'It’s eerie on Flower Hill. This street is normally filled with the roar of traffic'
A walk through Navan’s streets at lunchtime on Saturday provided a stark and salutary illustration to our government leaders that this Covid-19 crisis could spell the end of many small businesses unless there is intervention to help them out as they begin the terrible struggle to survive.
Of course, there is a need to buoy up the morale of a worried and apprehensive population and at least the Government has gone some way towards alleviating the plight of the many people who now find themselves out of work due to the current situation, and there may still be some room for further measures as we begin to count off the weeks to the Summer.
I started my walk at Ratholdron Road and a visit to Reilly’s Londis. There are a few people in the shop, all carefully manoeuvring around in studiously avoiding close contact. Some shoppers scurry into the shop, head quickly to the shelves to pick up packet food and a soft drink before heading for the pay desk where they are dealt with by an assistant standing behind a Perspex screen, and they’re back out the door again in a flash. I picked up my few pieces and also head for the soft drinks cabinet. For some reason, the shelves there are almost stripped bare of Pepsi Max (every other drink is well stocked up. I’m beginning to think there’s some kind of “high” or perhaps antidote in the bottle that’s turning the population towards tanking up on the brew.
On the way towards town, crossing Senator Pat Fitzsimons Bridge, I’m struck by the number of cars on the road but also by the scarcity of pedestrians. On a normal Saturday the Inner Relief Road would be full of families heading for town, for shopping or to catch Mass, or place a few bets in the bookies. Not today.
I head around by Abbey Road and towards Paddy O’Brien Street where I find Mark and Spencers open. The restaurant is lit up but all the seats are unoccupied and I’m not sure whether they’re taking customers today. It’s one of my favourite places for a cappuccino and a Danish (or as they call it, pana raisin). I give it a miss today but go into the food hall where, surprisingly, there are quite a few shoppers. Again, voluntary segregation is in force and shoppers must stand behind a sign on the floor to allow plenty of room between themselves and the person who is being served at the check-out. It’s all done quite smoothly and without apparent annoyance. We’re almost becoming like the British – politely queuing our way through life!
Across at the Navan Shopping Centre I see signs of a hard-hit local economy. The sports shop doors are open and there are a few people inside but further in the doors are closed and the lights are out in women’s fashion shops, as they are also in the hairdresser’s salon. The need to avoid close contact with clients will mean their doors will be shut for many days to come. On the eve of Mother’s Day, Hallmark Cards has it doors wide open but I seem to be the only one perusing the cards marking that special day. I’m think about by own late mother who was taken away from her national school by her father, and ending her formal education, at the height of the Spanish Flu in 1918 (conservative death estimate 23,000).
Needless to say, there is no business to be done at the jewellery shop and it is closed. I know there is little sentimentality in business, you have to survive by your own skills and talents, but I really do feel for the owners of these small businesses who face weeks and perhaps months of uncertainty.
Two of the cafes in the centre (one near the Boots store) and McCloskey’s, are closed. The Costa is open but is only serving teas, coffees, cakes and sandwiches for taking out – its seats are all taped off. Another of my favourite places, the Photo Shop, has its shutters down. That shop, too, would do a roaring trade on a Saturday.
When I arrive at Tuthill’s newsagent’s, formerly Harten's) there are no customers in the shop. Little chocolate bunnies peer out forlornly onto the mall, expectantly waiting to be chosen by some passing mammy for her precious little one.
In the centre of town the picture is unchanged. There are very few shoppers on the streets and, in any case, many of the places that would have a fine buzz to them on a Saturday, are closed. The Central – closed. Henry Loughran’s Pub - closed. Fast food shops – closed. Valley Café – closed. Hairdressers Byrne’s and Gerry Barry’s further down Watergate Street – closed. Barry Galligan from Clem’s Pub is out on the street looking busy, as he always does. But there is no 10.30 opening for him today. Pubs, and their customers, face an uncertain future.
At Tierney’s, the oldest newsagent’s shop in Ireland, opened in 1895 in a year which saw Tipperary beat Meath 0-4 to 0-3 in the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship, Joe Tierney is philosophical about the present crisis. After all, his predecessors in the family business had come through two world wars, the Spanish Flu epidemic, and many savage Winters and never had to close the doors except for family funerals. There are a few customers in and out and he says the business is “barely washing its face at the moment” but he wants to keep going as long as he can so he can keep his staff’s jobs intact.
I’m now heading on my way home towards Flower Hill. The Marini Restaurant, the location of many a Mother’s Day celebration, will unfortunately have many empty seats this year.
It’s eerie on Flower Hill. This street is normally filled with the roar of traffic. Today, all I can hear is birdsong and that has to be harbinger of better things to come. A young woman scurries past me. She’s carrying a beautiful bouquet of flowers wrapped in white tissue paper. One mammy will be happy tomorrow.