BACK AT THE BAR Derek Sage and Ger Corrigan sitting at the bar enjoying a pint of Guinness served by Paul Duffy, proprietor of MacBride's Bar on Bridge Street in Westport, on Saturday evening, as Covid-19 restrictions were lifted. Pic: Conor McKeown
Pubs, restaurants and patrons rejoice in removal of restrictions
Edwin McGreal and Oisín McGovern
Pubs and restaurants in Mayo enjoyed an unexpected busy January weekend after the sudden removal of Covid restrictions for hospitality.
The ‘great unlocking’ that was announced on Friday night came into effect on Saturday – and all over Mayo, bar counters were in use once again, Covid certs were dispensed with and publicans and restauranteurs reported a tangible sense of relief in the air.
“It was brilliant, amazing,” Marie Mellett of Mellett’s Emporium in Swinford told The Mayo News. “There was customers here who we haven’t seen in two years. Some of the older generation who were too nervous to come back, customers who said they wouldn’t come back until the could sit at the bar, now they are back. We were delighted to see them.
“It was just amazing. Everyone was smiling for the whole weekend, customers and staff. It was just such relief and excitement. It feels like the middle of summer, not the middle of January,” she said.
“It is fantastic, we were very busy,” said Johnny McHale, whose family have been operated John McHale’s bar on Lower Chapel Street in Castlebar since the 1930s.
“You had customers sitting along the bar counter, and you were able to interact with them and have the craic. There was a great sense of relief to not be asking people for Covid certs and signing in and taking names and all of that. That stuff was a right pain to be honest.”
Marie Mellett, who is the seventh generation of her family to trade in the family pub, said the past two years were like nothing the pub had ever experienced – and it has been trading for over 220 years.
“I think the restrictions were ruining the soul of the pub, even though they were probably necessary, but they were ruining the atmosphere that people were expecting when they come into a pub; that was kind of gone. It was an absolute relief to have our pub back, definitely,” she said.
“It (the past two years) was torture because there were so many different restrictions. Then there were closures, then we were open but not really open. The 8pm closing made absolutely no sense – to be throwing out your few regular customers that you’d have in January at 8pm, it didn’t make sense … But I’m glad that we can just put it behind us now and hopefully will never get back there again,” she said.
Likewise, Johnny McHale is looking forward to the future with optimism. The suddenness of the announcement did create a scramble for staff, however, and they only just had enough stock to tie them over.
“I feel the worst is behind us,” said Johnny. “There might be hiccups from here on in but not as bad as before.”
Marie Mellett is now looking forward to the St Patrick’s Day trade.
“Cheltenham is on all that week. The Gold Cup will be on the 18th. You’ll have Ireland-Scotland on the Saturday. It’s going to be just a brilliant weekend.
“I’ve never felt as positive over the last two years, but we’ve learned that you take nothing for granted. Life is short and life is fragile and we’re about to go out and make the most of it while we can. None of us know what’s around the corner. For the time being we’re all feeling very positive,” she added.
Mayo TD Michael Ring was out in Westport over the weekend, and he said the change was palpable.
“I never saw such a huge mood swing in people,” he told The Mayo News. “People changed their whole attitude to life and felt hope returning. People were so happy to be out. It was just amazing.
“People were worn down … it was two full years. That’s a long time in anyone’s life. I want to compliment young people in particular; they’ve endured a lot.
“I just hope the tourism and hospitality sector continues giving the value it did in the past. People want to get out and spend and support businesses, but let’s not start grabbing off each other. Retail suffered too, and let’s hope they get a good bounce now too,” he said.