neutered, and these little bundles of joy would never have seen the light of day. “We had to get a suitcase the following morning to put them into to count them as they were wriggling all over the place. It was just phenomenal. We were in awe. They are all different colours – and some of them have the mark of Zorro on their head, some have it on their chest,” Mary said at the time.

Generous Mary did not take a red cent for payment for the litter – her only condition being that the little pups went to loving homes.

​The family kept just one of the litter, first-born Walter – named by 11-year-old Isaac after Where’s Wally because he kept hiding!

Amid the doom and gloom of the coronavirus pandemic which has engulfed 2020, this was a rare chink of light – and it was so nice to be able to spend an hour in the company of Mary, her family – and of course the 15 adorable little pups!

My story went national – and international, with the British newspapers picking up on the story, alongside Hello magazine.
I even saw my article translated into Dutch for an online news publication in the Netherlands!

To me, this just shows the incredible power and reach a story can have – I was delighted too for Brendan Gleeson, who spent an hour at the family home trying to get that perfect shot – showing the value of a professional photographer.

Nick Rabbitts
City reporter

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A pen and paper is all you need to make a difference

ST ANTHONY’S Nursing Home practised good social distancing but kept being social during the covid pandemic - our community story from late March shows just how some people made a bad situation better with a little act of kindness .

Staff at the Pallasgreen care facility put a call-out out on Facebook asking families and members of the public to write to residents.

Sean Fennessy, director of nursing, said people can send a note, postcard, photos or it could be nice for children to write and draw a picture as part of their homework.

“This is open to everyone. You can still write to us even if you don't know any of our residents by simply addressing it “Dear resident”. We would ensure that everyone got something. In these hard times it will be those little things that will bring about a smile, stimulate a conversation or activate a memory and at the same time lift spirits,” said Mr Fennessy.

Well, the emails came flooding into info@stanthonysnursing home.ie and everybody looks forward to the daily arrival of their friendly postman, John, to see what he is delivering.

Some days he has been laden down with letters. And not just from County Limerick, but all over the country and as far away as Wales.

“Residents loved opening them and reading them. We will reply to all who sent a return address. This was a huge lift to residents, some received cards, others received letters and a special few received beautiful drawings from a number of different children.
“Thank you to all the grandchildren of our residents who sent beautiful drawings to their grandparents. They were delighted and we will respond to them. And to the children who didn’t know any of our residents but took the time to draw amazing pictures for us, we are forever grateful,” said Mr Hennessy.

Charles Prashaw
Community Notes & Layout  

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