LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Lockdown in Ireland deprived Catholics of the ability to attend Mass during the holiest seasons of the year: Lent and Easter.

In addition to spiritual loss, the Easter lockdown meant another Irish tradition was missed: The return of the Trócaire box after Lent.

Trócaire is the official development agency of the Irish bishops – similar to the Catholic Relief Serves funded by the U.S. bishops – and its biggest fundraiser takes place every Lent.

For most Irish people, putting spare change into their Trócaire box is as much as ritual as Stations of the Cross and fish on Fridays during the 40 days leading up to Easter.

That spare change adds up: Trócaire’s Lenten Appeal raises approximately €8 million ($9 million) each year, with two-thirds coming from Trócaire boxes distributed through schools and parishes.

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, with the consequential lockdown, has severely restricted Trócaire’s ability to collect this year`s Lenten boxes.

The agency has made an appeal for people to return the money from their boxes either through the mail or online.

(Credit: Trócaire.)

“Travel and social restrictions – including the closure of schools and parishes – means most boxes have not been returned this year,” said David O’Hare, Trócaire’s communications officer.

“Trócaire today warned that unless donations from the boxes are returned, it is facing a massive funding crisis that will impact directly on the 3 million people who rely on its work overseas,” he told Crux.

To help publicize the crisis, over 40 dancers from Riverdance – which feature traditional Irish music and dance – made a video from lockdown, with each dancer recording their segment in isolation.

The video features glimpses of a number of Irish cities and counties, including Dublin, Belfast, Clare and Galway, as well international locations such as Sydney, New York and London.

Among the dancers are three Irish doctors – Maria Buffini, Shona Cobbe and Gillian Madders – who are battling the pandemic on the front lines in Ireland’s hospitals.

“During the COVID-19 crisis, people in Ireland have made extraordinary sacrifices to keep each other safe. Trócaire are doing their part by responding in 19 of the poorest countries in the world. With your help, Trócaire are providing hand-washing facilities, vital information, and medical care” Buffini said.


Trócaire has warned that unless donations from the boxes are returned, a funding crisis will impact directly on the 3 million people who rely on its work overseas.

“The funding crisis comes at a time when we are working to reduce the spread of the coronavirus in all 20 countries where we work. People in countries like Somalia and South Sudan are incredibly vulnerable to this virus, while lockdowns and travel restrictions have plunged millions more into extreme poverty,” said Caoimhe de Barra, Trócaire’s chief executive.

“The contents of each and every Trócaire box, no matter how small, come together to make a significant difference to the lives of the people we help. We have done – and continue to do – so much to protect each other. Now it is time to protect the world’s most vulnerable,” she added.

O’Hare highlighted some of the charitable work that is at risk if the Lenten boxes don’t get returned this year.

“The donations from the Trócaire box fund life-changing work all over the developing world: Helping families to grow enough food to feed themselves and earn an income; ensuring that those in need have access to, control over and the ability to effectively protect and use critical resources, in particular land and water; protecting the rights of people who are marginalized and vulnerable to human rights violations; striving to ensure that the women and girls we work with around the world have a voice in decisions that affect their lives, within their homes, communities, and beyond, and that they are free from violence; responding to humanitarian crises in countries where natural disaster or conflict has put people’s lives at risk,” he told Crux.

He also said Trócaire is responding to the COVID-19 crisis.

“The virus is present in all 20 countries where Trócaire provides support. The charity is responding by providing support in all regions, including 11 countries in Africa where over 100,000 Coronavirus cases have been confirmed. Trócaire’s response includes providing soap, water and hand-washing stations, supporting quarantine facilities and funding expert medical care,” O’Hare explained.

The end of the Riverdance video closes with the optimistic message, in both Irish Gaelic and English: “Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine” / “Under the shelter of each other, people survive.”

To support Trócaire, you can donate here.

Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome