OVER the years, I have marked St Patrick’s Day in, among other places, Waterford, Dublin, New Delhi, Kuala Lumpur, Berlin, London and this past two years the United States where our national day is always celebrated with flair and enthusiasm by tens of millions of Irish Americans. This year has been a very different experience as I marked the day at home with my dear wife, Greta, where we raised a quiet glass to St Patrick and to Ireland.
All of the events that in normal times would have kept us busy on St Patrick’s Day were cancelled because of the outbreak of coronavirus. I called off our Embassy’s St Patrick’s Day reception because I was not prepared to risk the safety of our guests. The day’s activities at the White House (on March 12) were curtailed on account of the outbreak, but Taoiseach Leo Varadkar did meet with the three most senior political figures in the United States, President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
As it has for everyone else, life has changed for our diplomats in America. At the Embassy and our seven Consulates around the country, we are, for the most part, working remotely, keeping in touch with each other and with our citizens across the United States by phone, email, video conference and social media. We go to the office whenever we need to do so.
In keeping with best practice, my wife and I are adhering strictly to social distancing and, as we all need to do, have taken on board all of the advice from our HSE and the Chief Medical Officer. All of our engagements for the coming weeks have been cancelled.
As someone who has worked in the Irish public service for more than four decades, the daily routine of going to the office, meeting people and attending public events has become second nature to me. I will miss those comforting routines, but I know that things need to change if we are to control this terrible virus. I, like so many others, need to change the way I live my life and do my work. Our dedicated diplomatic team across the USA will rise to the challenge of fulfilling the Embassy’s responsibilities in a different way so that we can continue to represent Ireland and serve Irish citizens here during this extraordinary time in human history.
I will not, of course, forget my Waterford home and the people I love there. Using the many communication tools we now possess, and which are more vital than ever at times like these, I will be keeping in regular touch with my brothers and sisters, my nieces and nephews and my two aunts all of whom live in Waterford. Although I have travelled widely and lived in many countries, most members of my family still have their homes in Waterford and Tramore.
This year, my family did something for St Patrick’s Day that we had not done before. Using our family WhatsApp, we posted photographs of our respective family units, all practicing social distancing, celebrating St Patrick’s Day together but at a distance from each other. There were photos from Waterford, Washington, Edinburgh and London where my daughter and son live. And then each family unit posted a song. Some great talent was unearthed! A splendid time was had by all of us on this most unusual St Patrick’s Day. We plan to repeat this virtual sing-song again in the coming weeks in order to keep our spirits up at this challenging time.
As we all do, I yearn for the day when life can return to normal and I can be reunited with family members including those who live in Waterford. Meanwhile, we all need to hunker down and be grateful to those who run our essential services, particularly those in our health system who will be on the front line in the battle against this virus. Please follow the advice of our Government and the HSE. Put your trust in official sources for information and guidance on how to stay safe and curb the spread of this virus. Don’t spread stories from sources whose reliability you cannot verify. And, as has been said so many times in the past week, we need to pull together by staying apart.
I wish all readers of the Waterford News and Star, and everyone in Waterford, all the very best for the coming weeks and months. Things will be difficult for all of us but, with our indomitable national spirit, we will pull through this crisis. Ní neart go cur le chéile.
Daniel Mulhall, is a native of Waterford and is currently Ambassador of Ireland to the United States. He can be followed on Twitter @DanMulhall