Common sense public health measures were the main topics of discussion as regulars nursed their first pints in their favourite local for the first time in six months.
Terry Brennan, Humphrey Kerins and Don Horgan were among the first customers through the doors of the historic Castle Inn in Cork City for the first time since March 14 as hundreds of so-called 'wet pubs' reopened after lockdown.
“If everybody takes responsibility, I think we can live with this. We are going to have to live with this,” Mr Kerins said.
Mr Brennan agreed: “A large dose of cop-on will be something that would help everybody enjoy themselves a bit more.” Publican Michael O’Donovan, the third generation of his family to run the small traditional country-style pub in the heart of the city, said he felt nervous but somewhat hopeful to be back behind the bar.
And from behind a face-shield, he said: “It’s just great to be given the opportunity to get back to business. There is a bit of nervousness but I’m looking forward to it."
“It’s a bit like the first day of school or the first day at a new job - but it’s great to be back.” He has invested in the cosy, intimate pub on South Main St, installing hand sanitisers, repainting the interior, putting down new floors, installing new toilets, and staff have completed Fáilte Ireland Covid-19 training in a bid to reassure customers.
The pub which could host up to 80 on a busy night has now cut its capacity to a maximum of 32 and introduced table service.
No-one is allowed to sit at the bar. Punters must remain seated at tables of two, three, four and six. Its snug’s capacity has been cut from 12 to six.
Against the backdrop of rising Covid-19 numbers, Mr O’Donovan said there is a sense of fear that the reopening could be short-lived.
“It would be heartbreaking if we had to close for a second time,” he said.
“There is a concern about what it would do to us mentally, and in terms of building the customer numbers up, and giving them the assurances and if we are closed again it will be very difficult to start the business a second time.
“It will be a challenge but at least we have the opportunity to open and trade and see how we go.” Mr Brennan and Mr Kerins sat two metres apart nursing creamy pints of Beamish, as Mr Horgan sipped on a sparkling water at another table.
All agreed that common sense and personal responsibility will be the key to halting the spread of Covid-19 and ensuring that pubs outside Dublin that don’t serve food can stay open.
“It has been said, especially in rural Ireland, that the pub is more than a pub,” Mr Horgan said.
“And that’s what I’ve missed. This pub is like a living room. This is where I come for a chat, to watch the news and sports, and solve the world’s problems over a couple of pints.
“That’s what I’ve missed, the camaraderie, the chat behind the bar and catching up.
“I’ve been to the pubs that serve food and they have been run very well but it has made me long for the Castle Inn and other pubs all the more because these were my locals.
“It feels strange but it doesn’t feel sterile because I’ve always felt it’s the people who make the atmosphere.
“And this pub has always had a great atmosphere, because of the people.
“There is a bit of social distancing. There has to be. And we can’t sit at the bar. There’s extra hand washing and sanitisation but that’s okay. That’s the new norm and if that’s what’s needed I’ll happily sit at a table and drink my pint here instead.”
Mr Brennan agreed and said: “I think everybody will get used to the new normal, as they say, and it’s just common sense. If everybody uses a bit of cop on, we can come to a pub and enjoy ourselves safely and in comfort.
“I think it will settle down over time and I think people will find their own normal and find a time to visit a pub that suits them. But it’s up to us to mind ourselves.” Mr Kerins said he has missed calling to the “homely bar” for the chat and stories over recent months.
“I’ve been to pubs where they do food and it’s fine, it’s structured but a bar like, it’s a real ‘conversation’ kind of bar — a place where you can have a couple of pints, tell stories, listen to the news, it’s a very relaxing bar, a place where you can read the paper, have a few pints, get a bit of news and it’s a great social bar,” he said.
“But you have to take responsibility for your own actions. If everybody takes responsibility, I think we can live with this. We are going to have to live with this.”
However, the owners of Callanan’s Pub on George’s Quay, another small family-run pub, said they were not quite ready to open yet.
In a post of social media, the owners said they’ll “sit it out for another two weeks at least” and watch how the situation plays out.
We have decided we're not quite ready to reopen tomorrow. We'll watch how the situation develops but we'll sit it out for another two weeks at least. We wish all our fellow "wet" pubs who do decide to open the best and we may even drop in to one or two to see how to do it.— Callanan's Bar (@callanansbar) September 20, 2020
“We wish all our fellow "wet" pubs who do decide to open the best and we may even drop in to one or two to see how to do it,” they said.