‘… But then somebody ate a bat and the whole world went CRAZY’: some children’s responses to lockdown, 2020.
On the anniversary of the first lockdown, the Library of Trinity College Dublin has launched an online exhibition showcasing children’s drawings, poems, diaries and fictional accounts in response to lockdown, 2020.
“One of this Library’s initiatives, in response to the first lockdown in March 2020, was a rapid-response archives collecting project called Living in Lockdown. The Library wanted to capture a snapshot of peoples’ lived experience, so that the voices of private individuals would form part of the future historical record of the Covid-19 pandemic. Out of the hundreds of submissions some of the most moving (and entertaining) were those submitted by school children, working with the Trinity Access Programme. We would like to mark the anniversary with some of the children’s work which has been curated for this online exhibition,” explained the Librarian and College Archivist of Trinity College Dublin, Helen Shenton.
The Library’s Dr Jane Maxwell who led the research said: “It is notoriously difficult to ensure that children’s own voices are preserved through time in the historical record. It can be expected that these children’s records will continue to add vigour and colour to future research focusing on the experience of the pandemic in Ireland.”
Individual children’s works were submitted from the earliest days of the project.
The Trinity Access Programme, in association with the Library and with Children’s Books Ireland initiated a primary-schools competition. Children were invited to submit any form of record, it could be written or drawn, it could be a diary, a fictional account or a poem. Submissions would be collected by the Library to be added to our primary-source research collections.
Most of the work submitted was produced in June 2020, when it appeared as though lockdown conditions were coming to an end. The schoolchildren’s works were submitted in the form of photographs, and parents have been encouraged to send in the originals.
There are a few distinctive themes to be observed among the children’s works, the key ones being the closure of schools, the absence of family members, and the inability to play with friends. The children wrote in their entries:
“Things haven’t been great and everything was sad and dreadful since [we] had to stay home from school….Sometimes I feel like that there was no escape from this. I also never seen my friends and it was a bit lonely sometimes.’”
“… the worst thing about it is we could not hug our mum or kiss her as she works as a frontliner in a … hospital … [and] the house it was like a prison cell.”
“I was very sad and confused as I am only 11. I though[t] pandemics only happened in movies. The most saddest part was not being able to see my Dad and my grandparents for 3 months.”
“I ring my nana every day. I also get worried in case my Mam, brothers or any one in in my family gets the virus but espec my brother … because he has more of a chance of dieing because he has diabeties.”
“Loneliness is another thing. I always thought of myself as a loner. I’m shy and avoid talking to new people. But I need a social life!! … At this point I’m desperate to see people.”
A distinction can be made between the children who have internalised adult concerns and language and those who speak in a recognisably youthful register. Examples from the children’s entries are:
“We remembered how to live and how to laugh. Our planet started to breath more and in the evening we could see very well the stars.”
“I believe this pandemic is a punishment from God because people are not doing his will anymore.”
“We prefer the world we have found in this horrible lockdown than the one we have created without thinking about what we were doing.”
“I would like to thank God for … giving so good ideas, intelligence to the people in the government …”
“Living though [Covid ] is like living through the world’s most boring apocalypse movie ever.”
“I will never say I am bored again. I was only truly bored when Coronovirus said ‘hi’.”
“Working from home is better because you have constant access to the fridge.”
“Things I’ve learnt … going to Penn[e]y’s every week is NON-ESSENTIAL. (I know, I know I was a bit surprised myself).”
Winners of the competition were awarded personal book prizes, selected by Childrens’ Books Ireland, or a workshop for their class with an artist or a children’s author. The winners of the workshop prizes were the assumption Senior Girls’ School in Walkinstown, and the Francis St CBS in the Liberties.
Living in Lockdown began as a collaboration with the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute.
View the online exhibition of children’s drawings and responses: https://www.tcd.ie/library/exhibitions/lockdown/
Curator: Dr Jane Maxwell, Manuscripts Curator, Manuscripts & Archives Research Collection.
Technical curator: Greg Sheaf, Web Services Librarian.
Dr Becky Long, the Primary and Junior Cycle Coordinator at Trinity Access Programme, is the organiser of the TAP Archive Project.
The Living in Lockdown team members are: Jane Maxwell, Aisling Lockhart, Greg Sheaf, Brendan Power, Ellen O’Flaherty, Jenny Doyle, Arlene Healy, Charles Montague, Siobhán Dunne, Estelle Gittins.
The project is ongoing and may be contacted at email@example.com.