Publicans express relief at lifting of Covid restrictions

‘Everyone took it as ‘Freedom Day’ and it was great to see. Customers had a great time and there was no trouble. It was like letting the heifers out of a slatted house!’ – Scott Hunter

The lifting of Covid-19 restrictions was met with widespread relief by business owners in the hospitality sector this week, as normal trading hours made a welcome return to pubs across the county.

  Speaking to the Roscommon People, Dale Kiernan, who runs The Railway Bar in Roscommon town with his brother Dermot, described the lifting of restrictions last Friday as a “big shock”.

  “We had twelve hours’ notice so there was no room for preparation or ordering stock. Luckily, we had enough stock at hand but if we didn’t it was just tough luck,” he said.

  In terms of staff, Covid restrictions had posed a number of problems for Dale and Dermot.

  “When we reopened initially last year, we knew we wouldn’t get qualified staff so we didn’t look for them. We were willing to take people on from scratch and train them up. We took a number of staff on who had little or no experience.

  “Two of our younger members hadn’t even had a pint in a pub before pulling their first one! It was a challenge, but we thoroughly enjoyed stepping up and working around the restrictions,” he said.

  Last Saturday night represented a return to normality for staff and customers alike.

  “On Friday, we watched the announcement by Micheál Martin and then hopped onto the group WhatsApp to see who was available to work the following night,” Dale said.

  “It was very much back to the way it used to be last weekend. Everyone was giddy! I was nervous coming in because I didn’t know what to expect but after an hour or two you settle back in to normal service. Even still, every time the front door opens I nearly run over to check people in and show them to a table!”

  Dale said the return of bar service is very welcome and helped to create a much better atmosphere in the bar last weekend.

  “We’ve known a lot of our customers for many years so it’s great to be able to have a proper chat with them at the bar again.

  “There are customers who are still a little bit wary and will wear their masks around the bar and that’s cool. We’re still wearing our masks until the end of February too so we’ll see how the next few weeks go,” he said.

  Patricia Mullaney and family run the popular Red Parrot pub in Roscommon town and she said customers arrived early last Saturday.

  “We had people coming in at 7 o’clock, there was a huge crowd around last Saturday night. Last weekend, was very, very busy. It was like New Year’s Eve and it was great to see all the young crowd out again and enjoying themselves,” she said.

  Patricia added that while the previous 8 pm closing time was “harsh”, she would have accepted a Government decision to close pubs by 11 o’clock on weekdays.

  “I would have settled for ten or eleven, it wouldn’t have bothered me because Monday to Friday trade is quiet. I wouldn’t have minded if the hours were cut back a bit because people had got used to going out early and going home early,” she said.

  The popular proprietor of the family-run pub was quick to praise her customers for their acceptance of restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic.

  “Even last year, when we had table service outside, young people were very organised; they were booking tables early and had no problem leaving. We hadn’t a bit of bother,” she said.

  In Strokestown, Scott Hunter became owner of The Sportman’s Inn last year at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. He was also taken by surprise following the sudden scrapping of restrictions last weekend.

  “We were expecting the Government to extend opening hours from 8 pm but we didn’t think they’d wipe the floor with all the restrictions. It was very welcome obviously and it was unexpected,” he said.

  “Everyone took it as ‘Freedom Day’ and it was great to see. Customers had a great time and there was no trouble. It was like letting the heifers out of a slatted house!”

  Scott said that customers were taking personal responsibility, and were just happy to be back socialising.

  “You have certain people who are still wary but to have the bar back is unbelievable. Now that we’re doing food too, customers can sit at the bar and have a pint and a bite to eat,” he said.

  Scott said it was great to welcome customers back who had been put off by the earlier closing time and those who had been isolating due to the high numbers of positive cases in recent weeks.

  “Christmas was quieter than any other part of the year…it wasn’t a good Christmas, but last weekend was the best we’ve had since I bought the place.

  “We had taken the pool table out during the restrictions and I got a lot of stick over it. It was back in on Monday and it was like watching kids at Christmas!”