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In March, Fergal was working away as a solicitor at a criminal law firm in Dublin when everything suddenly changed. 

“I lost my job the week before lockdown. My employers basically panicked and let everybody bar the three partners go. And it just came as a bolt out of the blue because nothing had closed down. Every other firm wasn't doing that at all. That was Monday the 20th of March and we were told it was a temporary layoff. So it was all up in the air, and I said, ‘Look, I'm not staying in Dublin during all of this’, so I thought I would go home to spend more time with Mum.”

Fergal Boyle. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie
Fergal Boyle. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

“The furlough was slightly different in the south - you had to actually be working. Because we are a criminal firm and the courts were pretty much going to close, there wasn't work for us. Thankfully, whilst I wasn’t on furlough in the south, the payment that I was on was effectively balancing out for me and I could pay my rent. I didn't want to give up my flat because I've been in the same place for five years.” 

So Fergal came home and moved back in with his Mum – time both of them never thought they would have and all the more precious after the passing of his father two years ago. “I've been wining and dining her ever since. I have become a connoisseur of rioja and fine filet steaks and pepper sauce, and we haven’t fallen out.”

And maybe to counter that lovely lifestyle, Fergal took up running. “I always did like running. So I was out doing exercise and I think I’ve lost about a stone just from running the roads! The weather was good and even now it’s not, I still get out. I had a birthday in the middle of it as well, I was 29, so Mum's plan was to buy me a pair of running shoes. It clears your mind and the days I didn’t run I was walking. And I want to keep it up when I go back to Dublin. And now I’m running two or three 10ks a week! I don’t see a point in going out unless you’re going to give it a good lash.”

So, the seriousness of the pandemic aside, it’s been a positive experience for Fergal. A time to clear the head and be with family.

“I came home to be with Mum which was important to me because it's only whenever I've been home that I've realised how lonely it can actually be during the day and I’ve tried to do a lot of things that Dad would have done. Something as simple as coming out at four o'clock to the garden with a cup of coffee and biscuits like Dad used to do. I set her up on Facebook because she likes to do her Rosary and she’s enjoying that and seeing all her friends. 7pm is Rosary time!”

“My education has improved as well in that I was able to complete all my continuing professional development online through the Irish Law Society”

He’s a busy man! But what has been hard about all of this?

“I would be a sort of person who would panic about money and stuff like that – not knowing what was going to happen. The landlord was offering temporary solutions and saying I could have 30% off but it was to be paid back before the end of the lease. I would have owed five months of rent. It’s extortionate already so there was no point in that but then thankfully the Irish government scheme covered it.”

“The Irish government handled things much better than up here. They released a roadmap early with dates to aim for whereas up here, Stormont just seemed to be making it up as they went along.”

There was one thing was difficult for Fergal… the lack of football.

At home in Newry - Fergal Boyle. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie
At home in Newry - Fergal Boyle. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

“It was horrendous! However Sky Sports were doing retro games from years ago and that was grand whenever it was games United won so I watched them. But then I went to watch a game, thinking it was one we’d won but it was the one when City beat us 6-1!”

“When the live games came back, it was the best thing since sliced bread.” Fergal laughs, “It was Mum's birthday so I told her ‘your birthday present is I'm watching the telly’. I go to games five or six times a year and I miss that. There’s nothing like a match day pint.”

Fergal had decided this was the year he was going to travel. Since that’s not going to happen, he has a goal for next year. 

“My uncle is planning a trip to America and he wants me to come. We’d go to New York, Chicago, cities like that. So that’s my goal. That and saving for a mortgage. Before lockdown I was setting up a savings account and I had the forms and then that got stopped that too.”

What about the future? Is he anxious about this different world?

“In work, I would be meeting clients in a confined cell and unfortunately, a lot of people I meet might have all kinds of issues such as drug addiction or homelessness and they’re vulnerable and it’s dangerous. If I don’t take precautions to protect myself, I would be at risk. It’s going to be busy. There’s a huge backlog already. We will be flat out. But you just have to get on with it, that’s my attitude.”

“Life has to go on and we may have to get used to living with it. A lot of it is down to personal responsibility – washing your hands, wearing masks. I’m happy enough to do my bit.”

That’s what it all comes down to – giving life a lash and doing our bit. Thanks for the reminder, Fergal.

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