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High Chaparral resigned to shut doors for a while longer

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‘IT’S TOUGH GOING’ John Munnelly misses the social aspect of running his pub in Geesala.


Anton McNulty

It is so quiet around The High Chaparral in Geesala that it would be of no surprise if the pub lived up to its name as a ranch in a western, and a few tumbleweeds blew past.
“Like a lot of these small villages like Geesala and Bangor and even Belmullet, after six in the evening you drive through them, they are like ghost towns. There is no activity at all, and on the weekends its the same thing. But look it, people are trying to stay safe and that is the bottom line,” John Munnelly of The High Chaparral told The Mayo News.
Munnelly’s, along with the majority of ‘wet’ pubs around the country, has been closed for 12 months, except for a brief ten-day period in September when they were allowed to reopen. To be closed for two consecutive St Patrick’s Days would have seemed unthinkable a year ago. John believes publicans are now resigned to the fact they will be closed for a while longer.
“It is a bad day to be missing, but what can we do… we have to play along with the rules.  We will be lucky if we get back in another few months. If we are not back before the holiday period in August it will be October before we are back fully,” he believes.
While he agrees the lack of a clear roadmap for pubs reopening is disappointing, he admits that opening up in September was a disaster. He now feels the best thing for pubs to do is remain closed until they can open up again for good.
“We only opened for couple of days in September and closed down again. It was a disaster too because there was a lot of work done to open up for social distancing, and we had stock in. The next thing you were closed again, and it wasn’t easy. We would have been better off if we were left closed altogether. It [opening up] only upset things.
“We would all like a date but this [virus] is so unpredictable. The main thing is that when we do go back we go back safe, that is how I look at it. I know we might have to suffer for a while, but it is better to go back safe than sorry. The worse thing that could happen is to go back too soon and have another close down. If have to we suffer for a few extra months then so be it.”

Missing company
The Erris region was one of the worst affected areas when the third wave of the coronavirus hit the country during the Christmas period. John feels opening up before Christmas was a mistake, and that the subsequent lockdown has been especially tough on the elderly and young people.
“It is a worry for older fellas alone in the house. Them fellas are cooped up altogether and its not easy. I think a lot of the older people will still be afraid to come out for a long time until they see it is passed. I don’t know if a lot old people will come back to the pubs again. They will be wary enough.
“It is tough on young people because they have nothing to do now only stuck on computers. There is no discos or nothing. The 16 to 22 years old have nothing to do, and these should be their golden years.”
Lambing season has been a welcome distraction for John. The pub has not been totally neglected, though, as he still has to heat the pub every day and keep the coolers ticking over to stop them from seizing. “These are the hidden expenses you don’t see,” he said, adding that he isn’t banking on a big payout from the insurance companies.
John said the majority of rural pubs like his are only ticking over, and apart from the the summer and Christmas periods, social distancing would not be a problem for a lot of them. The pub remains a vital link to many in their local communities, and John admits that the company is what he misses the most.
“These are funny times, especially in these rural areas where fellas met in the pub. You miss your mates and the gang you grew up with coming in. There are some I haven’t seen properly since we last closed a year ago.
“You might see them passing in the road in the car, and that would be it. It is tough going. Some of them have passed away too, and you cannot go to funerals. It’s not easy. When you are used to the pub all your life you miss it.”