A WAITING GAME Fergus and Gráinne Marren are pictured outside Walsh’s Public House in Charlestown, which has been closed to the public since Saturday, March 15.
“THE hardest thing is not knowing, the uncertainty. That’s the killer. If the Government came out and said, ‘All pubs have to close until February 2021’ then at least we’d know where we stood. At the moment we’re all in limbo.
“Either shut us down until next year or give us strict guidelines that we have to adhere to, and fine pubs that don’t follow them. But just give us some certainty.”
These were the words of Fergus Marren from Charlestown when he spoke to The Mayo News. Fergus and his wife Gráinne bought the popular ‘Walsh’s Bar’ in the East Mayo town last September, and opened the doors of their revamped premises on December 6.
“We had a great Christmas and a good January and February,” he recalls. “Then on the night of Saturday, March 15 a Garda came in and asked us to have the premises cleared by closing time. He said there were ‘big changes coming’.
“I didn’t pass much heed at the time, but it turned out to be the last time we opened.”
It will be five months this week since the Marrens served their customers.
The well-known local couple bought ‘Walsh’s’ as ‘a long-term investment’ last year but never envisaged Covid-19 turning the world upside down within a matter of months.
On two occasions recently they thought that Government were going to give ‘wet pubs’ the green light to re-open. But their hopes were dashed in both mid-July and again last week.
At this stage it’s anyone’s guess when bars like ‘Walsh’s’ will be allowed to trade again.
“It’s been very tough. Just the stress of it,” admits Fergus.
“We’ve got no guidelines whatsoever. The only thing in black and white we got were the Fáilte Ireland guidelines for bar/restaurants, which don’t apply to us anyway.
“We get a daily e-mail from the Vintners Federation of Ireland, but nothing in terms of guidelines from the Government or HSE about what’s expected of us.
“In my own opinion, I think they should get every County Council in the country, or the HSE, to tell us how many people each individual pub can fit; how each pub needs to be laid out to meet the guidelines; and where we need to spend the restart grant,” he added.
“Why not restrict opening hours to something like 4pm to 10pm? Or restrict the number of people who can come into each individual pub? Set guidelines that mean everyone has to sit at tables that are two metres apart? Just give us a chance to address the fears and concerns that NPHET and the Government have so that we can open and earn a living.
“This year is gone for publicans; for us it’s just about getting the door open so that we can earn some money to pay the mortgage.
“My wife, Gráinne, is involved with me, she left Mid West Radio to take over as manager and she runs the day-to-day operations,” explains the former Charlestown footballer.
“As you can imagine there have been a lot of conversations at home around, ‘Will we open?’ ‘Will we not?’ ‘What should we do now?’”
Every day they see and hear the latest coronavirus news and updates. They have watched everything from non-essential shops to gyms to cinemas being re-opened, but they remain in the dark about the Government’s plans for their livelihoods.
As the weeks turn into months, and the case figures rise and fall, their plea remains the same.
“I knew well they weren’t going to open the pubs last week,” says Fergus. “Look, it makes sense that the schools re-opening has to be the priority at the moment. I know that, I appreciate that.
“But we would love to be given a date for re-opening and then to have a visit from a HSE health inspector and the Gardaí before that date. Just so that we are clear on what we have to do. All we want is certainty.”