GOODBYE CRAZY WORLD Ballinrobe publican Luke Carney pictured with Aslan’s Christy Dignam in 2019. He’s noticed a big change in people’s mood since the easing of Covid-19 restrictions.
LUKE Carney is one of the few bar/restaurant owners you will not hear complaining these days.
Twenty-six years in business in the heart of Ballinrobe, things are ‘very much back to normal’ for Carney’s Bistro.
Since reopening, Carney’s gastropub has been able to keep a seven-day-a-week service going.
While other establishments have been shortening their opening hours, Luke Carney’s mood is one of positivity.
When he answered the phone to The Mayo News yesterday afternoon (Monday), he was fully booked out for Valentine’s Day.
Next week, the bar stools are being re-installed after almost two years gathering dust.
In the weeks ahead, Carney’s will once again be the ‘go-to’ spot for racing enthusiasts with empty bellies and sometimes even emptier pockets.
In summertime, Luke Carney hopes that they will be the centre of the town if the Ballinrobe Festival returns to Abbey Street after a three-year hiatus.
“To be honest with you, we’re right back where we were. If we could get a few more staff we’d be over the moon,” he says.
“The weekends are therapy. You can see it again, people are just glad to be out. You know it from talking to people.”
While Carneys’ long-serving staff have remained loyal throughout the pandemic, other hospitality businesses in the surrounding areas are struggling to fill vacancies.
“Talking to some [pub and restaurant owners] that would be the problem with all of them. It seems to be across the board with hospitality,” he says.
“No matter what town, staffing is a problem. That’s why a lot of places are closing for a day or two, just doing the five days to keep it simpler for staff.
“To be honest, we need some staff,” he adds.
“Saying that, all the staff that are with us quite a number of years have all come back. We’re 26 years in the business, so it has been good to us. We get a lot of repeat business. Things are good, I’ll be honest.”
The scrapping of Covid passes heralded a joyous, if sudden, return to the much talked about ‘normality’.
Carney says move that initially was met with some wariness from customers, and even himself.
However, he now gets the sense that people are ‘moving on’ on from the pandemic.
Likewise he detects a sense of relaxation and contentment amongst customers that wasn’t there before.
“Before, every conversation centred around Covid. I find now people are talking about the weather, talking about racing, talking about everything,” he says.
“It’s a good thing for people’s mental health. We had two years of it. We were bombarded. Every news you put on, every paper. People were tired of it. Please God it will stay going good. That’s the important thing.”
In recent years, he says some of the younger generation have developed habits that are unlikely to change, even after Covid.
“People go out earlier, they go home earlier,” he says. “I know there was downsides, but a lot of good has come from it. I’m being honest about it. People realise that there’s more to life than to be chasing all the time.”
While staffing remains an ongoing concern, many businesses will have their EWSS and CRSS supports withdrawn in the coming months.
Luke says this could become ‘a major concern’ in a year or two for pubs and restaurants who aren’t long-established.
For the minute, Luke Carney isn’t for dwelling on the pandemic. Staffing difficulties aside, he’s simply glad to be back in business.
“It’s great to see some of the familiar faces. We always had our regulars at the race meetings, come hail or snow,” he says.
“That was part of their day’s race, going in for the chat, to meet people, to tell them about the ones they should’ve backed and that they didn’t back.
“I used to enjoy it because we always had a great atmosphere race evening. People were in a good mood whether they lost or won.
“They’d all tell you they won!” he adds. “They’d always say ‘I broke even’ or ‘I made a few bob’. They always had a few bob for the bite to eat and the few drinks.”