CHANGE WAS INEVITABLE Publican Pat Moran felt changes were coming to the pub trade even before the Covid-19 pandemic struck
They called it ‘A St Patrick’s Day like no other.’ With schools having shut five days earlier, the eery site of pubs lying empty on what should have been their busiest day of the year confirmed that something truly sinister had arrived on our shores. As it turned out, it wasn’t a St Patrick’s Day like no other.
Three-hundred and sixty-one days after Iar-Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s extraordinary address from Washington and three lockdowns later, pubs find themselves firmly back at square one this St Patrick’s Day.
Back then, most publicans read the room and took it upon themselves to close days before the feast of Saint Patrick.
It is a day that Pat Moran, who runs Bucko’s Bar in Castlebar, remembers very well.
“I remember it quite vividly. It was a Saturday night and we were quite busy,” Pat tells The Mayo News.
“We knew there was going to be a big meeting on the Monday and I remember saying to the staff: ‘I don’t think I can open tomorrow. I don’t feel safe. I don’t feel safe for ye and for the customers. A lot of people don’t realise the seriousness of this issue the way things are going.” He continues: “I got up and Sunday morning and pondered it. I put it out there to a couple of other publicans. One guy says: ‘Well if you’re not opening, I’m not opening’.
“I said: ‘I don’t feel safe about it. Tomorrow the government are going to shut us down anyway so tomorrow I’m just going to put a sign on the door and leave it at that.’”
Like many others, Pat believed that the closure of his Linenhall Street establishment would be for a brief few weeks.
He says: “I put a note on the door that we were closed due to the pandemic, and my expectation was that once this settles down, or once we get over the next few weeks, we should be okay to open again. There’s no way did I foresee that twelve months later we’d be here sitting in this same position.”
He adds: “Unfortunately, there’s nothing anybody can do about the pandemic and safety is always the key issue for any business, you don’t want to hear anybody passing away from Covid. So many people have passed away that I would’ve known, and it’s very sad.”
Reared in the heart of the county town above Paddy Moran’s Bar in Rush Street, Pat took over the running of Bucko’s in 2019 having worked in various pubs in Westport.
Situated on a vibrant and busy part of town, Bucko’s can accommodate between 80-100 people for dining and drinking.
Featuring an outdoor area and upstairs bar, this bar caters to a wide range of clientele. In normal times, it also hosts live music sessions, with Pat himself known to warble a few tunes on occasion.
A normal St Patrick’s Day in Bucko’s is much like any other for a pub in a big town.
“It kicks off the year,” he says.
“After Christmas in January it starts to wind down. February is an absolute disaster and Paddy’s Day is the day it kicks off. You’ve people back from England. There’s always a great buzz, you’ve a great day.”
Having taken over a traditional ‘wet pub’, Pat says it was always his intention to do food, which he says has had ‘a great response’ since Bucko’s opened up to diners after the first lockdown.
“In the few weeks up to Christmas we’d have been booked out every evening.
“People were fantastic,” he adds. “We’d a few cancellations but not that many. We’d a great welcome for people, we had great staff. It was just a great thrill to be open and have everything right.”
While Pat acknowledges that it will be probably June before pubs can reopen at the earliest, he reckons it will be ‘at least twelve months’ before all restrictions are lifted.
“I’m actually getting dividers put up in the upstairs because I can’t see restrictions going back for a long time to come,” he says.
“If we could open for June that would be fantastic, but I don’t think the government will allow pubs or restaurants to open before any bank holiday.”
While he doesn’t blame the government for the ongoing frustrations with the vaccine rollout, Pat says publicans have been poorly treated.
The lack of concrete data or dates is a worry, as well as the ongoing financial burden.
Regardless of Covid, Pat believes that change was coming to the pub trade even before the pandemic.
“I felt for a while that unless you start doing food of some sort there’s no point in opening during the day at all. The bar trade is going down and down and people need more than just going in for a pint. You will have your few regular pubs that will do okay but in the long term we’d be looking at a lot of pubs closing and being sold off.”
He says: “It’s a shame to be losing [St Patrick’s Day] but for the sake of another month or two if we can get over the line we’ll be open for June.”