Having led Irish food tourism from near enough the front for some four decades, Kinsale in the weeks leading up to the reopening of the Irish hospitality sector on June 29, was akin to watching a thoroughbred quivering and twitching in the stalls, waiting to explode into action at the starter’s gun.
As the cafes and restaurants readied premises in accordance with new HSE guidelines, revised parking plans were implemented, certain thoroughfares pedestrianised, allowing for al fresco seating to replace seats lost inside to social distancing.
Three weeks later and the town is absolutely buzzing. There are crowds in the open spaces outside Una Crosbie’s FoodU cafe on the Quay, an immensely popular staging post for locals, now joined by the influx of staycationers and daytrippers.
Nearby, in Fishy Fishy, Martin Shanahan is pleased: “There is a great buzz around town, a great quality of customer, knowledgeable, they know their food, they like their food. Every year, from April through to September, it would have been 50% Americans and other visitors from abroad and 50% Irish but now it is 99% Irish and the others are all Irish residents — they may have Spanish or Italian accents, but they have Irish mobile numbers, they are all living and working here.
“The only downside is we lost three and a half months of great trade that we’ll never get back and at the end of the year, the best you can hope for is to break even and protect the staff we’ve had for the last 15 years and keep them together.”
Paul and Helen MacDonald of Michelin-starred Bastion have opted to stay with two-metre distancing for the extra protection of their own staff as much as customers: “People are coming in every night. I’m looking forward to being able to take more people because 20 covers a night is lovely but it only enables us to keep heads above water and get to next year when we can go from having a job to being a business again.”
Sebastien Perey, Chef/Proprietor of The Cosy Cafe, says: “Our local customers were very happy with a return to normality and we have a good local trade so it’s nice to see the same faces coming back.”
Marie O’Sullivan, of popular cafe Salvi’s is very relieved to be back: “It was very sad to see Kinsale on June bank holiday weekend, at 10pm on the Sunday night, there were just two cars parked on Pearse Street and it was very lonely, so it’s lovely seeing life back in the town.”
Pearse O’Sullivan, chef/proprietor of Toddies at the Bullman along with wife Mary, spent much of lockdown overseeing major renovations but once completed, he was champing at the bit: “I was raring to go, it’s the first time since I was 16 that I was off for that long.
"It’s been good, busy, obviously reduced numbers, but otherwise it’s doing fine. Very good on the local market, a lot of people from the locality supporting us. Obviously my concern is coming into the winter, from October on, but we’ll see.”
“It was like Christmas Day every day,” says Tracey Keoghan, of the Lemon Leaf cafe, “I live right in the centre of town and there were times it was extremely depressing, it was a terrible shock to the system but once we opened the doors it was so lovely, people coming in, the staff delighted to be back, to have jobs and the general public have been brilliant. It is difficult, we are clearly down, having lost tables and more than half our season but we have to be positive.”
Sarah O’Brien and her sister Carol, co-proprietors of OHK cafe turned their little cafe into a takeaway and also became hosts for the Neighbourfood online farmers’ market: “We really missed welcoming people into our cafe, a takeaway business is so different, we didn’t open in the first place to do that, when we opened the cafe it was delightful to feel that energy again.
“I think the future will be different but I’m confident it will be secure, Kinsale is lucky in that it has that historic established touristic element and attraction, and there has been a lot of work done to support businesses, to accommodate hospitality in returning. It is positive.”