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Mary Kenny

Island nations can become literally insular... is this the hidden cost of coronavirus?

Mary Kenny



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Inward looking: many people on this island could be seen as insular

Inward looking: many people on this island could be seen as insular

Inward looking: many people on this island could be seen as insular

When I was 18 years of age, I had occasion to visit the Gare de l'Est in Paris. I don't even remember why I was there, but I remember a vivid moment of the experience. I gazed on the line of trains waiting to depart from their platforms: the destination boards read "Varsovie" (Warsaw), "Moscou" (Moscow), "Istanbul" and "Pekin". This was what it meant to be a continent. You could take a train all the way to Russia, or Turkey, or China, all overland.

An epiphany, surely, for a person coming from an island. An island is so different from a continent - obvious, but seldom reflected on. An island is a place apart - defined in the Oxford Dictionary as not only surrounded by water, but "a thing that is isolated, detached". The very word "isolate" derives from late Latin "insula", which is also cognate with insular.

To be an islander has its benefits: Gavin Francis, the Scottish doctor and travel writer, who is obsessed with islands, believes that islands are therapeutic, because their sense of "containment" can bring peace of mind. "Islands help to recalibrate what matters."