Friday, March 12, 2021

By Cate McCurry, PA

Irish pubs have endured one of the longest shutdowns in Europe, with most traditional pubs closed for a full year.

As the pandemic took hold in March 2020 and coronavirus measures were brought in, bars across the country closed their doors.

When then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced that schools, colleges and public places would close for around two weeks, cases of Covid-19 had jumped to around 70.

A year on, pubs are now facing a second St Patrick’s Day with no customers.

The reopening of traditional pubs was pushed back repeatedly during the summer, but they were eventually allowed to open for a brief few weeks in September.

However, around 250 pubs in Dublin were kept shut by the Government over concerns of the infection rates in the capital.

Among those closed for a full year is Grogan’s pub in Dublin city centre.

Daniel Smith, manager of Grogan’s and son of the owner, said it has been shut since March 12th last year.

“We closed before the pubs were mandated to close because we are a small pub and we couldn’t social distance the way we were being asked,” he said.

“We never had to operate like that before and didn’t know how to do it.

“We knew at the time it wasn’t going to be for two weeks, but we never anticipated we would go a year without trading a single day.

“You look back then and understand why we were closed but when you look back to June where there were 10 cases a day, you think it was mad we were never given a chance to trade.

Bar owner Noel McNally
Noel McNally joined a number of other publicans during a protest in Dublin last September (Brian Lawless/PA)

“A full year without trade is very straining on the business.

“For myself and the staff it’s been draining. There’s been some extremely tough and dark days over the last year, particularly at the time when we were supposed to reopen and then let down.

“It was really tough to take, even now you have down days. You don’t want to talk to anyone about it. I see the incredible strain on my dad, he’s really up and down, as we all are.

“When you are sitting around all day and you feel like you have nothing to do and no purpose and no reason to get up and go out, it takes its toll on you.”

Gorgan’s had 16 staff last year but a number have left to find work outside the hospitality sector.

Some of the staff have worked in the traditional pub for up to 30 and 50 years.

Mr Smith said: “They are good friends and it’s tough to tell them time and time again that the reopening wasn’t happening.

“What has been really frustrating is seeing (Taoiseach) Micheál Martin’s attitude when asked about our industry. He and Leo Varadkar laughed when asked about pubs reopening. Are we just an afterthought?

“We deserve to be told upfront – our industry has given so much to the country over the years.”

He said there is now light at the end of the tunnel and he is hopeful the pub can reopen in June without outdoor seating.

But he added: “It’s not going to be a Eureka moment where everything is great again, people and businesses have been struggling so we need the grants to keep going.”

Noel McNally, owner of McNally’s bar in Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan, opened for just five weeks in the past year.

Mr McNally joined a number of other publicans during a protest in Dublin last September.

He briefly met with Mr Martin about the closures and concerns for publicans’ livelihoods, though he says nothing had changed since that meeting.

“When we eventually reopen I don’t want to see another traditional pub or pub that serves food closed again,” Mr McNally said.

Noel McNally
Noel McNally has opened for just five weeks in the past year (Brian Lawless/PA)

“It has been a very long year in which I had to make work for myself.

“I did things like cleaning the yard and painting the cellar. During the first lockdown I painted the bar and had it all ready.

“But then it continued and what do you do next? I went down to the cellar and cleaned it out.

“It was a purpose and to have something to do. It’s just to pass time and to keep myself right.”

Mr McNally said he walks for an hour every day, no matter what the weather.

He said he is concerned about the future of traditional pubs, particularly in a rural areas.

“The biggest thing people miss is the social side of things. I miss the pub and talking to other people,” he added.

“There’s men who spend the whole day on their own and the only bit of socialisation they got was in the pub. It’s the company and the craic, not always the drinking.”

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