By Siobhan McNamara
Meeting up with family that we haven't seen for months is for many people the best thing about the easing of lockdown restrictions.
This was certainly the case for me as I finally made the long overdue journey south to Limerick to see my eldest daughter.
The last few months felt very long, but we adhered fully to the restrictions throughout that time, being ever mindful of medically vulnerable people within our own family and in the wider community.
When we entered Phase Three and were free to travel anywhere in the country, my car was off the road and I didn't want to venture too far in the courtesy car.
There was also the matter of trying to coordinate days off with my daughter so that we could have some time together when we did finally make the journey.
Eventually, everything aligned and once we were all together it felt like we had never been apart. It was a pleasure to enjoy a meal together, take a drive and just relax in each other's company.
My other children and myself were staying in a hotel, and that was a big step, having been in our own relatively small bubble since March.
I felt a bit concerned about how this would work, and arrived well stocked with hand sanitiser and disposable face masks.
I needn't have worried. Our temperature was checked on arrival at the Castletroy Park Hotel late on Saturday afternoon and everything in the hotel was set up for physical distancing.
There were hand sanitiser stations at regular intervals and a very clean feeling overall.
It was a mild and pleasant evening so we ate outside at well-spaced tables in the beautiful gardens.
We were asked to book a time for breakfast next morning so that the dining area would not become congested. While it would of course have been nice to have got ready in our own time, it made perfect sense for the hotel to want to manage numbers and so we were happy to go along with that.
It was strange to see a buffet breakfast laid out in front of us, but roped off and waiters on hand to serve us our choice of food. But again, it was being done that way for all the right reasons, and was really just another part of our new normal.
After breakfast I ventured into the gym, unsure if I would feel safe using any equipment. But again, there were clear measures in place with plenty of hand sanitiser and disinfectant in place. There were people coming and going from the swimming pool (which also had to be booked in advance) but I had the spacious gym to myself.
The entire hotel stay though short certainly gave an insight into the efforts that hospitality businesses are making to keep staff and customers safe. It is such a challenge for them as they are forced to find ways to make their businesses viable with a reduced guest capacity. But I'm happy to say that the warm welcome and friendly service that is synonymous with Irish tourism was as evident as ever.
Some people seem to be in such a hurry to travel abroad and get back to more normal holidays. Others are loath to take any unnecessary journeys. Either way, the main thing is that we continue to take responsibility for our own safety, and to remember at all times that we could be carrying the virus and not have symptoms.
Wearing face masks, frequent hand washing and adhering to physical distancing remain the most reliable line of defence against Covid-19.