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Irish arts and culture to play key role in national Covid commemorative day in March

A national commemoration event will take place on Sunday 20 March.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

ARTS AND CULTURE groups will play a key role in Ireland’s commemorative event in remembrance of people who lost their lives during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Arts Minister Catherine Martin. 

A new public holiday was announced this week for Friday 18 March this year, with a national commemoration event taking place on Sunday 20 March.

Speaking at this evenings press conference, the minister said she is engaging with her officials and the national cultural institutions to see what role arts and culture will play as we emerge from restrictions “including in the context of the day of remembrance in March”. 

The day of remembrance and recognition will recognise the 9,000 people who have died with Covid as well as workers, volunteers and the general public for the efforts, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told the Dáil this week. 

They helped bring the pandemic under control, he added.

“That is the first element and will be a four-day weekend running from 17 to 20 March, with a State ceremony and service most likely on Sunday, 20 March,” he said.

The idea of a commemorative event was first mentioned by the then-Health Minister Simon Harris in 2020.

He told The Journal in an interview that a special date set aside “so people can remember those that have lost their lives during this public health emergency” would be a good idea.

During the interview, which took place just two months into the pandemic in May 2020, Harris said: 

“I think when the country gets through this – and we will get through it – and it’s safe to begin to do some normal things again, I think there would be some benefit in having a day to recognise all that people have been through and sacrificed, that people might be able to enjoy with their family and friends.”

Harris said the day should include healthcare workers, but also supermarket workers, postmen and women, gardaí, security staff, cleaning staff, people who work in food factories, bin collectors – what Harris called the “unsung heroes”.

While he wouldn’t necessarily call it a memorial day, he said the day should allow people to grieve for those who have died of Covid-19 and those who passed away of non-Covid related illnesses and where a normal funeral could not be held.

“People haven’t been able to go to the house and give the family a hug and attend the wake and go to the funeral… we do funerals well in Ireland, I think we grieve quite publicly and openly as a community. Lots and lots of communities have been touched by this. And I think we need to recognise that,” he said.

Orla Keegan, the head of Education and Bereavement at the Irish Hospice Foundation (IHF), told The Journal previously that their the bereavement helpline had received hundreds of calls when it was first set up in 2020. 

Jonathan Stafford, Managing Director of Staffords Funeral Homes in Dublin, said funerals services were “just as difficult” if not harder for loved ones during the restrictions due to the limits on the number of mourners.

At times, only 10 people were allowed attend funeral services under Level 5 restrictions. 

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Stafford said it was very difficult for people, they wanted to gather outside churches, but often times could not even do that. He said it was very difficult for people to grieve during that period.

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