Lucy and Philomena

Lucy Beevor in conversation with
Philomena O’Neill

Phil lives in a care home in south Belfast. Before lockdown, a friend and I visited Phil and her fellow residents once a week and took them out for fresh air, coffee and chat.

Note 1: March-May

Phil has the look of a sparrow about her – inquisitive, her movements small and quiet – until she breaks into song and suddenly she’s six feet tall and centre stage. She hasn’t been allowed out of her care home for seven weeks, nor can she receive visitors.

“I miss visitors most of all: a familiar face, a part of our past.”

“It’s a scourge from God, is what it is. For all the badness in the world, our ‘me-me-me’ society.”

“As a teenager I used to pray to God that “I’d love this, and I’d love that” and when I didn’t get those things I fell out with God. But when I got older I realised it was a blessing, not to have too much. “

“Worry fixes nothing. You have to look on the bright side of life.”

“Maybe it will bring people closer together.”

“’Let’s walk together through the storm into the sunshine.’ I made that wee bit up, about walking into the sunshine.”

Phil with her friend John, at the care home.

Note 2: May -July


I bike down to see Phil this time; it’s a warm afternoon in Belfast and, in the distance, the rim of Divis Mountain is hazy with heat. Phil doesn’t like heat and it’ll be a struggle for her to sit in the bay window, talking to me from behind a glass window. But when I arrive, I discover that for the first time in three months, residents of her care home can receive a visitor for 15 minutes sitting two metres apart outside! I grin with joy to see and hear her properly again.


“New things I’ve learned about myself? Well, I really do need companionship. I like to discuss things with people and I miss that. And I’m a bit nosy so I like to know what’s going on. I’ve been writing lots of letters. I love to get a letter and I’ve been pleasantly surprised that all my friends have kept writing – receiving a letter is a gift, a pleasure, a treasure.”

“Values that are important to me? I often say thank you to God that at my age [95] I can be so independent. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m 100% certain God sent this virus as a punishment, to bring people to their senses, change their values.  People think ‘I didn’t cause starvation in the third world, it’s not my problem’. I hope the virus reminds them that we all depend on each other, we’re all connected.”

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