Old friends, new habits and very long goodbyes | Séamas O’Reilly


ven with the relaxation of the rules – with wording vague enough I reckon I could avoid trouble for anything short of French-kissing a policeman – we’ve not visited anyone. This is partly because we’re so self-absorbed and partly because we don’t drive, cycle or move particularly efficiently with a toddler who seems hell-bent on impeding any forward movement. But we have been visited by a few people.

Social-distance visiting is obviously fraught – not least because we’re not really sure what the rules are. At time of writing we’ve spoken with my brother Dara and his wife, Penny, and their kids, Aoife, Cormac and Donncha. All separated by 2m, with us sitting on our doorstep and them at our gate. Our son seems less invested in these appearances than we do, preferring to blithely scan his cousin’s faces the way you do when you’re not sure whether your cousin’s date is the one you met at the last wedding, or if he just has incredibly specific taste in women.

There’s something melancholy about being there but not quite there. Speaking just louder than is comfortable, restraining the urge to lift infants by their armpits and swing them about. Worse still is when the children are touchingly obedient, inured now to lockdown rules, resigned to hanging by their parents’ legs, like quiet little wartime evacuees.

It’s weird that Americans call an abrupt departure an ‘Irish goodbye’. If you’ve ever grown stubble waiting for two Irish people to leave each other’s company you’ll know just how bizarre this term is. Whole afternoons of my childhood were spent outside our front door, saying goodbye to visitors. And that’s what this feels like; those extended, clingy little stand-offs we had every weekend as kids, when visitors were ushered out to their car by the entire family. At this point, unless your parents were psychopaths or had started a small fire that demanded their attention, another full-length conversation would kick off, extending their visit by 40 minutes at least.

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This took place over the roof of the car, or a gate post, and the game was for each adult to make it clear they didn’t want it to end, but without ever being so gauche as to say so. It was basically an extended rendition of ‘no, you hang up’, but for taciturn Irish dads. In the hands of a true master, this parting chat could last longer than the original visit. Fresh rounds of tea would be discreetly placed nearby, at which point all the children would have neatly slipped away to get in some bonus playing.

There’s no chance for that yet, but it’s what we look forward to, as my son wonders why he can’t throw them a ball, and his cousins shout through railings until they tell us they’re bored. We adults talk, but that talk is mostly of how much we miss meeting, and barbecues, and the long, easy warmth of an Irish goodbye.

Follow Séamas on Twitter @shockproofbeats


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