Many of us have had plans changed or shelved this year; holidays cancelled, weddings postponed, and it’s been hard but it is what it is. But when David Cunnigham, who grew up on Windsor Avenue in Newry, and Sol Martin decided this was the time to take Luca, six, back to Sol’s homeland of Argentina for a year, they could not have anticipated living through a pandemic far from home. This year was a chance for Luca to learn about his maternal homeland, spend time with family, get a feel for his Argentinian roots. That was at the start of March and although David and Sol were aware of Covid, there was no lockdown in South America at that time. That was soon to change.

“We got about five days and then the government said anyone coming from abroad had to quarantine, which we did. We got out for one day at the end of that and that night the President came on TV and said the country was going into complete lockdown.”

It sounds like there are worse places to be in lockdown. The city of Rosario is north of Buenos Aries and on the banks of the Paraná river that flows from the Amazon. It’s a city of 1.2 million and lockdown there meant lockdown, break it or don’t wear your mask and it’s a fine or jail. “At one point there were more people in jail than cases!” Sol laughs. But it has worked. Looking at the figures, there have been about 298 deaths in the region. Lockdown eased but has come back again as cases started to rise.

Sol, David and Luca at a street protest in Rosario, Argentina.
Luca, Sol and David at a street protest in Rosario, Argentina.

Still, the family can get out for walks and were even able to attend a protest about the destruction of the fragile eco-system of the river. Luca – who has the BEST wriggly eyebrows – showed me an amazing sign he made for the protest. He also showed me that his Batman t-shirt came with a cape and I can’t help but think that everything in life would be better with capes.

The family are living in an apartment, growing vegetables on their rooftop and making the most of the changed circumstances of their year. David is able to continue his work as an art therapist and in a way, the crisis has given him new insight into the trauma experienced by his clients and working through Zoom has been not ideal but good, “Zoom has been able to break down the barrier, kids can show me toys and their rooms. In some ways that’s good. Their parents are there, it’s not a school setting. Our nervous systems know we’re being tricked in a way but for me, I have such empathy now for people who have trauma because I notice how activated my own nervous system is now sometimes”.

Sol has not felt anxious about getting sick but feels so aware of all the changes to life. “Everywhere you look, you see a reminder of the problems. It’s to keep us safe but it’s so tiring”. David adds, “Our bodies are hyper-vigilant and it’s trying to find ways to just not talk about it all the time sometimes and to find distractions to activate and rest”.

Adjusting to this new way of living is hard enough without doing it far away from home and both are looking forward to getting back here. “It depends,” says David, “on the healthcare system and especially for Luca, he’s not getting any formal education and he misses that social interaction.” With both Sol and David continuing to work at a distance at their jobs in Belfast, they are able to keep an eye on life here, David with his trauma work and Sol as a Spanish teacher.

No doubt this has all been a huge adjustment for the family but they’re coping with it. “It’s a bit like the Gaeltacht, you know, we’ve done the hard work now, we can start to enjoy it. We have enough of the language now and we can go out a bit and have fun. And we’ve had some great family parties, when things eased, singing and story-telling. Both of us play music, we sing and play guitars.” David has given a few rousing renditions of “The Newry Highwayman”.

It’s still a long way from Windsor Avenue. “It’s a such a mix. The country is full of immigrants from Germany, Spain, Italy. 60,000 Irish immigrants came here after the Famine, mostly from Mayo and Cork. We went to the countryside and met a man whose father was from Ireland. You could spot him sitting at the fire. I walked straight over and said ‘How’s it going?!’” In fact, Che Guevara, who was born in Rosario was actually a Lynch from Galway. You really can’t go anywhere…

Before we part, Sol and David wanted to remember Laura Bernal, the Argentinian Ambassador in Ireland who died of Covid earlier this year. She was buried in Foxford Mayo, the hometown of Admiral William Brown, who founded the Argentinian navy. A place that she loved. A reminder of how small a world this is and how, at this time, we have so much in common in trying to keep safe and look after each other.

David says, “There is hope. There is a lot of bad stuff going about at the minute but there is a lot of hope. In some ways, I think we’ve been going about in a bit of a dream for so long. This is a bit of a wake-up call but we need to be gentle with ourselves. Transition can be so difficult but it can be so wonderful if we can just be gentle.”

For Spanish lessons, email Sol at:

If you are interested in online therapy: contact



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