Friday, October 23, 2020

The legendary Peig Sayers. Photo: The Irish Times/UCD

WILL you ever forget Peig Sayers? Peig’s book was the bane of our lives, read “as gaeilge” from cover to cover for our Leaving Cert Irish. I have no idea if she is still on the curriculum. But the gist of it is, I think I might be starting to sound like her?

“I am an old woman now, with one foot in the grave and the other on its edge. I have experienced much ease and much hardship from the day I was born until this very day.

Had I known in advance half, or even one-third, of what the future had in store for me, my heart wouldn’t have been as gay or as courageous as it was in the beginning of my days.”

Do you see what I mean? Maybe we are all starting to sound like her. As a teenage girl more interested in craic and lads, Peig’s stories went completely over my head. I had no clue what she was on about. I’m going to read her words again, and this time, embroiled in a pandemic, I think I will appreciate her more.

Peig was only scratching the surface of a good moan compared to myself at times. The smallest things can set me off. Why do people who are zooming on TV show us their ceilings and their nose hairs? Why are shop keepers still wearing plastic visors when we’ve been told they are ineffective? Why do certain men drive like lunatics on the back roads of rural Waterford?

First world problems I tell myself. Óchón agus óchón-ó. Get a grip girl.

In case anyone is still interested, my biggest rant at the moment is about care. When I’m on my soapbox, I can be heard saying that caring is a completely gendered role in society. Women make up 80% of the caring professions. And the lower you go on the scale of job status, the more women are involved and the less they are paid.

I’d love to see a big map of Ireland and instead of forestry or agriculture, I’d like to see caring roles and who does them, mapped out for every county. Health care workers, hospice carers, cleaners, cooks, childcare workers, home carers, residential home workers, teachers, teaching assistants, personal care assistants, counsellors; it would be a huge list… bigger than I can even imagine right now.

Then I’d like to see a big map with all of the service users and all of the needs set out for each county. Imagine mapping all of the services and agencies, the volunteers and good neighbours, the mothers, fathers, siblings and grandparents; all of us who keep the show on the road, day in and day out. Caring since Coronavirus, is at last being recognised and understood as the real bottom line. This is where we will have to invest for our future or the whole system will collapse.

If you are still listening to my rant, I can go on and on about care as a “cradle to the grave” concept and care being a fundamental right for every citizen. How each of us is vulnerable but we don’t know it until it’s too late. How we are all temporarily able bodied until an accident, or an illness floors us. How each of us will eventually decline and will need support and care to live independently.

Then as Peig Sayers knew in her very being, we will each have to die.

There’s a right person for every caring role and situation. So far, the only death I really had to think through was my own Father’s. I knew he wanted to die at home and that it would be a tall order to deliver. The GP was keen for him to go to hospital.

If it hadn’t been for the wonderful visiting Hospice Team, myself and my family would have struggled on alone. Understanding and caring for someone through the dying process turned out to be an amazing experience and eased a lot of the fears I carried about how to do it right. It was the Hospice nurses who gave us the confidence and care to fulfill my Father’s wishes.

Peig would have understood all of that. Her stories of drownings and bereavements throughout her life were part of a holistic approach to life in Ireland fadó fadó. We are all vulnerable. We rely on others for care and cure. It’s not rocket science.

Our roots and our foundations need to be strong. We are standing on the shoulders of incredible survivors like Peig. To get through whatever is coming down the tracks we have to start paying carers a lot more. Otherwise there will be a mass exodus from the caring professions with everyone trying to retrain in I.T.

Care is far more important.

Catherine Drea blogs at

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