An island opens

Features

BACK IN BUSINESS Paddy Lavelle pictured at the newly built outdoor area of Mickey’s Bar in Dooega on Achill Island.

Achill
Anton McNulty

The Pat Shortt clip from D’Telly from the mid 1990s comes to mind when summing up the first few days of outdoor drinking for publicans along the west coast of the county.
“It would be a lovely little country if you could only roof it,” was his closing comments to the weather forecast which predicted ‘damp, drizzly, wet conditions’ for the next few days. It was the kind of conditions which holidaymakers in places like Achill experienced last week and is far from ideal for outdoor drinking or dining.
While Achill publicans, Johnny Cafferkey of Lourdies Pub in Dooagh and Patrick Lavelle of Mickey’s Bar in Dooega were both delighted to be open and welcoming customers back, their experience of the first week of reopening shows that outdoor drinking is not sustainable in the long term.
“The weather has been poor all week and it went against us really with people having to drink outdoors,” explained Johnny. “It was great being open but it is definitely not feasible to have outdoor dining or drinking, especially here along the west coast, the weather can be different from further inland and on the east coast. Saying that, people did not seem to mind last Monday but long-term people are not going to stay out longer than they can.”
The two Achill pubs are traditional ‘wet’ pubs and apart from 15 days at the end of September, both have been closed since March 2020. They both missed out on business during the exceptionally busy summer last summer and both men were determined to open up as soon as they could.
“It was always my intention to open up when they announced we could open for outdoor drinking,” explained Patrick, who along with his brother Brian has taken over the running of his family pub.
“The summer is vital for us. Our locals are great to us all year round but in Achill you need the extra boost during the summer. Luckily we have been busy so far and we are getting a good mixture of people on holidays and locals calling into us. We have noticed that there are no international tourists, it has mostly been Irish people on staycations.”

Alterations
Mickey’s is located in the seaside village of Dooega along the famous Atlantic Drive and in order to cater for outdoor drinking, Patrick had to carry out alterations to the back of the pub.
“We have a new place set up out the back of the pub and it is serving its purpose so far. We did the work about a month ago after we heard we could reopen. It is about six metres by five metres but is covered over and is well worth having.”
Johnny also used part of his car park across the road from the pub as a seating area along with part of the back of the pub. The seating provides stunning view of the Atlantic Ocean and after a ‘long, tough year’ for everyone, he has noticed that people are glad to be able to get out and about again.
“You can see the mood of the people has changed and it is a lot more upbeat. They want to get out if only for the social aspect to able to meet people they haven’t talked to in months. Everyone seems to be a little more upbeat. Going into the summer hopefully the weather will pick up and with the longer evenings you hope the mood and spirit around the place will lift a bit more.”

Looking to the future
Achill has been exceptionally busy in the last few weeks and that pattern is expected to continue until the end of the summer. Allowing people into the pub on July 5 is the next milestone in the normalisation of pub life in Ireland and both men hope that restrictions will ease to allow greater numbers indoors.
“My pub is not the biggest and if the restrictions are too severe I won’t be able to put too many in it, it is as simple as that,” said Johnny. “A lot of the pubs in Achill are not big, super pubs so the restrictions could really put them at a disadvantage. The pubs in Achill are relying on a busy summer to get going again financially.”
Patrick added: “Being inside is what pub is all about. I believe it can be easily managed because people know how things work and it’s in their own interest to abide by them.
Having people sitting at the counter will be nice but you have to see how things go.”
Still only in his early 20s, Patrick, who graduated in mechanical engineering from IT Sligo last summer, would like to see his long-term future in the family pub.
“It is a tough gig at times but there is no better job at other times. I do enjoy the pub trade and was anxious to get it open and once we got the chance, we were ready to go.
“The most enjoyable part is meeting the people and the general craic around the place. If I could be at it all the time I would and hopefully that will be the case.”