Ballina publican Pat Rouse is confident the lights will not go out on the town’s pubs
AT the end of February, the coronavirus was the last thing on the minds of Ballina business people and publicans as they prepared themselves to welcome hundreds of revellers to the north Mayo capital for the Other Voices musical festival. Indeed the main worry was the threat of Storm Jorge raining on their parade and threatening to ruin the party.
In the end Other Voices was a resounding success for Ballina but little did the people of Ballina know at the time that it was to be their last big weekend for a while as the coronaviris brought the country to a standstill.
Pat Rouse (pictured), the owner of Rouse’s Bar, an institution on Pearse Street and one of the oldest pubs in the town, admitted he was a little skeptical about how successful Other Voices would be. But after six weeks closed, he now sees it as a ‘Godsend’.
“The Other Voices occurred just before we closed and it was a Godsend,” he told The Mayo News. “I thought that February was the wrong time but I was proved completely wrong. It was a great weekend. I thought it was the start of a very good year … it was the last good weekend we had.”
The pubs in Ballina like across the country have been closed since March 14 and with no sign of them opening anytime soon, Pat like most publicans is worried about the future. While the Government have agreed to suspend commercial rates for pubs for the duration of the shutdown, he believes that even when pubs are allowed to open again, implementing social distancing will be a handful.
“In my honest opinion it will be very hard to implement social distancing. It will be okay when people have the first two or three drinks but after that they get more forgetful and start shaking hands and things like that. If we have to monitor all of that it will be very hard.”
He explained that his pub can comfortably hold 200 customers on a busy night but with social distancing he fears he will have to turn loyal customers away.
“If you have a situation where a group of ten or 12 come in and they are supposed to be six feet apart and suppose some of your own good customers come to the door. They might be coming in to you all their life but you have to tell them you are full. They will not be happy about it. It will make it very difficult and you will have to have someone capable to manage it.”
Pat was born in the family pub on Pearse Street and he never seen a situation where the pub has been closed for more than two days - or the town being so quiet for so long.
“All the town is closed down at the moment. I drove through it and the only things open are the chemists and butcher shops and apart from that there are very few around.
“My dad started the business and I took over and now my daughter is involved and my grandson also gives a hand on the weekend. We are heading towards the fourth generation of a real old Irish established pub in Ballina. The pub would never be closed for anything other than when my father and mother died. That would be only for two days and now we are into our sixth week. Calling into the pub to check on the heating and making sure everything was alright, it brings a tinge of sadness.”
Having lost out on the St Patrick’s Day trade along with Easter and the May Bank Holiday, are fears this year will be a complete write off.
He says The Wild Atlantic Way has brought more visitors to Ballina and north Mayo and added that Knock Airport has also allowed people to travel home more often than they could. With international tourism expected to take a nose dive even after restrictions are lifted, Pat says that pubs will have to rely on their regular domestic trade to keep them ticking over.
Despite all the concerns for the pub trade in the months ahead, Pat believes that people will continue to come to the pub and will adapt to a new way of doing things until the coronavirus is no longer a threat.
“I’d say it will all come back but it will maybe take a year or a year and a half. When things go bad and the good times come around again we kind of forget about the bad times. That is the way nature is. These things vanish very quickly and we get on with life.
“People are looking forward to getting out and having a pint. They tell you that anyway. People might be a bit different to what we have known heretofore. You know the way Irish people are when they go into a pub, they go over to someone and shake their hands and ask how they are doing. That might go a little bit. We might not be as flaithiúlach as we were in those type of situations.
“It is going to be different to what we have known before.”