Pub closures are affecting people’s mental health, says Cork off-licence owner

Pub closures are affecting people’s mental health, says Cork off-licence owner
Noel McCarthy, proprietor of the Carry Out Off licence in Fermoy. File picture: Eddie O'Hare

The owner of an off-licence in a town dubbed one of Ireland's “driest” says it is unfair that rural pubs aren't allowed to open as it's affecting people's mental health.

A little over 100 years ago Fermoy, Co Cork boasted more than 50 pubs. Today that number is far less and it would appear none can open if they don't serve food.

The town had two hotels up until recently. One close to Michael Flatley's mansion at Castlehyde, on the outskirts of the town, closed in the last few years. Last year the Grand Hotel on Ashe Quay also closed its doors.

Pensioners are using their bus passes to travel to pubs or hotels in other areas which serve food so they can avail of a couple of pints. They are going to Mitchelstown, Rathcormac or even Cork City.

Noel McCarthy, who has run a Carry Out off-licence in Emmett Street, Fermoy, readily admits that he has made a lot of money during the Covid-19 lockdown as people have been drinking at home, but says he would rather see pubs in rural areas re-opening.

He has run the business for the past 17 years and has never seen such an upswing in trade as he has witnessed in the past few months.

“My turnover since the restrictions started is up about 25%, mainly from extra sales of beers and lagers,” he said. 

I noticed a lot of new customers, many of whom would never have drank at home before. They would be mainly men in the 40-plus age group. 

"They tell me they miss the company they get in the pubs, the friendships and the banter when they gather in them to watch sport on the TV. It's a social thing,” he said.

He ran a nearby pub, The Wagon Wheel, for a number of years and says he knows exactly what they are missing.

“I share their frustration. I want to see rural pubs re-open, even though I'll take a hit if they do. 

"It's a mental health issue and a lot of people are suffering because they miss the interaction pubs offer," Mr McCarthy said adding that he personally knows pensioners who are getting the bus to other places so they can get a few pints.

"Fair play to them. One friend told me he recently did this. He had three pints with his dinner and told me it was like winning the Lotto," he said.

Mr McCarthy said he remembers when he first arrived in Fermoy older people would tell him how many pubs were once in the town.

This was mainly due to it being a major British Army base, which was a staging post for training tens of thousands of troops who went off to fight on the Western Front in World War One.

"They used to say that it would take days to have a pint in all the pubs here. Now they are all closed. The great shame also is we don't have a hotel because it's hitting tourism," he said.

Meanwhile, William O'Leary, a Fianna Fáil councillor representing the area, has written to Minister for Justice Helen McEntee asking her to extend current pub licences into 2021.

“Due to the Covid-19 pandemic the pub trade, particularly smaller rural pubs in towns and villages, has been brought to its knees," he said.

“We hoped to see a resumption in trade from August 10, but we need to consider the effect the closure of five months has had on these outlets, their owners and their families financially. 

"Although most of these businesses would have received a re-start grant, this pales into insignificance compared to the challenges facing the sector over the coming months,” Mr O'Leary said.

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