If there were signs of things returning to normality in one of the oldest pubs in Kinsale, Co Cork, it wasn’t the queue of people trying to get in.
Instead, it was the occasional roar of laughter coming from a table of six at lunchtime yesterday inside Jim Edwards gastropub on Market Quay.
And for those at that table — Ann O’Hagan, Bríd O’Callaghan, Geraldine Coleman, Mary Tupper, Anne Deane, and Mairead Walsh — indoor dining couldn’t have happened soon enough.
Despite being a sociable close-knit group of friends whose 22 children all went to the same primary school in nearby Belgooly, the last time they all met up for a drink in a pub was in 2019. It was so long ago, they had difficulty remembering if it was in a hotel in Kinsale, or in a pub in Killarney.
And one of the last times they all met up socially as a group was in May, for a coffee morning, in a private house, in a barn.
All of them have been fully vaccinated and all of them have, they say, been very careful who they mix with. And they have also been careful about the type of pub or restaurant they socialise in.
Mother of four Mary, 73, said: “We would generally meet up but in each other's houses in the evenings. We would happily go out to a pub or restaurant in the evening. However, we wouldn’t like to be shoulder to shoulder with the people.”
And with that, Mairead, 70, nudges Anne Deane’s left shoulder, while Mary nudges her right shoulder, and they all burst out laughing.
Frank Cremin, who is in his 60s and who lives in Cork City, drove down specially to have lunch in the pub.
The last time he ate in a pub in Ireland was before the last lockdown, and the last time he ate anywhere else was last week.
That was in the Netherlands, and Frank, who works in the food ingredients business, says he felt very at ease there.
“We ate in a large restaurant, we had an excellent meal and nobody was wearing masks and I felt very comfortable,” he recalled.
“It was very well done — there were plenty of tables, and there wasn’t much action."
“There weren't people running around or standing around and people were seated and behaving normally.
Happy to be able to serve indoors now, Liam Edwards, 47, who runs the pub with sister Maeve, 43, is not entirely happy with having to ask people coming in if they are vaccinated or not.
Before the pandemic, his family would normally have 135 people sitting indoors. They have had to slash that by about 50% and they now only seat 65 indoors. However, they have outdoor seating which can accommodate 60, he says:
He is not overly worried about opening for indoors but he is worried about the future.
“So, it's not the fear of now, it's the fear of what lies ahead.”