An Athlone man reflects on changed times in the USA
In recent weeks, the print edition of the Westmeath Independent has been publishing a series of interviews in which we've asked local people overseas how they've been coping during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The four-page 'Abroad In Uncertain Times' feature in this week's edition includes the following interview with John Walsh, from Retreat Ridge, Athlone. John lives in Portland, Maine, with his wife and two sons. He works as a carpenter, while his wife, Brittney, works in a laboratory. John is a son of Anna and Ray. He has two brothers, Paul and David, and a sister, Sinead.
You can read the interview with John below, and if you're a local person living abroad who would be interested in taking part in this feature, please email Adrian at: email@example.com
* How did your move to Maine come about?
I came over to America on a couple of holidays, to visit another Athlone man Niall Brennan. I met my future wife, Brittney, here and ended up staying for the summer.
I then moved over permanently in 2010, living in Boston at first before moving up to Maine. We live in Portland with our two boys, Ewan and Kieran. Portland's about the size of Galway. It's two hours north of Boston, and a bit closer to Ireland in case I fancy swimming home for a quick pint in The Shack.
* How has the Coronavirus crisis changed your daily life?
My wife and I are both considered essential workers, so not much has changed with regard to work. We are required to wear face masks each day and wash our hands more often than normal. Our two boys are still in a crèche, as the centres were considered essential here too, although there are only about 6 to 8 kids allowed in each day.
I was surprised the crèches were allowed stay open, as all schools are closed. We would have preferred to have kept the boys at home, but with both of us working we didn't have much of a choice.
Talking with most people over here, it seems the service industry is the sector that's been hit hardest. My wife's sister works in a busy restaurant but it looks like they will have a very limited year ahead, so that will seriously affect her income as most staff rely on tips.
The US has increased social security (dole) by quite a bit, to help people in that situation, and there are financial packages for small businesses. They also gave out cheques to all adults in the country. It depends on your yearly earnings, but most people got $1,200, and an extra $500 per child. I've no idea how the country can afford it all, but I'm sure our taxes will be hit next year to pay for it.
* What's been the hardest aspect of the situation for you?
The hardest part for us is the lack of contact with people. I know Brittney's family here have missed our two boys a great deal, as we haven't been able to have contact with them.
The travel restrictions have also been tough. My brother David turned 40 in April, and I had hoped to fly over and surprise him but I had to shelve those plans. Also, my other brother Paul and my parents were planning on visiting this year but it looks like that won't happen, unfortunately.
Sporting activity has been halted. Last year we formed a gaelic football club, which I was running this year, but it looks like the entire league in Boston will be cancelled. I know quite a few Athlone men spent summers in Boston, playing out in Canton. It will be sad to see that not going ahead but it's in everybody’s best interest.
Also, socially it's been frustrating. We have a great group of Irish friends here in Portland that we haven't been able to meet with. I'm sure we'll make up for it once the restrictions are lifted.
It's funny, when I first moved to Maine I thought I was the only Irish person here but I now seem to find more on a weekly basis! The family of the one of the lads here owns the Coosan Tavern, and another man grew up 200 yards from my home in Retreat. It's a small world for sure.
* If you had to identify a positive aspect to the situation what would it be?
The most positive thing is how well the majority of people are responding to the restrictions. People here in Maine are pretty good about wearing masks in supermarkets and keeping their distance from each other. I follow the Irish news on a daily basis, and I think everybody in Ireland is doing a fantastic job. I'm a proud Irishman, but times like these make you even prouder.
If America could only take the steps that Ireland has, I think the number of cases would have been a lot lower and certain States wouldn't be in the dire position they're in now.
* What are your thoughts on when 'normal life' might return?
I think this has changed us all for good. It shows how vulnerable we all are, but also shows how well we can band together to fight such problems. I'm sure we will have to deal with different strains of this disease, and possibly others, for years to come but we will be able to curb the problem a lot quicker than before. Life goes on, as they say. We should try to remember the positive things we have seen during this time, as opposed to the negatives.
* Is there a message you'd like to send to family and friends back at home?
I miss you all as much as I did the day I left, but I look forward to seeing you all as soon as it's safe to travel again.