“How’s Tommy Cox keeping?”
That’s a question I’ve been asked countless times over the years, once I meet someone who knows I’m originally from Rooskey.
Well, Tommy Cox is keeping well.
He’s sitting in front of me, in his empty, closed bar, on another dispiriting Monday afternoon in Covid-19-dominated Ireland.
At least on this Monday, there is the promise of a new Monday…and a fresh start. Finally.
It’s 3.30 pm when Tommy opens the familiar side door leading to the renowned bar in the heart of Rooskey village.
No handshake later (for obvious reasons), Tommy is sitting down at a small table across from the fireplace. It’s a pub I know well. The last pint I had with my late father (Rutledge) in Tommy & Teresa Cox’s was on the 5th of August 2018. The pub was packed. We had to sit back from the counter, squeezing in behind a small table, watching as Dublin romped home against Roscommon in a Super 8s’ game on the TV beside the fireplace.
On Monday last, a daily newspaper is spread open on a table, and there’s a half-empty cup of coffee. The pub looks well. It’s had a bit of a facelift during lockdown. It’s been a long six months. Now, at least there’s hope.
I wonder how publicans like Tommy Cox and his wife Teresa have managed to stay upbeat during this shocking period of prolonged closure. Tommy shrugs. What could they do? Just wait. But he admits there were times when it was really depressing.
“It was a long summer…doing nothing. I thought all the pubs should have been allowed to reopen together, the ones doing food and the ones that don’t. We’re looking forward to reopening on Monday. It’s time to get back doing something!”
They’ve missed their customers. In normal times, it’s a very popular pub for sports followers, with locals enjoying GAA, horseracing and soccer in particular. The slagging is always good. It’s shocking that such pubs have lost an entire sporting summer. At least now there is the prospect of All-Ireland Championships taking place, albeit late in the year. “It’ll make the winter shorter” Tommy says.
He’s pessimistic about the future prospects of small rural pubs. Things “won’t ever be the same again” he says. He’s concerned about how long the pandemic will last, how it is changing the way we live. There is so much working against small pubs: transport issues, cultural changes, now the pandemic.
He can’t wait to see his locals again. “I’m looking forward to talking to them again…you’d go mad on your own!”
‘We need to give
people a reason
to come out’
Another empty bar…but not for much longer. I’m sitting in D’Alton’s pub in Fuerty. It’s one of the most famous public houses in the region.
I was first there in the late 1980’s, when the charismatic Don D’Alton – then the genial proprietor – was reviving the Fuerty Fair.
Its new owner, Joe Dolan, now runs two pubs in the area, the second one being a beautiful, spacious premises in Creggs (it was formerly Gannon’s).
Like Tommy Cox – and thousands of publicans across Ireland – Joe has had to endure this devastating lockdown. In July, he took the plunge and introduced food in the bar in Creggs. On Monday, he’ll reopen the pub in Fuerty.
During lockdown, the scheduled reopening of pubs kept being changed. Joe found that frustrating. It forced his hand. He reopened in Creggs on the 9th of July and it’s been a success.
“People have genuinely come to me and said ‘fair play to you Joe for opening up, you’ve given us somewhere to go’…people were grateful for it”.
It takes more than a pandemic to stop his gallop. Describing himself as a “progressive businessman”, he’s pressing ahead with exciting expansion plans in Fuerty (extending the premises significantly, branching into food in the New Year, adding on a number of bedrooms).
“I’m starting the first phase of the work the first week in January. I plan to have that initial phase finished at the end of March and by April 2021 to be serving food. The second phase, 12 bedrooms upstairs…you’re probably looking at 2022”.
Reflecting his positive outlook, he doesn’t accept that rural pubs are in terminal decline, although he does expect that some establishments will close/change hands. He feels the Government should be providing greater support to struggling publicans as current grants merely help with bills that still had to be paid during lockdown.
One thing Joe has noticed is that some of the elderly customers – mainly men – who used to come into the pub in Creggs for two or three pints have not returned. His assumption is that they are nervous about socialising due to health concerns; they may also be simply waiting for the so-called ‘wet’ pubs to reopen.
Whatever the future holds, he is very aware of the social role of pubs such as this quaint, traditional premises in Fuerty. It’s where people – some of them elderly and perhaps living alone – meet for a chat, for some interaction.
He emphasises that publicans need to be proactive. “We need to give people a reason to come out. I’m fully aware that the next six months will be tough. But I’m a trier. I always look to the future. The next six months will be hard, but after that it will get better.
“You miss the day to day chat…even if you might end up having the same conversation with the same people every evening at the same time! And of course the customers miss each other. Sometimes, with Covid, people withdrew from each other. The pub will provide an opportunity for people to mingle together again, and catch up”.
forward to seeing
all our friends’
Back in Rooskey, Tommy and I get talking about the village’s great days. He’s now aged 70, meaning he’s been working behind the bar for 54 years (a pint was 17 old pence when he started out). His late parents ran it before him. Cox’s Bar in Rooskey first opened in 1946.
There were great times there over the decades, almost all of the prosperity linked to the former Hanley’s bacon factory, now sadly closed. All the pubs in the village were flying in those days. Later, the hotel across the bridge (now also closed) was thriving for a few years.
Tommy Cox: “There were great times here…with the factory. The factory was a big loss. An outrageous loss. All the pubs were going well. There were great characters, and a great day trade. I had customers in from the factory from early morning! And the old lads were all in for a pint and half one, but they’re all dead now”.
These are different times. Rooskey has had a number of setbacks in recent years, but the local community is rallying. Tommy says if the hotel could be reopened it would be a big boost.
He’s preparing the pub, ready to move the barstools out, ready to welcome their loyal customers – young and old – back. “They’re all welcome” Tommy says, “we’re looking forward to seeing all our friends”.
Rural pubs were already struggling. This pandemic is a disaster for them, but at least they can now reopen, and hopefully trade will be good, with all involved observing the various guidelines.
When Tommy sees me to the door, the village centre is desperately quiet, reflecting the strange times we’re going through. At least the village pubs can reopen from Monday. It will lift things.
From Monday, a new energy will filter back into Tommy & Teresa’s famous bar. The draught will flow again and the silence will be replaced by conversation and craic. A new chapter starting in uncertain times. Brighter days ahead!