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Pendemic works to be preserved at UCD archive

Online platform captures the social experience of living through Covid-19 pandemic

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Gorey's Joy Redmond

Gorey's Joy Redmond

Gorey's Joy Redmond

It has been a unique time to live through the global pandemic of Covid-19, and more than 1,200 people from Ireland and abroad have taken to the website Pendemic.ie to document their experience, a site built by Gorey writer Joy Redmond.

The idea came about when four friends, Ruth McKee, Liz Quirke, Niall McArdle and Joy came together to create a sort of time capsule to creatively document this extraordinary time.

The site was an open one, taking submissions with one rule only: that the piece must be in response to the pandemic.

In the last number of months, it has been so well received that the team were delighted to announce a collaborative project that will see the work preserved in a UCD Library Archive for years to come.

Not only that, but the team also welcomed a grant worth €3,000 from the Arts Council's Covid-19 Crisis Response Award.

With thousands of readers as well as international media coverage, there has been many unique moments along the way.

Most recently, President Michael D Higgins took to Pendemic.ie and uploaded a poem of his own, entitled 'Take Care' which included a recording of him reciting the poem.

Joy Redmond described the experience of building this site up as something she'll never forget.

'We had no anticipation of this level of success, we had originally hoped that it might document the Irish experience and we never saw it going beyond Ireland,' said Joy.

'I remember just having this compelling feeling that this has to be done to document this time and thought it'd be great to have a record, but I never expected so many entries. We discussed the idea on a WhatsApp group and I put the website together the week of St Patrick's Day.

'We didn't have a plan, it's just something we did and as the weeks passed, it grew'.

Another aspect of the website was a letters section, which saw more than 100 letters be written to Andrew McGinley, the Dublin man who tragically lost his children during a domestic incident in January of this year.

Joy explained that the letters go directly to him and aren't read beforehand so it's totally private.

She said that she was blown away by some of the stories on the site, and the correspondence with those submitting writing was the highlight for her.

'Some people hadn't written in decades, while established writers were writing in different forms than ever before. The four of us probably haven't written as much ourselves as we normally would, but we're facilitating other peoples' creativity'.

The variety of stories to be preserved in the archive is huge, and Joy highlighted some that have stayed with her.

'One piece called, "I wrote a note today" featured a man in his 70s writing about his fear of not making it. Him going to the trouble of submitting it to us, that was sort of humbling and it's such a privilege to read and receive that, that blew me away.

'We also had a story, a riveting read from a woman in New York. She spoke about her adult daughter moving back in for the lockdown into this cramped apartment space. She spoke about being impressed by her daughter and then later in the piece she speaks about all of them contracting the virus, and she details the three experiences'.

Joy explained that all types of writing were accepted that were received, and that the aim of the site was to describe living through the crisis and not to just be for established writers in the form of a literary magazine.

This idea that many different voices be represented was something picked up by the UCD Library team who will be curating the archive.

'When we spoke to those in UCD over the last few weeks, they spoke about writing in the civil war describing the time. We were blown away by them equating that body of work with our website.

'I'm not a web designer, so we are hoping to re-invest some of the grant money back into developing the site. We want to turn it into a magazine style so it's easier to browse to improve readability. But UCD will print everything out initially, and then they are hoping to get funding for a digital archive. But it takes the pressure off us to keep it going. We wanted to have it ready within the next three to five years for people looking back, but we were told that in UCD they'd be thinking of preserving it for the next 50-100 years.

'It hit us then and the fact that this is becoming an archive. It's very overwhelming that this is something we started but it's really exciting for everyone'.

Submissions are still open even as the Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, and on behalf of the team Joy thanked everyone who has submitted writing.

'We want to thank all the contributors for sharing their experience. We had honesty, with some funny bits but some really heart breaking pieces from the funeral experience, nursing homes horror stories and more. For people to share that kind of trauma with us for future generations is very important, and this wouldn't be anything without them'.

To read or submit writing, visit www.pendemic.ie.

Gorey Guardian