Since the establishment of the first confinement in March 2020, the Irish pub Tara Na Ri has closed its doors and has not poured a drop of alcohol. But it has built up a new clientele of regulars based on swans and foxes, becoming the very first veterinary clinic for wildlife in the country.
Behind the blinds of this Navan pub, the draft machines are silent and the main room is deserted.
But the adjoining rooms are home to overwhelming activity: here, we bottle up a two-week-old wild goat, named Liam. There, swans set up their nests in old stables, a fearful fox creates an enclosure and a volunteer takes care of a hawk with big eyes.
Since Friday, the former drinking establishment has been converted, thanks to the Irish Wildlife Rehabilitation Association (WRI), becoming the very first veterinary clinic in the country to care for creatures of all sizes and species, regardless of be their problem.
“We were used to a certain way of life,” James McCarthy, whose family has owned the pub for more than ten years, told AFP. “When it was taken from us, we ended up with a void. It takes a while to fill it in, in a way you never thought possible before. ”
“We are preparing for the orphan season, which is our busiest time of the year,” explains animal manager Dan Donoher, trying to calm a pigeon which is fidgeting on an examination table. “We will have a lot of baby birds and fox cubs, which will keep us busy for the next six months.”
In Irish culture, pubs occupy a central place in social life, where important events are celebrated and solidarity between neighbors is created.
In remote rural areas, their role is all the more important, and the closure of Tara Na Ri had dealt a severe blow to the local community, already shaken by the radical changes induced by the confinement.
But according to Aoife McPartlin, head of the education arm of WRI, the brand new veterinary clinic has already replaced the pub in the hearts of some customers, who have volunteered their time to repair the adjoining rooms.
“We welcomed them, they welcomed us,” she says of the residents, who spared no effort or time to renovate the premises.
Ireland, which has more than 4,000 deaths from COVID-19, is currently in the middle of a third lockdown, put in place to stop the explosion of cases that occurred after local restrictions were eased before Christmas.
While the country had passed through the first two waves of the pandemic with relatively few cases and deaths, it now has the highest per capita contamination rate in the world.
It is because of this “tsunami of infections”, as Prime Minister Micheal Martin has described it, that 45% of deaths in the republic from the coronavirus have been since early 2021.
Since the beginning of the year, schools, non-essential stores, pubs, restaurants, gymnasiums and cinemas have therefore been closed, and citizens asked to stay at home, except to exercise in a restricted perimeter.
A situation in which Aoife McPartlin sees at least one advantage: With the dramatic increase in the number of people spending time in the wild, the number of injured or abandoned animals found by walkers and then brought back for treatment has skyrocketed.
“Nature saved a lot of people during the pandemic,” she says. “They are more aware of wildlife and its existence, and our coexistence.”
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