A man walks out of the MacManus pharmacy in Ballymun, Dublin, barely visible behind the pile of paper bags of medicine he’s holding in his gloved hands. He has a mask on, but you can still see him grinning behind it.
Y’aright, hun?” he says.
Pat Ryan is loading up his small Fiat van for the day’s medicine deliveries. He was hired as a driver by pharmacist Edward MacManus four years ago after one of the staff saw an old man struggling to carry home a box of his medicine.
Demand for the service has increased since the start of Covid-19, and Pat could now be doing 70 deliveries a day.
Edward is the third generation to run his family’s pharmacy, founded by his namesake grandfather in 1919. He says he was worried about the over-70s who are still coming in, and hopes the delivery service will keep them at home.
“Some older people, unfortunately, try to sneak out,” he says with a smile. “While local doctors can limit the numbers of people coming in, we can’t. Nor would we seek to. It really is the front line.”
Edward says Pat gets on great with the customers.
“It costs nothing to be nice,” Pat says. “And this could be all they have that day.”
His first delivery is in Marewood Crescent.
“Donal!” Pat yells as he gets out of his car and walks towards the courtyard of an apartment building.
“Yeah?” comes the reply from a first floor window, as a man in a mask pops his head out and throws down a set of keys. Donal Byrne, who introduces himself as Don, says that he hadn’t seen anyone in four days and had been “climbing the walls”.
“I was looking forward to Pat coming so I’d get a few minutes chat,” he says.
“And now the paper is here too! It’s a party. I’m only sorry I can’t offer you a cup of tea.”
Don, who is 60, has stage three chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and sleeps with an oxygen mask. Speaking to the Irish Independent from a safe social distance, Don apologises for losing his breath as he raves about Pat and the pharmacy.
“He is a hero,” Don says, gesturing towards Pat, “Ah, stop. I’d be lost without him.”
“I am terrified, I am petrified. I’ve no family, I’ve no one. My carer is sick at the moment, so I really have no one.
“But I’ve someone from the corporation who rings me every day, and Edward rings me every Tuesday. Pat will always have a little chat and ask if I need anything, they are absolutely brilliant.”
Don used to be homeless, and lived in Santry Lodge hostel for a long time. When he first heard he was being offered housing in Ballymun, he initially thought it “wasn’t ideal”. But since he moved, he says he’s “never met people as nice as the local people” and now he wouldn’t move.
Neighbours he doesn’t even know keep yelling in the window to ask if he needs anything. The only problem is his flat is on the first floor, and stairs are hard for him.
As Pat hands over Don’s medicine, Don hands him back a big blue envelope with a card for the pharmacy staff inside.
When the lockdown started, Edward offered to collect Don’s social welfare payments from the post office for him. And Edward almost chased him out of the pharmacy when he saw Don trying to come in to get more gloves, insisting that Pat would deliver anything he needed – big or small.
“Like that’ll tell ya. Where would you get it?” Don says.
Near Don’s flat is the Marewood Court, a housing development for older people. Kathleen Smith (81) has lived in a flat on the first floor for 11 years. Pat has his own fob to get into the building to deliver her medicine to her door.
“This is one of my secret girlfriends,” Pat says, when Kathleen answers the door. She fractured her spine a few years ago and then hurt her arm in a fall down an escalator in Dunnes Stores so she needed help getting her medicine delivered even before Covid-19.
“He’s nice, he is,” she says, nodding at Pat. “I always offer him a cup of tea but he doesn’t take it. I’m mad for talking.”
She’s nonplussed about the pandemic. “What’s the point in worrying?” she says. Her grandson Daniel set up her TV so Kathleen could use her voice to play Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole on YouTube, to keep her entertained.
From a safe distance, she demonstrates for the Irish Independent.
“Alexa, can you get me George Michael?” she says adding she’d phoned her grandson in triumph when she first got Alexa to work. “Believe it or not, I’ve cracked her at last,” she said.
In winter when it’s dark in the evenings, Pat always phones customers like Kathleen to let them know he’s on the way so they don’t worry about who is at the door.
Walking into the Cairn Court housing estate, Pat picks up his phone. “Alice? It’s Pat here with your medicine. OK, honey.”
“It’s my young fella I get most of the medicine for,” Alice McDonald (75) says.
Darren, her youngest son, is 46 and paraplegic. He suffered a complication in 2011 and was recovering well but last month experienced complications again and “took a turn for the worse”.
“He’s coming back again now, he kind of talks to us with his eyes – we can ask him if he’s in pain and he can blink twice for yes,” says Alice.
She looks after him full time. Darren suffers from a lot of complicated conditions and sometimes Alice needs to collect “a trolleyload” of medicine for him. But with Covid-19, she can’t go out either.
“So I wouldn’t be able to get down anyway for the medication myself, so this is absolutely fantastic, getting it delivered,” she says.
“It’s absolutely brilliant. It’s essential, really. I swear by it.”
At his final stop, Pat pulls up outside a house in Sandyhill Gardens. He knocks on the door before stepping way back. Rita Beggs (66) answers.
“Pat!” she says, and then retreats back into the house. “Hang on till I get my mask.” She gets the masks for free from Edward, which she appreciates because another pharmacy is charging €3.50 for each one.
“How are you getting on, Rita?” Pat says.
“Oh, fed up. I’m knitting, baking, painting and eating,” Rita replies, adding that she’s taken up knitting little hats for the premature babies at the Rotunda Hospital.
“And the house has been cleaned twice over.”
Rita (66) is cocooning. Late last year, she suffered kidney failure.
Thankfully, her son Nicholas was coming back home to visit at the time. He found her unconscious on the floor. When she’d been in the pharmacy, Edward had told her that her feet looked very swollen and it might be her kidneys.
“He’s as good as a doctor,” she says. “I should have listened.”
“This is a great man, a very good man,” she says, pointing at Pat. “He’s a hard worker, and working even harder now with this.”
Rita has lived in this part of Ballymun for 41 years.
“It’s all bad things that they hear all the time about around here,” she says.
“People don’t realise how good people are here.”