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covindependence July 5th will feel like a kind of Irish Independence Day from Covid nightmare

The absurdist 105-minute rule accompanying the reopening is a clause conceived by a jobsworth who finds a bureaucratic thrill in treating the entire adult population like 7-year-olds


Micheál Martin offered a tantalising glimpse of freedom

Micheál Martin offered a tantalising glimpse of freedom

Micheál Martin offered a tantalising glimpse of freedom

There is a passage in ­Sarah Blake's beautifully ­sculpted novel, The Guest Book, that resonates as ­Covid's ­infernal pause button ­reluctantly cedes its suffocating ­sovereignty.

By happy coincidence, I read it on Friday, shortly after Micheál Martin loosened the binds on our world.

Blake's words were wise, profound, and transformative.

Before digesting her insight, this column had been in unhappy and ugly attack-dog mode.

Maddened by the absurdist 105-minute rule accompanying hospitality's reopening, a clause conceived by the kind of jobsworth who finds a bureaucratic thrill in treating the entire adult population like seven-year-olds.

And fatigued by dial-a-quote doomsday merchants dropping their incessant payload of sanctimony on every available news bulletin and front page.

The initial inclination was to bite, to lash out, to rage: without nuance, subtlety, intelligence or empathy.

If it remains inexplicable that so many ­media organs continue to feed the vanity of those ­scientists who somehow regard a slow reopening as a recipe for Armageddon, Blake's gorgeous ­erudition decommissioned my angst.

A moment of revelation for one of the novel's central characters, Ogden Milton, might have been written to accompany the music of liberation playing in so many Irish heads this morning.

"Ogden had understood that every life had, at its centre, a beginning that was not a birth, a ­moment when the catch on the lock in one's life opens, and out it comes, starting forward."

A beginning that was not a birth.

How perfectly chiselled is that foresight?

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Yes, Friday's address by Martin was imperfect, in places wildly cautious, pandering to factions that have used the pandemic as a smokescreen to inflict their ­puritanical agenda.

And yet…

It offered a tantalising glimpse of freedom; it permitted rays of ­sunlight to finally penetrate the grey wall of cloudy Covid misery.

To ears too long accosted by a thunderous barrage of negativity, the thrum of padlocks coming off restaurants, bars, stadium turnstiles and airport lounges sounds as melodic as the songbird chirping its chorus of hope.

Here was a beginning that was not a birth, a chance to start out again on the road of life.

It was, as in Blake's elegant word picture, the catch on the lock in life opening.

The prospect of the roar of a crowd again energising Croke Park is real; the impossible dream of the airport check-in desk and the ­sun-kissed beach or city break, or family ­reunion have loomed into authentic focus.

Toasting the end of a gruelling journey with friends and pints in pubs that are at last permitted to rise from their enforced 16-month hibernation is no longer a vague imagining.

It is happening, the door to a better day swinging open.

These moments are almost upon us, palpable, uplifting, offering us great draughts of hope.

By sunset on Friday, my diary was bulging.

Four different groups of friends have arranged to meet at favourite haunts in the week after June 7.

It will be outdoors, most likely it will be wet, but still, it will feel like a postcard from Nirvana.

As social, tactile beings, we crave the company of those we hold ­dearest. Their stories and jokes and slagging and physical presence ­intoxicate the soul.

July 5th, 24 hours after the ­American equivalent, will feel like a kind of Irish Independence Day: We can legally sit inside bars and restaurants, take ownership again of an elemental part of our nation's culture.

The Irish pub - antique, a crucible of conversation, a haven of reflection, a repository of history - can be a blessed place.

And so, the anticipation of certain moments makes the heart race.

One is already pencilled in for July 5th.

Joining my great friend, big Matt Reilly, we'll raise a glass at the bar in Briody's to our dear fallen pal, Colm Whelan.

Whelo slipped away last autumn and all we could do was line the route to the crematorium, impotent to assist our comrade on his final journey.

Mostly everybody reading this will have a similar story.

Yet that simple July act of ­toasting his memory - months after we lost a man who exuded decency and mischief and a love of life - will restore a part of our world to its proper axis.

A beginning that is not a birth.

There are those of us bewildered by that part of society who continue to believe every announcement from Nphet carries the moral superiority of a Papal Bull.

Elsewhere, some who are afforded celebrity status by the pandemic struggle to conceal their post-Covid fantasy of an Ireland where socialising habits are governed by parameters that might meet the approval of a Saudi mullah.

They will not win.

There is a sense that life annulled in March last year is itching to re-flower, to blossom more colourfully than ever before.

The feeling, on the day almost a fortnight ago, when a shot of AstraZeneca entered my arm was vaguely spiritual.

As those microscopic Jedi knights entered my body, their light sabres flashing a warning to any would-be Covid interloper that they would be crushed, there was a sense of fresh horizons opening, of ­possibility restored.

A clasp came off the lock of life. And I walked from the Aviva Stadium to a beginning that was not a birth.

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