It’s a sunny Wednesday afternoon and the town of Moville has been under lockdown for forty days – and forty very quiet nights.
The seaside town looks typically picturesque in the good weather. Summer is approaching but winter isn’t done yet and there’s a chill in the air: a dog walker remarks that an easterly wind “would lift you”.
There are a few people darting about between shops – one man is wearing a surgical mask, in the trademark green-blue colour of medical scrubs – but precious few are stopping to chat.
There’s an abnormal feeling hanging in the air. Moville looks the same but everything’s different since coronavirus.
The doors of Barron’s Café are open for takeaway and home delivered meals but a poster on the front window of the dry cleaners next door makes it clear they’ll be closed for the “foreseeable future” [and it’s anyone’s guess how long that’ll be].
The once thriving Corner Bar – like all the pubs in town – has been shut since the night of Sunday, March 15, when the unreality of the virus hit home.
Quay Street, with its brightly-painted houses, is deserted, save for a stray [and very wary] black and white cat.
There’s some semblance of life on Moville Pier, where a local shell fisherman dressed in yellow oilskins is tending to a load of freshly-landed oysters.
He says things are getting tougher – with the collapse of the hospitality industry – but he is attempting to “struggle on” until the end of the month at least.
Some people are still fishing, he explains, but demand has fallen drastically since the pandemic brought the curtains down on everything.
With no restaurants open now to buy his oysters, they are instead bound for the healthcare industry, and will be used for the production of medicine after purification.
Fishing on pier
At the other end of the harbour a father and son are fishing with a rod and line off the end of the pier. Their dog nearby is feasting on a bowl of brown nuts.
They haven’t snagged anything yet.
“We’ve only been here twenty minutes,” explains the dad, from a safe distance, lest we should end up catching the ‘Medium C’.
Towards the slipway the only sound is of some ropes being blown against the mast of a yacht: creating an almost musical rhythm in the wind.
The tide is so far out that you could almost walk from the pier across the other side of the inlet to the Bayfield football pitch, the famous old home of Moville Celtic, which hasn’t seen a ball kicked in anger in months [though it has been used by joggers doing laps of late – not entirely going to waste].
Across the way, the Foyle Rowing Club containers remain firmly fastened. Members will be hoping that activities such as leisure boating could resume after May 5, when some restrictions may be eased.
Back up towards the town and the Caiseal Mara Hotel lies vacant still, boarded up since an arson attack made it national news eighteen months ago. The hotel was recently bought by a billionaire theatre producer though, and could soon be thriving premises again [after this is all over, of course].
Gillen’s Supermarket is busy, people emerging every few minutes with bags or boxes of groceries for the car. A large warning signs on the side of the premises reminds people to keep their distance.
Across the street the shutters are down on Havlin’s garage but loud noises from inside suggest a car is being tended to: essential work for whoever’s vehicle is broken-down.
In the centre of town, a few are coming and going from the Healthwise pharmacy, while a customer queues for the AIB mobile bank van, which comes every Wednesday.
“It’s always been one-in, one-out for us anyone so the lockdown hasn’t changed things that much,” says a bank official.
“Although we have hand sanitizer and we clean everything routinely,” he adds. There’s a bottle of hand gel visible on the dashboard inside the front cabin too.
He says business is “pretty steady” in the mobile bank business, with a number of new customers too.
In Lynott’s corner shop – one of the oldest shops in Moville – there are shelves full of Ireland and Donegal souvenirs, including keychains, ornaments, mugs and playing cards.
Unfortunately there are no visitors to buy any of it though, with the summer set to be the quietest ever.
“At least it’ll keep until next year!” says the shopkeeper, who’s staying upbeat despite it all.
Outside, a local man remarks on the larger number of cars parked in the Square than there were on the previous Sunday. In this climate many are wondering about the essentialness of journeys being made, and whether exercises are being carried within a two-kilometer radius.
The once busy Malin Road is quiet, with closed pubs and restaurants, but Norris’ traditional shop is still going strong, while ‘Norries’ coffee shop inside is doing some rather tasty takeaway treats.
The Men’s Shed at the top is empty. Up through Ard Foyle and some nice trees and shrubs are in bloom [it’s Earth Day].
But round the corner, Scoil Eoghain is literally locked-down. Behind the iron-barred gate and fence, lie empty football nets not used since Friday the 13th.
Back down towards the water again and the kids’ playpark remains padlocked, with a telltale yellow covid-19 sign to explain why [as if we didn’t know]. The children’s facility however could be one of those things to reopen come May 5th.
The nearby ‘Green’ – bequeathed to the people of Moville by the Montgomery family in 1929, a decade after the outbreak of the Spanish Flu – is quite busy with the aforementioned ‘exercisers’. There are dog walkers and runners on the path, with kids playing football in the tennis court further along.
And then it’s uphill to the imposing St Pius X Church, which remains open through it all. A poster inside the front door explains that the: ‘Celebration of public Masses has been suspended until further notice. The Church will remain open for private prayer each day from 9am until 8pm.’
There’s a table just inside the door with hand wash. The pews are empty, except for one man who kneels for a prayer. It’s impossible to imagine that the coronavirus won’t be somewhere in his silent thoughts.