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'It's been emotional': Publicans welcome customers back for outdoor service

The sun was shining as some opened their doors for the first time in 15 months.

Phil and Paul Flannery, happy to welcoming customers back to their pub earlier today.
Phil and Paul Flannery, happy to welcoming customers back to their pub earlier today.
Image: Paul Flannery

SOME HAVE HAD stops and starts, while others remained closed since the first lockdown, but the sun was shining for publicans as they welcomed customers today for outdoor service.

“Mother nature got the memo,” joked Paul Flannery, owner of Flannery’s bar in Limerick City.

“People are buzzing, the weather is obviously a big plus and people are just happy and smiling, meeting friends they haven’t seen in a long time.”

Flannery said there have been many “emotional moments” along the way, like having to close up the bar on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, just 20 days after pubs had been allowed to reopen again.

Today’s emotions were more positive, as he returned to the pub with his father Phil, who he said is glad to be back “bossing everyone around”.

“This morning I rang my dad at 9.30 – he’s 87 – and I asked him was he ready to go back to work. He told me he was and I went to pick him up. I said to my wife that that’s when it really hit home that we’re back,” he said.

“When the first person came in and said ‘can I have a pint?’, it really lifted me to see my dad smiling and meeting customers he hadn’t met in 15 months. It’s been absolutely brilliant to get back on track”.

Flannery said Limerick publicans “got a scare” when they Covid-19 case numbers started to increase as they were worried the government might implement a local lockdown.

“We are just lucky that didn’t come to pass, but that has helped to focus people’s minds that the virus is still there and we need to make sure we don’t let it back in,” he said.

In Monaghan, Diane Wright at The Coach House and Olde Bar in Glaslough, said she has felt like she has been in Spain serving customers in the bar’s sunny garden all day.

“It has been going great, everybody is out with their sunglasses, there is such a lovely atmosphere,” she said. “We’ve been closed for so long, it’s been quite an emotional day, our oldest customer John who opened up the place 59 years ago was there to open it again today.”

Wright said she was able to re-open for two weeks in October but then the country went back into lockdown. 

“It was so upsetting,” she said. “But we have friends who never got to reopen at all. I am disappointed for the other pubs in Monaghan that haven’t been able to reopen today because they don’t have outdoor space.”

She said local publicans have been supporting each other throughout the pandemic as they all struggled with the financial impact of closures. 

“Our bills are still going out, our electricity, our insurance. Imagine, we’re paying insurance and public liability and us not even open. It’s been very hard,” she said. 

Wright also had to invest money to make the outdoor space suitable to welcome back customers this time. 

“During the lockdown we covered over our back courtyard – we call it ‘The Birdcage’ – and we put a lot of money into that but we’re putting money into our new future.”

After a tumultuous weekend in the capital, Dublin city’s bars have had steady business throughout the day and customers are just “happy to be sitting and drinking beer out of a glass again and not having to move around”, said Ronan Lynch at the Swan bar on Aungier Street.

“The last 15 months – 448 days – have been an emotional rollercoaster so it’s a big day for everyone,” he told The Journal.

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“And today has been emotional, we’ve had all these boards up to protect the building and today we took them down. This feels like a new start now for the industry.”

He said publicans have learned to expect “curveballs” but they are hoping their doors stay open now.

“With the vaccine levels it’s promising, it feels like we’re getting that bit closer to getting back to normality. There’s always that bit of apprehension but we’re just glad to get back in.”

Over on South William Street, customers have been queuing up to get a seat outside Grogans bar, which has been closed since the first lockdown. 

“It’s a perfect day for it, there is a lovely atmosphere around town and people are just delighted,” said publican Daniel Smith.

“We opened at 10.30am and we were full by twenty to 11, so it’s been great, especially seeing our regulars.”

Smith said today feels like “a real turning point” for the industry.

“We were closed for so long, it feels like a day of hope and victory. This isn’t over by any stretch, but we are on the right track.”

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