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File it under ‘maybe’

There is a world of difference between a good story and a true one

Back in April, my brother told me the schools in Nenagh were closing, due to Covid. I responded “Is that a true story? Or merely a good one”? I’ve learned to be careful, after years living in Tipperary.

A friend once said to me “Did you hear that story about drugs wasn’t true”? I must have looked puzzled. She continued: “I forgot – you don’t do gossip.” Now I was definitely puzzled. It was news to me that I don’t do gossip. But it’s true I have a mental file called “maybe” where I store a lot of unconfirmed nuggets.

On this occasion, the whole town of Nenagh knew that four young men from “good” families were in court in a nearby town, on drugs charges. Except now the whole town knew it wasn’t true. The priest, at Mass on the altar, told his flock that he had personally gone and looked at the court records and there was no such case.

I know very few people of any age who didn’t break some public health rules

Yes, that happened a long time ago. But I learned an important lesson. The “maybe” file is very useful. The stories are always relayed as absolute fact. To confuse matters, there’s often some truth mixed in there too. There was great excitement recently when the helicopter was called to Dromineer. A young man had collapsed. The village turned out to organise the traffic and let the ambulance through. But it was very sad – he died. Everyone knew his name, where he worked. Except he didn’t die. The personal details were correct, but later it emerged he was well and recovering in hospital.

A year ago, I was told that a Dubliner, a regular visitor to Dromineer, had married. I was rather surprised. I know he’s already married and his wife has a difficult illness. Still, such things happen in life, so “maybe” it’s true. Later I learned that it was his son who got married. In pandemic times, there has simply been no news, just Covid stories.

At Easter weekend, I was stopped at a Garda checkpoint in Dromineer. I was legal, just a few hundred yards from my house, but most of the crowds of visitors that day were not. Dromineer was thronging, despite the five-kilometre restriction in place at the time. Later, I was upset to hear that one of the cars stopped by the gardaí that day belonged to an elderly gentleman and his wife, well known in the town. They regularly drive out to Dromineer and sit safely in their car looking out at the lake. The gardaí fined them €100 each for being outside the limit. Even worse, they were so distressed, they were staying home because of it.

Older people have had such a hard time during Covid. It seemed very unfair. I know very few people of any age who didn’t break some public health rules. Over the Easter break, I met several families who had travelled down from Dublin. They were out and about, queueing up at the Lake Café and suffered no penalty.

A week later, I met a daughter of this unfortunate couple and said how sorry I was for her parents. She laughed out loud. It never happened. They don’t know where the story started, but it was all over the town. In 2020, Nenagh was relatively spared by Covid. Unfortunately, that all changed at New Year. “Who has the virus” was a great topic of discussion, leading to a whole new world of gossip and rumour. Under the “maybe” rule, I mostly waited until people confirmed to me that they had a positive test. They’re usually happy to do so when recovered. After all, high community transmission means we don’t know the source.

Then my brother said the schools in Nenagh were closing due to Covid. I demanded evidence, but unfortunately it was true. A number of schools closed. This has been a tough time for teenagers and young adults.

“Be careful”, a neighbour said. “It’s here in Dromineer.” A toss of the head indicated where the cases were. And the blame started: A birthday party in the boys’ school and another in the girls’ school, actually there were three parties. Even worse, these same local people were seen shopping in the supermarket, despite having Covid. It was all very troubling.

Some time later, I stopped to commiserate with that family and ask how they all were following Covid. They laughed. Yes, a teenager in the extended family had tested positive, but the rest were negative. And by the way, there weren’t three birthday parties, or two. Was there one? That file called “maybe” just got a lot bigger.

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