Lockdown ’21, Revisited

We did manage to sneak in a visit to the stunning Aran Islands!

Out of everything I was excited for in looking ahead towards my Mitchell year, the idea of spending a Christmas season in Europe was easily at the top of my list. I envisioned touring Christmas markets in Bavaria, watching the ignition of some enormous Yule Goat in Scandinavia, or going to a Christmas Eve mass in an old Irish cathedral. Of course, this was all back in 2019.

Fast forward to November of last year and I could feel that old excitement building again as I worked through my first online semester at UCD. As winter break approached, Ireland’s plan to emerge from lockdown for the holidays looked like an oasis after weeks of tight restrictions. The whole country seemed like it was ready to exhale. I could hear it in the voice of my barber as she told me about visiting her daughter in Spain while swapping details of our upcoming plans, or in the general milieu out in the streets. On top of everything, my girlfriend had a flight booked to Dublin for a long-awaited reunion after months of FaceTime calls.

Needless to say, I was eager to finally have a chance to get out and see a bit of my new home that had been cordoned since nearly the day I arrived. We decided to split our time between Dublin and Galway, and with an inbox full of reservations to various museums, pubs, and restaurants, we were ready to (responsibly) finally inch closer to the European Christmas of my now-modified dreams.

Unbeknownst to us, however, we had already entered onto another bend in the road out of this pandemic. The now-infamous British strain of COVID-19 had snuck into the country and seized this moment of national respite to hit yet again. As the third wave of infections began to surge, and the Irish government announced yet another lockdown on Christmas Eve, it was hard to feel much of the holiday spirit as I watched my inbox refill with cancellation notices. Of course, relatively speaking, I was extraordinarily lucky to be healthy and in Ireland in the first place; Still, the feeling of frustration was unavoidable.

Much like back in March, when the festivities of my college graduation dangled from a thread that eventually snapped, I could feel my excitement for this long-awaited celebration evaporate. This time, however, we decided to learn our lesson from almost a year ago and wasted no time renovating our break.  Tours were replaced by walks around Galway, pub crawls were replaced with a crawl through the beer aisle of Dunnes, and we made our own paintings for much less than two tickets to the Louvre. Sure, it was no European Grand Tour, but it was the best of craic regardless.

These days, it’s easy to forget just how quickly any enjoyment of the present can be stymied by an endless longing for better days. Thankfully, making the most of simple pleasures is quite easy to do on the Emerald Isle.  

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