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Fainche is what my mother would call “a tonic”. She is infectiously upbeat, the personification of a “seize the day” attitude. Sometimes this doesn’t go as well as it might, as when she decided to go to Sri Lanka but ended up with cholera. Other times it leads to things like being the Down Rose. Not everyone is like that but as Fainche says, “I like that not everyone in my life has cholera”.

Today, we are sitting in her bedroom, in beautiful Grinan, surrounded by photos of Fainche’s family. And Tom Jones. “I love Tom Jones!” His photo takes pride of place and it’s signed. “That’s my insurance. My only direct debit is for that photo”.

Fainche and Tom were supposed to meet twice this summer – well, along with thousands of others as she had booked tickets to see him in Belfast and Cork. The announcement came just as Fainche finished her year at St Mary’s. “I took to my bed for three days. I was devastated! I didn’t even play his music”. George Ezra took Tom’s place until Fainche was ready to forgive him and thankfully, Tom is coming back next year.

Fainche McCormack
Fainche McCormack. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

Aside from that, how has life been in a pandemic? “It’s been grand. I feel bad for saying this but I’ve enjoyed being in a wee bubble out here with the family”. When lockdown began, Fainche was in the middle of her teaching training placement when suddenly it was gone and that was hard. “Yeah, it just all stopped and that was it, the course was over. We went to online and I had to do my dissertation but I didn’t get back to class”. And she also had to say goodbye to her boyfriend Eimhin. “He lives in Limerick so he went home and I didn’t see him again for three months.”

Nevertheless, Fainche did graduate with a First Class Honours degree in Maths and Physics Post Education but graduation itself was a little different. “We had a joint graduation for me and my sister Catherine in the garden.” And there was something else to celebrate too.

“My sister Maeve was due to have her baby just as lockdown started. We were all really nervous anyway as it was going to be the first grandchild and then after he was born, we couldn’t go to the hospital to see him as you normally would. His Daddy was working in Craigavon as a joiner working 14-hour days preparing for the pandemic and building facilities so they had to isolate.” Cahir was born at Easter so they had to wait a while to wet the baby’s head. “We couldn’t get to a bar so we just built a bar out the back!” I’ve seen the video – it’s impressive what you can make with pallets.

“After Easter I tried to have a routine. We had a weekly family quiz twice a week that was a different theme each time – like everyone wearing Hawaiian dad shirts or Easter bonnets.  And the losing team had to do dares such as making a Spice Girls video. And there were people joining in from Doha, Newcastle, Manchester and all over. We miss it now because we were talking to people more. And the quiz became part of the routine – your day began to revolve around it.”

“I purposely avoided the news, the TV and the radio and I monitored my social media. I found out what I needed to know about keeping safe. When I heard sad news it made me feel a little selfish for enjoying my time but on the flipside, I was very lucky because I was with the vast majority of people that I love so it was easy for me to do my bit and stay away. But I did enjoy my time – I learnt how to cook a roast dinner, I ran 5k, I finished my degree.”

Fainche McCormack walking near her Grinan home. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie
Fainche McCormack walking in the fields near her Grinan home. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

Fainche also continued her work tutoring secondary school pupils in maths and physics, through education apps, videos and Facetime. “They adapted much easier to it than adults. Initially, there was a lack of understanding about how dangerous this virus was and that helped them. It was more serious to them that their exams were cancelled and that was maybe a good thing in the sense that they didn’t panic about the illness. And teenagers are so tech-savvy, they were used to chatting with their friends online in different ways. The only thing that phased them was that they thought they would be back at school before the end of the school year and that was tough on them.”

Fainche and her family have made the best of what’s happened and as she says herself, they’ve reconnected with others in a way they haven’t in a while, albeit through the medium of wearing silly shirts and miming to Sporty Spice.

“It wasn’t all nice. I didn’t see Eimhin for 14 weeks. Cahir being born in lockdown wasn’t ideal. My sister Catherine was stuck in an apartment in Doha, but my Daddy says ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’ and in our house that has become ‘Don’t sweat the global pandemic’ because what can you change?”

Fainche is an inspiring young woman. Not only because she obviously loves life and grabs the chances that come her way but also because she has an inner wisdom, an understanding of herself and a great empathy for others. 

As I leave, we pass TJ the dog (guess who he’s named after) and the family were preparing to celebrate Leeds’s promotion – I hear later that tears were shed. Cahir’s Christening is coming up and the pallet bar will serve its purpose once again. I think I want her family to adopt me.

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