‘It’s like a family reuniting’

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ADAPTING Pat Tierney pictured outside Castlebar Golf Club, where a marquee has been erected to accommodate up to 40 people for outdoor dining. Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Castlebar
Oisín McGovern

THE unreliability of Irish weather was never going to deter the members of Castlebar Golf Club from enjoying their recently installed outdoor dining facilities.
Having been able to enjoy the course in ones and twos over the past few weeks, golfers can now shoot the breeze together over a cup of coffee after a round on the 18-hole course.
With many of their older clientele now vaccinated, a confidence now exists among members that wasn’t there before.
That is the view of Pat Tierney who began running the club’s restaurant on June 7.
“The majority of people coming in here have been vaccinated, and they’re very confident. You can see the confidence among them as well,” Pat tells The Mayo News.
“A year ago they were afraid to walk outside the door to see their grandkids or anything. Now they are meeting up as families again.
“The lockdown being relaxed has created a ripple effect across everything. I’m looking at people that haven’t seen each other for a year. It’s like a family reuniting again,” he adds.
Since partially reopening their restaurant last week, the Rocklands course has become something a social hub once again, catering for visitors, members and competitions.
The simple pleasure of friends being able to chat outdoors over coffee is a reminder that such facilities are about more than just sport.
Since taking over the management of the restaurant, Pat has been basically starting from scratch.
As a new business, he is not entitled to any of the available government supports.
With capacity for 40 people in a marquee and roughly 20 in the patio area, business has been steady for the past week or so.
Despite offering shelter from the ever-changing Irish elements, Pat says the cold temperatures often mean the car park is nearly empty at 9.30pm every evening – even though restaurants can legally stay open until 11.30pm.
The Galway native, who previously ran McGoldrick’s and McCarthy’s in Castlebar, also reckons there is three times as much work involved with the various Covid protocols.
Like many restaurants, sourcing experienced staff has also proved difficult.
“We’re lucky that there’s a young population out here that are very eager. They weren’t on the PUP payment so there was no problem with taking them on,” says Pat.
“Apart from the new Covid training, we’re training them on serving food and drink. My day nearly starts at 9am until at 11 at night. Experienced staff are nearly impossible to get at the moment.”
While describing outdoor dining as ‘limiting’, Pat remains very positive that indoor service will be allowed resume as planned on July 5.
“Why I am optimistic is because while we do have visitors coming in and staying, our biggest business is local,” he says.
“Unless some variant takes over … but hospital numbers are well down. There’s a very big confidence out there from the customers we’re meeting.  “Even in the trade there’s a sense that barring another disastrous lockdown, we’ll be able to get on and work with this,” he adds.

On the pig’s back
OVER at the Hog’s Heaven pub and restaurant, substantial covered outdoor seating areas have been installed to cater for dining, drinking and snacks.
Situated at the Mayo Leisure Point complex at the heart of Castlebar, the outdoor area became the latest part of the facility to reopen along with the cinema on June 8.
During the day, the facility caters mainly to movie goers from the nearby cinema. From 5pm, patrons must reserve places for the outdoor facilities for dining and drinking.
Cora Mulroy, who operates the Hog’s Heaven, says that operating outdoor service – although much more labour intensive – has been ‘going great’.  
“Somebody said: ‘I couldn’t care if there’s a storm blowing, as long as someone brought me a drink’,” Cora tells The Mayo News.
“It’s hugely more difficult, but it is great when there’s such a buzz of people outside,” she adds.
“It is lovely and has a very European feel. It’s lovely to be able to do it and it’s grand for the months of June, July and August, but certainly not something you’d be looking at doing in the winter months.”
The reopening of indoor cinemas and hotels while restaurants remained barred from serving indoors lead some to question where the new Covid variants could tell whether you were having porter or popcorn.
However, Cora says she can see the thinking behind being forced to operate her restaurant outdoors while customers may have popcorn and Fanta in the cinema a few metres away.
“The thing about the movies is when you go in, you sit down and don’t move. That’s the big thing about it,” she says.
“I think that’s why they allowed the cinemas back because once you go in, you’re sitting. Whereas when you go into a pub, you’re getting up and going to the toilet. There’s an awful lot more movement.”
With the twin challenges of limited capacity and changeable weather, Cora says outdoor dining is unlikely to outlast the fleeting Irish summer, adding that she is positive that indoor service will resume from July 5.
“I think by September and October outdoor service will definitely be gone and people will want to go back into the pub. They will want to go back to that atmosphere and buzz, and they miss that.”