Commemorative events reflecting collective grief and gratitude after two years of the Covid-19 pandemic took place across the State on Sunday.
An event hosted by Dublin City Council in Merrion Square remembered the more than 6,600 people who died with the disease over the last two years and commended frontline workers for their contributions during the crisis.
Lord Mayor of Dublin Alison Gilliland said the day offered “space and an occasion to reflect on this period of our lives”.
Ms Gilliland said “absolutely no one” had been left unmarked by the pandemic and that she particularly wanted to “acknowledge our nurses” who “caringly held the hands of those taking their last struggling breaths” and who had “exceptional human nature”.
She said it was important to learn from the experiences of the past two years.
“While we recognise that our national leaders supported by Nphet made informed decisions based on health rationale and evidence, we also recognised that a more gender-balanced lens and women’s voices were sometimes missing,” she said.
“While workers across all sectors put their shoulder to the wheel, we recognise that in some essential sectors the impact of low wages and a lack of sick pay was exposed.
“Let us take our resilience and our determination forward, our successes and learning forward and build back better, build back stronger, build back a more sustainable equitable society,” she said. “Let us together, for each other and for our collective future.”
Poet Paula Meehan read a poem she had written for the event, The Light Returning, which she said was in “gratitude for surviving these past two years”.
“I think, like most people here and globally we swung from grief to gratitude on a daily basis – grief for what we were losing but gratitude for the immense kindness and dedication of family, of neighbours and of our caring services who . . . went into the trenches of Covid,” she said.
The 10-line poem includes the words: “Lit by the sun, lit by the moon, lit by stars/ Breath by breath our inner light let shine/ Hand on heart – kin, kindred, kind/ Mortal in earthrise, radiant diamond mind.”
It was then read in Irish by poet Theo Dorgan.
Earlier, President Michael D Higgins paid tribute to frontline and emergency workers as he and his wife Sabina held a special remembrance ceremony at Áras an Uachtaráin.
The event, Entitled To Honour And Hold in Memory, was marked by Mr Higgins ringing the Áras Peace Bell five times in honour of those who died during the pandemic, made sacrifices, lost loved ones, for frontline workers and for those who have the disease.
A minute’s silence was observed and Mr and Mrs Higgins planted an oak tree in the Commemorative Garden at the Áras as a lasting memorial to those who died during the pandemic.
Mr Higgins said it was a solemn occasion and a time to “give honour and hold in memory those we have lost, as well those who have suffered the absence of an opportunity for final moments shared and who could not release their grief.
“Today we have to the forefront of our minds the more than half a million people in this country who lost loved ones during the pandemic, and all those, too, living abroad who have endured painful separation from loved ones at home in Ireland at times of great distress and grief.
“We recall how hard it was that there was no space for those normal expressions of grief that had to be curtailed because of the restrictions imposed, necessary as they were, to curtail the virus’s spread.”
The President said many in Ireland and elsewhere continued to struggle with the long-term effects of Covid-19 and that those who “suffered in other ways” – such as through isolation and missed chances to share major life milestones – were in his thoughts.
He paid tribute to frontline workers “who ensured that our society and economy were able to function at a most basic level, providing essential services needed for subsistence, be it health or retail. All those workers, whatever the task, took risks to personal health. A heightened recognition now exists across society, I believe, regarding the need to value much essential work that we have been undervaluing and, may I say, in so many instances, underpaying.”
In a statement, Taoiseach Micheál Martin, who last week tested positive for the disease during a visit to the US, said the losses experienced during the pandemic had been enormous and profound.
“But we will come to terms with it in the same way that we have come through every other stage of the pandemic – as a community, united and there for each other.”