KNOCK — On December 2, almost two months to the day since his parishioners were last permitted to attend Mass, Father Richard Gibbons’ greeting to eager, returning worshippers mixed relief and barely disguised elation. “Good afternoon to you all and welcome back to Mass,” said Gibbons, parish priest in Knock, a village in the west of Ireland and Marian pilgrimage site visited by Pope Francis in 2018. Ireland’s second coronavirus-related lockdown had just ended. Among the restrictions, which included pubs, restaurants and “non-essential” retail being forced to close, was a ban on attendance at religious ceremonies other than weddings and funerals. So, after two months of saying Mass to unseen believers watching online from their homes, Gibbons was glad to face even the sparse gathering permitted inside the vast Knock basilica, which can seat almost 4,000 people. “It’s great – for me – to have somebody at Mass,” he said, emphasizing the “somebody.” But the reprieve did not last: on December 22, the Irish government announced a return to lockdown, citing concerns over a new coronavirus strain in nearby Britain.
DUBLIN — “Any tickets?” “Anyone buying or selling?” Any other year, such would be the refrain in the streets near Dublin’s 82,000-capacity Croke Park throughout the morning of Gaelic Football’s All-Ireland final. But instead of the usual August or September, this year’s delayed and truncated competition will finish the week before Christmas, with those tens of thousands of supporters told watch from home. Restrictions imposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic mean that come 5pm on Saturday, the vast arena will echo only to the collisions of the 30 players and the yelling of substitutes and coaches. “It’s a pity there won’t be a crowd to see [the final],” said Maurice Quinlivan, part of the Tipperary team thrashed by Mayo in the last four, while previewing the match on Irish radio. Even watching in a bar will be difficult, as only premises that serve food can operate under pandemic-related rules. Around 3,500 of Ireland’s pubs have been forced to close since March for all but two weeks. “We miss the fun, the craic,” said John Maughan, a former Mayo player and manager. “It’s not the same.”
DUBLIN — A bar in the west of Ireland is reopening on Thursday evening as the country’s “first Covid free pub,” with drinkers being tested for the novel coronavirus before entry.cAccording to Eileen’s Bar, a pub in the village of Aughamore, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from capital Dublin, customers must first wait at “a designated area” where they are “tested for Covid by a trained tester.” Announcing the reopening in a Tuesday Facebook post, pub owner Donal Byrne said only regular patrons will be permitted entry and then only after testing negative – but with the promise that they can “enjoy a drink in the testing area” while waiting for the result.
DUBLIN — DNA sequencing of Viking remains suggests not all the axe-swinging pillagers were blonde-haired, blue-eyed Nordics, according to research published Wednesday in the journal Nature. After analysing 442 skeletons buried across Europe and Greenland, a multinational team of academics from the University of Cambridge and the University of Copenhagen concluded that “Viking identity was not limited to people with Scandinavian genetic ancestry.” Team leader Eske Willerslev said the analysis showed “significant gene flows” into Scandinavia from southern Europe and Asia before the start of the Viking Age, which is often dated to the 793 sacking of the monastery at Lindisfarne on Britain’s North Sea coast. Over the next three centuries, “Scandinavian diasporas” set up trading posts and towns “stretching from the American continent to the Asian steppe.”
DUBLIN — Ireland’s government said on Tuesday that “limited crowds” will be permitted to attend sporting events in the country as part of the latest adjustment to the country’s coronavirus-related rules. Attendances will be capped at 200 people where stadium capacity exceeds 5,000, with 100 the limit at smaller facilities. Some of the bigger grounds, such as the 82,000-capacity Croke Park and the 51,700-seat Aviva Stadium, will have tailored limits to be set at a later date. Among the main events coming up are the Republic of Ireland’s Nations League football ties against Wales and Finland and Ireland’s rescheduled Six Nations rugby clash with Italy on October 24. Gaelic football and hurling tournaments, which usually are held during the summer and draw crowds of over 80,000, will start in October and end before Christmas.
DUBLIN — Pubs can resume pouring pints from September 21, Ireland’s government decided on Tuesday, ending a prohibition introduced in March as part of a pandemic lockdown. “About time,” the Licensed Vinters Association, a group representing Dublin pubs, posted on Twitter. “Absolute relief,” said Mellett’s, a pub in the west of Ireland. Citing health worries, the government previously postponed a scheduled mid-July reopening three times, though restaurants and pubs serving food were allowed to open from June 29 – with provisos that drinkers purchase a meal priced at 9 euros or more and leave after one hour 45 minutes. Another 3,500 pubs have had to wait, prompting anger among owners left out of pocket after restocking ahead of the postponed reopenings. “We have been marched up this hill several times before,” said Padraig Cribben, Chief Executive of the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland, in a Tuesday statement.
CASTLEBAR — Another spat about coronavirus curbs has erupted in Ireland, days after Phil Hogan was forced to resign as the European Union’s trade chief for flouting rules while visiting his homeland. Revellers seen drinking on the streets of Killarney, a tourist-draw town in Ireland’s south-west, were branded “disgraceful” by Mayor Brendan Cronin after footage was posted online. Health official Paul Reid said the scenes were “unfortunate,” while Simon Harris, a former health minister, said “there will always be people who do stupid things.” The weekend hedonism in Killarney could have been avoided, said Michael Healy-Rae, an independent parliamentarian from the area, if Ireland’s coronavirus curbs were relaxed to allow pubs reopen. “If our public houses are open, people will get alcohol in a measured and sensible way,” Healy-Rae told public broadcaster RTÉ.
DUBLIN — The funeral took place on Wednesday of John Hume, the former Northern Ireland politician who was awarded a Nobel Prize for his efforts to end three decades of deadly conflict in the region. Tributes from Pope Francis, the Dalai Lama and Bono were read out by Donal McKeown, the Catholic bishop of Derry, who presided over the funeral Mass. A Vatican statement said that Pope Francis was “saddened” to learn of Hume’s death and “sends the assurance of his prayers to his family.” Hume died on Monday at the age of 83 after a long illness. Hume’s “message about peace and non-violence in the resolution of conflict … will long survive him,” the Dalai Lama said. Bono, lead singer with Irish rock band U2, described Hume as “a man who made all our lives bigger.”
DUBLIN — A county council in Ireland is calling on the education ministry to review the school curriculum for books containing allegedly offensive language. The council in Meath, a county adjoining capital Dublin, in Ireland’s east, is petitioning the Department of Education and Skills to consider culling novels such as “Of Mice and Men” and “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the latter a Pulitzer Prize-winning anti-racism parable. Citing conversations with mixed-race families, councillor Alan Lawes said on Friday that the books caused students to use “certain racial slurs” against classmates. “I don’t think 12-year-olds have the mental capacity to deal with such books,” Lawes said, discussing the council’s request on Newstalk, a Dublin radio station. Ex-diplomat Eamon Delaney said on the station that people should be “wary of banning books … it is censorship.”
DUBLIN — With concerns about coronavirus leaving most Catholic churchgoers without their cherished holy water, a prototype contactless dispenser is being trialled at a shrine in Scotland. In use starting this week at Carfin Grotto in the town of Motherwell, the device resembles a water-cooler or liquid soap dispenser and is activated by cupping a hand near a sensor positioned under the water. A video posted on the Carfin Grotto Facebook page shows the dispenser in action, with the narrator thanking a parishioner named Paul Lawlor and a local tech firm known as Lawlor Techologies for the device. “One of the things we’ve been missing the most,” the narrator said, “is blessing ourselves with holy water.”