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Near-tragedy brings clarity on Covid-19 lockdown to BBC Radio Ulster broadcaster


Conall O Mairtin and his one-year-old son Naoise

Conall O Mairtin and his one-year-old son Naoise

The broadcaster's four children Clara, Naoise, Oisin and Sadhbh

The broadcaster's four children Clara, Naoise, Oisin and Sadhbh


Conall O Mairtin and his one-year-old son Naoise

A Co Tyrone father-of-four and BBC Radio Ulster broadcaster has said an incident in which his one-year-old son almost choked to death has brought him clarity on the Covid-19 lockdown.

Conall O Mairtin has four children under the age of six with his wife, a chartered account. The family were all at home in Aglish, Co. Tyrone, when the incident happened.

The broadcaster said like all parents, he has felt under pressure since the lockdown started to provide the same structure for his children they would have in school.

"It’s hard not to be sucked in by the stuff going around on social media," he said, speaking to RTE Raidio na Gaeltachta's Bladhaire programme.

"I wanted them to have a structure, to have a break at 11 am and all that. It’s very hard to do it all, though, it can’t be done really, truth be told."

Mr O Mairtin said the penny dropped one day when he gave his children a snack of grapes and strawberries.

"I was on the phone at the same time, trying to do everything, when I heard this strange sound behind me. I turned around and Naoise, who’s one, was choking. His eyes were rolling, and his face was turning red and purple."

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He said that he tried to get the grape out of the child’s throat, that he slapped him on the back, turned him upside down, but nothing worked. Then he and his wife decided the best thing to do was to go to the home of a local nurse to seek help, as the hospital in Dungannon was too far away.

“In the end, I jumped in the car. I kept Naoise on my lap as I drove and I was slapping him on the back. I drove about 100 mph for the one mile to the house. I jumped out of the car, and I thought the little boy was dead, that I had killed him with the food I had given him."

After initially thinking there was nobody home, the nurse Ethel eventually appeared, having been upstairs getting ready to go out.

She managed to free the grape and Mr O Mairtin said: "But for Ethel, Naoise wouldn’t be here today."

He said that what happened has given him a new perspective on what’s important.

"You think these other things are important, that they must get three or four hours of education a day, that you have to be working during the day too, but after that, after a few days of thinking about it, I realised that no, the important thing is that everyone is safe and well.

"You can’t have homeschool, and do a day’s work at the same time, and this is an emergency so people shouldn’t put themselves under pressure thinking they can do everything," he said.

"This is an exceptional time, and maybe we should try to enjoy this time at home with the family, to do the things we don’t have time to do normally."

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