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Back in business Lockdown lifts: Hairdressers, beauticians and shops reopen and inter-country travel resumes

Families, retailers and Church-goers are eager to exit lockdown


Austin (left) and Paul Finn who own Finn Footwear with branches in Ballyhaunis and Kiltimagh, Co Mayo.

Austin (left) and Paul Finn who own Finn Footwear with branches in Ballyhaunis and Kiltimagh, Co Mayo.

Austin (left) and Paul Finn who own Finn Footwear with branches in Ballyhaunis and Kiltimagh, Co Mayo.

After months lost in the abyss of lockdown, Ireland will today begin reopening our commercial, religious and cultural centres.

The phased reopening of appointment-based retail and click-and-collect services has been widely welcomed after many business owners saw their incomes decimated.

Hairdressers, beauticians, libraries, galleries and museums are all throwing open their doors.

The lifting of the ban on inter-county travel will see families reunited after months apart.

People in both Dublin and Donegal have been confined to their counties since September due to high rates of local Covid-19 transmission, and before the entire country went into lockdown again in October.

With the exception of a week at Christmas, this is the first time many of those who live in Dublin but are from elsewhere have been able to travel to their home counties.

Also, from today, up to 50 people can attend funerals, weddings and religious services.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the reopening this week would give the whole country a major psychological boost.

Mr Martin, speaking in Cork, said: “We are making good progress this week with the inter-country travel and retail opening up – the hairdressers and barbers back. Religious services are back, as are outdoor sports. We have a lot to be getting on with, and bit by bit, hopefully we will see more progress.”

Today Emma Dillon Leetch, who lives in Cregmore in Co Galway, will see her mother Liz, who lives in Co Mayo, for the first time since Christmas.


Emma, Elizabeth and Ruth Dillon Leetch.

Emma, Elizabeth and Ruth Dillon Leetch.

Emma, Elizabeth and Ruth Dillon Leetch.

“Mum is only 50 minutes down the road, so it was painful really,” says Emma.

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“We have really stuck by the rules, so it has been tough. But it was worth it because at least I knew she was safe.

“I would have seen my mum every other day even though we don’t live in the same county.

“She was always up in Galway, and I rely on her a lot.

“We are very close. It’s awful for everyone, and the kids really miss her. She used to take the kids every Wednesday for me, and they loved that. She can’t wait to see the kids. And Zoom just isn’t the same.

“There are lots of people who have the benefit of living in the same community as their parents, and they could go for a walk, and they wouldn’t have been breaking any rules.

“But for people like us who live on the borders, it has been so tough. We are so close to Mayo here.

“I can’t wait to give her a hug, but I don’t think I can this week though; she has only had her first vaccine. We’ll be still keeping our distance, but at least we will be close.

“We are going to meet in town, and we’re going to get coffee and walk around and look at each other.

“It will be great just to see her in person. We took it for granted all those years. I was flying in the door, and she was leaving after minding the kids for me.

“We are best friends. There is (sic) three of us, myself, my sister Ruth and mum. We do everything together.

“Ruth has been in Dublin, so we have had this little love triangle across the country, but we haven’t seen each other.

“We had a weekend away in Limerick in September just before we went into lockdown, and it was so brilliant.

“So we’re looking forward to doing trips like that again. Mum is ready to go now. I’d say she will have a path worn to Galway.”

Fr Richard Gibbons is also looking forward to welcoming visitors back to Knock. He is expecting a busy few months ahead for the national Marian Shrine.

“People are as anxious to come and visit Knock as we are to have them back.

“We are really looking forward and excited about it. It will be great to have people in front of you rather than an empty church.

“We can go up to 200 people in the Basilica for our masses – in four pods of 50. It is all highly regulated with staff and ushers and the usual in terms of mask-wearing and sanitising.

“We have three masses per day 12, 3pm and 7.30pm. Mass is in the old church this week as we are doing maintenance on the Basilica. But we are expecting quite a lot of people who have been sending us messages telling us they will come as soon as they could leave their counties.

“As the summer progresses and as the vaccine roll-out progresses, we are expecting bigger numbers.”

Paul Finn and his brother Austin own Finn Footwear and have branches in Ballyhaunis and Kiltimagh, Co Mayo. The brothers say while lockdown has been a struggle, their online business has reaped the benefits.

“We have been closed since the end of December. It was ridiculous. You could go into other stores like pound shops and even supermarkets where there would be loads of people,” says Paul.

"We have been able to take appointments the last few weeks for kids’ shoes, which was long overdue.

“Shoes are especially important for children who are starting to walk.

"They need proper professionally fitted shoes for the development of the bones in their feet.

“I had a woman come in yesterday, and the child was wearing a size two shoe, but he measured a four-and-a-half.”

When the first lockdown hit, Paul and Austin imagined it would only be for a matter of weeks.

“We were looking at each other, wondering what we were going to do with ourselves for two weeks. Then all of a sudden it was three months, and then we reopened and then lockdown again.

“But we were very lucky in that the online side of our business really thrived. We were selling 250-300 pairs of shoes a week online.

“Pre-pandemic we were worried about the future of Ballyhaunis and Kiltimagh and the two of us together in the business when we looked five years down the line.

“During the pandemic, our business actually grew. I’d say we are up over 120pc in the last six months.

“But everyone was out walking and running and exercising. People were buying comfort shoes like no tomorrow. We actually found it hard to keep up with demand.

“We had a social media presence and a website for the last five years, so we were ready.

“But the pandemic actually fast-forwarded our online business by about three to five years.”

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