UNCERTAIN FUTURE John O'Haire, pictured in his well-known bar in Ballinrobe. Pic: Michael McLaughlin
LAST Wednesday morning John O’Haire sat outside his pub in Ballinrobe and surveyed the scene. The previous night he had taken ‘last orders’ at 11pm and locked the front door of his hostelry shortly afterwards. He has no idea when normal service will resume again, but he is hoping for the best and fearing the worst.
“It’s very hard to be positive with the cards we’ve been dealt,” he told The Mayo News.
“This morning I felt like hopping into the car and hitting off, because I just have enough of it.
“There’s no way they’re going to open us up going into November. I think this is going to be for a couple of months, it could go on into the New Year, and if it does, that’s us. .
“We missed the summer, we’ll miss the autumn, we could miss Christmas,” he continued. “How long can you keep taking bangs like this? An awful lot of the pubs won’t open again. “They just wouldn’t be able to financially. A lot of people’s hearts are broken.” With the entire country now in ‘Level 3’ of the Covid-19 restrictions for at least three weeks, the only way for publicans to trade is to serve a maximum of 15 people at a time in an outside area (or ‘beer garden’) if they have one.
That is an option open to ‘John O’ and one he intended to ‘try it for a few days’.
But between the weather and the age profile of many of his regular customers, he is far from convinced that ‘al fresco’ socialising will be a runner at this time of year.
“I’m going to see how it goes and if it works, it works. I have to try anyway,” he explained.
“But whoever thought up this thing of putting 15 people outside in the middle of autumn?
“I’ll try it for a few days and if it works, it works. I have an area out the back but come 6pm it gets dark and cold and people won’t want to wait around. It wouldn’t really pay you to do it.”
John O’Haire spent most of the last six months in England because the thought of seeing his business locked up since mid-March was ‘depressing, to say the least’.
He returned to prepare for re-opening last month and says ‘it took a lot of money’ for publicans all across the country to get back on their feet again.
Back to square one
Now they are back to square one with the only consolation (for now) being that the Government decided not to take NPHET’s advice and move to Level 5 restrictions.
“[Leo] Varadkar was right when he took NPHET to task,” is O’Haire’s blunt assessment.
“NPHET doesn’t run the country. I didn’t vote for them, and I don’t know anyone who did.
“You can’t hand it over to them, the Government can take their recommendations, but Micheál Martin and [Leo] Varadkar were right to say, ‘Enough is enough’.
“It’s wrong. What’s a small pub in Mayo, where the numbers are minimal, doing wrong?
“I’ve had no issues with customers, they’ve been good. It’s easy understand me!” he laughed.
He has noticed some of his elderly customers didn’t return when the pub re-opened a few weeks ago while many of those who did are finding it hard to adjust to this new way of life.
Missing out on celebrating milestones and socialising over the summer has taken its toll on people too, he believes. “The World Cup fishing weekend, the Ballinrobe races, the big GAA matches — they’re all gone,” he lamented. “People feel they missed out on things.
“The likes of Pat Dermody dying was a big blow to a lot of us. He was a mighty character.
“My own mother died and I couldn’t come back for her funeral. That was hard.”
The well-known publican is also adamant that the scourge of drugs is something that needs more attention from Government and Gardai in towns and villages everywhere.
And as for the future of the pub trade, well that’s anybody’s guess.
“We can’t keep opening and closing,” he said. “We had two or three false dawns and it’s all money. Who knows where we’ll be in a year. It’s impossible to know.”