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A letter to the parents of Ireland from an Irish mother in Italy

13th Mar 2020

When Eithne Gallagher, an Irish mother living in Italy, sent a text message about the worsening coronavirus situation to her friends in Ireland, she didn’t expect that her advice would be forwarded to people all over the country. IMAGE spoke to the mother of seven (Nicoleta 29, Gina 24, Marian 22, Vasile 21, Mihail 18, Sara 13 and Rachele 11) and grandmother of two about life under lockdown in Torbole, Lake Garda, and the text message that went viral

“Since I sent that first message [see below] which seemingly is doing the rounds at home, life has become even more restricted. Now we are not allowed to go out, other than to get food or medicine.

We are not to visit grandparents. My mother-in-law went shopping on Monday morning, then she phoned us, saying, “Right, I have enough food for a month. You can all call me every day but I don’t want any visitors! I will see you all next month when it is safe!”

Already by that evening she was on to my husband Ettore with a list of things that she needed from the pharmacy. She had cleaned her house from top to bottom, had done the gardening and was asking what could she do for the rest of the month!

Many people have started doing the shopping and leaving it on the doorstep for others that cannot go out. People contact each other through the phone. Last night we did a WhatsApp call to my mother-in-law, and my brother- and sister-in-law were all connected too.

The priority now is to stop the virus spreading further. All else is on hold.

Here kids know about coronavirus, and they have to stay indoors. So as we won’t lose all our summer holidays, the teachers have to try to keep up with the curriculum. There are a minimum of 200 days of school a year, I believe. It hasn’t been decided how these will be recuperated, if they will change the law, or take the work done on these days into consideration.

At the moment these things haven’t been decided, the priority now is to stop the virus spreading further. All else is on hold.

The kids have to do a lot of school work during the day. Each school has set up a different system. Where my girls go, there is a platform that each teacher has their own section and posts work, video explanations and assignments.

These then need to be emailed back before the given deadlines. Some teachers have started doing video classes. It’s beautiful, actually (and I am a mum against too much technology — my daughters do not have mobile phones!).

When this quarantine is over, everyone’s computer skills (teachers and students) will have seriously improved!

The girls work hard and the teachers are all very encouraging. When this quarantine is over, everyone’s computer skills (teachers and students) will have seriously improved! Full immersion works!

In saying that, for families where there is more than one school-going child, it can be complicated. Not everyone’s kid has access to their own computer, when more than one in the house has a video class at the same time.

It can also be challenging for parents trying to work from home, when your kids are constantly asking how to log in and join different groups, and email the work to their teachers!

It is not always easy. And my girls are relatively independent. I don’t know how it is for the primary school kids. I guess the parents have to be much more involved.

One thing is for sure, life won’t be exactly as it was before. I believe it will be much more beautiful.

I was joking with my husband the other night asking him, ‘Do you think when this quarantine is over there will be a baby boom, or a rise in divorce?’ One thing is for sure, life won’t be exactly as it was before. I believe it will be much more beautiful.

What would we have done differently? I guess as life with coronavirus prolongs, we all become experts about it, but it takes time.

It starts off by us looking at the stats, and how it is all someone else’s problem. Then little by little, as things get restricted, you realise that it is my problem too. There is no-one that cannot be affected by this.

But there has to be a step away from the, “Well, I guess if I get it, sure, I’ll be grand, I’m young and healthy and I’m not afraid of it” to “Jeepers, if I want life to go back to normal I have to do my part to stop it spreading, otherwise it’s never going to end”.

Eithne with her daughters Sara and Rachele


The people who are sick now are those that were infected two weeks ago. Italy has only been on lockdown since Monday night. We didn’t act how we do today last week, and who knows if we already have the virus brewing.

That’s why it takes time, and patience. And hopefully, there will not be anyone in the world caught in a situation as they were in Lombardy. We have to learn from them.

Hospitals are better prepared, medical equipment has been sent in from China, but it genuinely takes the effort of each individual to become conscious that they do not want to spread the virus further.

Unfortunately, being human, no one really wants to sacrifice too much, but that is just the way it is. Life as we know it, in contact with people, in and out of people’s houses, work, social life, pub, looking after neighbours’ kids, school, child minding, it has to be put on hold.

Last Sunday my mother-in-law and Ettore’s cousin came for tea. We didn’t hug or kiss. We insisted that they kept their distance, but she sat on a chair that we had touched, I served their food and they took their plate. Sara set the table… if the knife and fork were infected, the handle on the water jug, the door handles… it seems mental that we let them in!

The night before Sara had four friends over to sleep. They had all been invited to their friends’ party — they went out for pizza. Who knows who was in the restaurant. But we simply didn’t know how easily it could be passed from one to the other, we didn’t realise we were not being responsible.”

The text message that Eithne sent to her friends in Ireland on March 10, which has since gone viral 

Hey everyone ,

I thought id write as maybe you can all learn from our mistakes here in Italy.

As i imagine you all know (it is hard to hear about anything else), we are all in quarantine here in Italy, with the hope to stop spreading the virus any further. I fear that how it spread here will happen in the rest of Europe too.

Here once the schools closed  all the kids would meet together in someones house for lunch or just to hang out, and parents would bring kids to the playground, it was great, it was as if we were all on holidays! Everyone that couldnt work went skiing.

We knew and continued to watch the numbers of infected rise daily, and the casualties,  but didnt exactly change any of our habits. Until now, now when we realise how serious it all is.

Coronavirus is a bit more serious than a flu, many people get it and get better without serious complications,  many kids get it, have no symptoms and are fine (but are still contagious and infect grandparents or others who may not shake the virus quite so easily), but some (about 50%) get it and need to go to hospital, they get a bad lung infection and may need to be put on a machine to help them breathe, till they get better again. Here the death rate is rising as they simply dont have enough equipment in the hospitals,  so they have to chose who gets saved, and they will chose under 60’s. Which is very young.

Only now, we have started being careful.  We are all staying inside. Ettore goes to work, but stays far from the others in the office, and washes his hands once he comes home. We can go out for a walk but if we meet anyone we have to stay at least a metre away. I do the shopping alone, making sure to keep my distance from others in the shop, and trying not to touch my face . When i come back home i wash my hands carefully.(now they limit how many people can be in the shop at 1 time)

The girls get all their school stuff sent online, and have to email the work back to their teachers.

It seems a sad way to live, insensitive and cold, but it is the only chance we have to a actually stop spreading the virus further. For a while we have to suspend eating out, travelling, going to shows, pub, bar, school, sporting events…..anything where we need to be in close contact with others. Even taking the bus is risky, if its packed, and someone sneezes?….so really the best thing, the only thing to stop spreading this virus further is to sacrifice a little of our habits and stay at home, not just to protect ourselves, but to protect the others who may be a little more fragile than we are.

Just thought i would write to you, in case you all see it as someone elses problem.  This virus is so contagious,  and you only discover that you have it after 14 days of going around infecting everyone that you have been in contact with.

I imagine you all know all of this already anyway,  but so did everyone here in Italy, and now look at how it spread!

Hope everyone is well, and hope to see you all soon once this situation has settled.

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