Archive for Kildare

Kildare Unlocked!

Posted in Covid-19, Maynooth with tags , on August 31, 2020 by telescoper

I just heard that the powers that be have decided to lift the restrictions on County Kildare that have been in place since August 8th. That means we can get on with the business of planning for return to campus at the end of September. I’m not sure how much of today’s decision has to do with the actual Covid-19 situation and how much to with the pressure from Kildare businesses, or the fact that many people were ignoring the restrictions anyway, but at least there’s now clarity. With just a month to go before we return to teaching, this is welcome news.

The latest national data on new cases do indeed show a bit of a decline. This graph shows a 7-day moving average

The downturn looks very small but is significant – from 115.3 to 101.9 since yesterday – but the more important thing for Kildare is that cases in the county are no longer many times above the national average. You can find the complete daily record of deaths and new cases here.

It seems strange to me the way that some people from County Kildare interpreted the local restrictions as some sort of punishment rather than as an attempt to prevent outbreaks spreading into the community. Anyway, if we’re no longer in lockdown does that mean we’re now locked up?

Back to School

Posted in Biographical, Covid-19, Education, Maynooth with tags , , , , on August 26, 2020 by telescoper

News that primary and secondary schools in Ireland are re-opening this week reminded me of this picture I saw a year ago:

I suppose the items on display there provide one way of dealing with the stress of worrying whether re-opening will result in a large increase in Covid-19 cases!

Meanwhile the Third Level sector is also preparing to re-open. Although we have another month to go before teaching is supposed to restart at Maynooth University, I’m already getting quite a few emails from students asking what things are going to be like when it resumes in September. All I can answer is what our plans are, but whether or not we can put those plans into practice depends crucially on things outside my control, including local factors (such as the number of students taking each module) and national factors (especially the restrictions intended to prevent the spread of Covid-19).

On the first matter we’ll have to wait until students register which, for first years will be very late in the day because of the delayed leaving certificate results this year. We will know a bit sooner about returning students, but even for them it will be a couple of weeks or so.

The national picture is even more uncertain. As of yesterday, the average number of new Covid-19 cases per day over the last 7 days was an uncomfortably high 103.6:

Over the next month will the local lockdown in Kildare carry on? What will be the impact of schools’ reopening? Will the national Covid-19 picture improve or deteriorate? Although at this stage we plan to resume (partly) campus-based teaching on September 28th, but we have to accept that if things take a turn for the worse we might not be able to do that and will instead have to go online. We’ll just have to wait and see.

That doesn’t help students, of course, because they have to make decisions about accommodation and travel. It’s a very awkward and stressful situation for them but I think the only way to approach the queries I’m getting is to tell the truth. Sometimes “I don’t know” is the only honest answer.

At least my own preparations are proceeding. I’ve just had my own tensor barrier put in. This is intended to deter people from wandering into my office and spreading their germs. I don’t think the installation is finished yet, however, as it doesn’t seem to be connected to the mains electricity.

Not Returning to Campus

Posted in Covid-19, Maynooth with tags , , , on August 8, 2020 by telescoper

Well.

Having spent the day yesterday getting our return to campus sorted, the Government last night announced restrictions on the counties of Offaly, Laois and Kildare. Following that a message came round from the President of Maynooth University, Philip Nolan including this:

Following the announcement this evening, the gradual reopening of campus from Monday, 10th August will be paused. Staff who are working from home should, in the main, continue to do so. Staff who are coming on campus to do their work effectively may continue to do so, and in certain circumstances, staff may, with the approval of their Head of Department, return to the campus to work, where it is necessary to do their work effectively or prepare for the coming academic year.

So we’re on hold for a couple of weeks (at least). That’s frustrating but not the end of the world. I don’t imagine we would have had that many people coming in over the next two weeks anyway.

On the bright side the recent outbreaks are very localised and there is a good testing and tracking system in place, which suggests they can be contained through isolation. On the other hand they are large clusters and it only takes a small amount of leakage to trigger a much wider spread.

Of more immediate concern is this:

Unfortunately, the restriction on travel means that it is no longer appropriate to go ahead with the on-campus resit examinations scheduled for next week. We will work with the colleagues involved and where possible we will replace these with online exams at the same times; where this is not possible, we will reschedule the exams at the earliest feasible time. We will of course continue to support our students in their studies in every way that we can.

Obviously we can’t hold examinations on campus if students can’t travel here from other counties. There is also a restriction of six on the number of people at an indoor event which would rule them out too.

Fortunately we have a Plan B and all these examinations will be replaced by online timed assessments. That means a busy couple of days next week – the exams are due to start next Wednesday (12th August) – but it is manageable.

I know a lot of people are angry about the new (partial) lockdown, especially pubs and restaurants. In my opinion the decision yesterday was inevitable given the steep increase in new cases (98 reported yesterday) :

Update: 174 new cases today (Saturday 8th August). Grim.

This growth is dominated by clusters of infections, mostly in meat processing works, in the three counties under lockdown. That includes 80 announced yesterday in the same plant. None of these is particularly close to Maynooth but the country boundaries are the only simple way of imposing local restrictions.

Serious questions do need to be asked, though, about how we got to this situation.

Outbreaks of Covid-19 in meat processing plants have been widely reported elsewhere for months, and Ireland does not seem to have learned from these. There are allegations that the plants involved may not have undergone proper inspections and that public health guidance has not been followed. The present circumstances could well be a result of negligence on the side of the businesses concerned and/or the government. These issues require urgent investigation to prevent possible occurrences elsewhere. If negligence can be demonstrated I sense a large number of lawsuits…

Let me just add one final comment. It seemed to me that the original return to work Roadmap, with five phases, was sensible and that it was working. I had serious reservations when it was decided to try speeding it up. If a carefully thought-out plan is working why change it on the fly?

The announcement of the accelerated Roadmap was interpreted by many in the general population as a signal that the Covid-19 epidemic in Ireland was over. Complacency set in and social distancing rules began to be flouted, especially among younger people.

I’m not saying this is the reason for the clusters in meat factories but it is probably behind the parallel increase in community transmission.

Now the Roadmap is paused and we’re behind where the original version would have put us. You can add impatience and complacency to the reasons we’re in this local difficulty.

Golf and other Hazards

Posted in History, Maynooth, Sport with tags , , , , , on August 27, 2018 by telescoper

Back in the office with a few minutes to go before a meeting starts I thought I’d give a little insight into life in the throbbing metropolis that is Maynooth, County Kildare. This week sees the start of the World Amateur Team Golf Championships, which is being held at Carton House (above) which is a short walk from downtown Maynooth. Some of the competitors will be staying on Maynooth University campus for the duration, which will no doubt provide welcome revenue.

Now the game of golf is obviously of no conceivable interest to anyone, but the venue – Carton House – is quite fascinating. The current house was built on the Carton Estate in the 18th Century to accommodate the Earl of Kildare, when their fortunes had slowly recovered after Thomas Fitzgerald (`Silken Thomas’) the 10th Earl of Kildare was executed, along with several others of the Fitzgerald family, by Henry VIII for plotting a rebellion against the English. If you have been paying attention you will know that it was the Fitzgeralds who built the stone castle in Maynooth that was destroyed in the 16th Century. Carton House is at the other end of town, and is approached by a very pleasant tree-lined avenue. The extensive grounds are also surrounded by a wall. The latter-day Fitzgeralds obviously wanted to keep the hoi polloi at arm’s length.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, Carton House fell into disrepair in the second half of the 20th Century and was eventually sold off and turned into a hotel and spa resort, with two golf courses.

In the meantime, among many other things, Carton House and it its grounds were used as one of the locations for Stanley Kubrick’s (1975) film Barry Lyndon. That was of course before the beautiful landscaped gardens were destroyed and turned into golf courses. I went for a pleasant walk in the grounds earlier this summer, during the heatwave, but the path runs alongside a small lake beside one of the fairways where a group of people were openly committing acts of golf. A not-very-competent member of this group sent several balls into the water before finally managing to hit dry land with a tee shot. For a while I wished I’d brought a tin hat with me.