‘A terrible insult’: Clew Bay hospitality owners on the delayed reopening

‘None of our business’, say cafe owners on whether a person is vaccinated or not

Ana Da Silva  and Helen Dunne serving customers at Tia cafe. Photograph:  Conor McKeown

Ana Da Silva and Helen Dunne serving customers at Tia cafe. Photograph: Conor McKeown

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In the times of Grace O’Malley, Clew Bay was a place of rebellion. In summer 2021, hospitality owners now vow they will not segregate the vaccinated from the unvaccinated.

Declaring their loyalty to locals, they say such demands are unworkable. “They are coming in for a coffee, not an interrogation,” cafe owner Ana Da Silva said. “For me that is a no-no. It’s none of my business.”

“Am I going to fight with my own customers who want to buy a coffee from me?” said Da Silva, originally from Lisbon in Portugal, who opened her cafe Tia just off the town square in 2018.

Faced with the Covid-19 crisis Da Silva, who greets everyone by name and is infectiously enthusiastic, began selling take-out coffee, cakes and cooked-to-order dinners.

“We are not going back to the dictatorship like it was in Portugal in the 1930s where they would arrest you for not answering a question. What do I do if they don’t want to answer?”

Tia cafe owner Ana Da Silva with her son, Jose. Photograph: Conor McKeown
Tia cafe owner Ana Da Silva with her son, Jose. Photograph: Conor McKeown

Da Silva’s success has prompted her to invest in a second outlet, Tia by the River, at the other end of the Mayo town where she runs a sit-down restaurant currently serving people outdoors only.

“I would nearly prefer to stay as a takeaway than ask people for a vaccine ID. We want to welcome everyone, not just people with vaccines,” she told The Irish Times.

Louisburgh 74 cafe owner Edwina Walsh on Chapel Street has a similar view. “We are not going to turn someone away if they are not vaccinated, that’s not fair, it’s none of our business.”

Today, able to serve 40 people outdoors at six covered and nine uncovered tables, Walsh, who once ran a San Francisco bar, must run her business according to the inclement Irish weather.

“I have 12 staff. For the first time in my life, I have to tell people each week, ‘Don’t come in if it’s raining’. I’m trying to shuffle them about, so they get some hours. You can’t run a business like that.

“We have only six weeks of a season – all of us in this trade – and the clock is already ticking,” said Walsh, who insists that she will let elderly people sit indoors from next Monday.

“They can come and close me. I’m willing to take a stand, I’ve had enough now. I think it’s the audacity of them asking us to ask customers if they’ve been vaccinated. That has finished it for me.”

Louisburgh 74 cafe owner Edwina Walsh with waitress Ellen Power. Photograph: Conor McKeown
Louisburgh 74 cafe owner Edwina Walsh with Ellen Power. Photograph: Conor McKeown

Tourists have already arrived in Louisburgh. Local holiday lets are fully booked while a local auctioneer, Eithne Foy, sold a house to a woman who never set foot in the property until the sale had gone through.

“We are slammed busy and it’s all down to Covid. It has just shone a completely different light on Louisburgh. People that can work from home are moving lock, stock and barrel to the west,” Foy said.

Before Covid, Louisburgh had a population of 434, according to the 2016 Census, while its hinterland is home to many more by picturesque sandy beaches including Old Head, Carrowmore and Carrowniskey.

Bernie and Paraic O’Malley own P Dan’s Bar in Killadoon, 8km southwest of Louisburgh, beyond Roonagh Pier where ferries depart for pirate queen Grainne Mhaol’s native Clare Island.

The couple teamed up with Big Style Atlantic Lodge, which specialises in surf, paddleboard and kitesurfing weekend retreats, because the general demand for bed nights was not there.

‘Waste of time’

On Monday, they will open five days a week: “At present we are open three days with food and two days with just the bar which was basically a waste of time for the last three weeks because we need to do food alongside the bar,” Bernie said.

“But we can’t do the food if there aren’t enough people around. We had terrible trouble getting staff. People want to stay on the PUP [pandemic unemployment payment] and you can’t blame them because their hours are very limited. So that’s kind of all up in a heap.”

Indoor hospitality will not open on July 19th, she believes, “I think they think people are fools. That they can twiddle them along like this,” she said, saying vaccination was supposed to be “the be-all and end-all”.

“It’s a terrible insult to say somebody can go inside and eat just because they are vaccinated,” she said, adding that she “hasn’t a notion” of imposing such a rule if it happens, “I don’t believe anybody will”.

“We can’t stop people coming in for any other reason; race, colour, religion, but you are going to ask them if they’ve had a vaccination? Nobody is going to do that,” said O’Malley, who worries about getting through another winter.

Louisburgh in Co Mayo has become a popular destination due to the pandemic and people now working from home. Photograph: Conor McKeown
Louisburgh in Co Mayo has become a popular destination due to the pandemic and people now working from home. Photograph: Conor McKeown

Back in Louisburgh, Bun Abhainn on Bridge Street reopened three weeks ago with space for 35 outside. “Business is steady,” according to Thomas Swift, who has been running the bar since 1999.

“We’ve come through it okay. We went to zero, so now at least we are up to about 30 per cent,” said Swift, who thinks life has little chance of getting back to normal before February 2022.

“Are they being over cautious? I don’t know. They didn’t heed them last Christmas and that put the whole country back. I think the Government has handled it pretty well. I got my vaccine and I got my payment.

“A lot of smaller places won’t open again because you’d be falling out with people you have dealt with for years. It’s a bit silly. If you’re not vaccinated and you’re going in somewhere, it’s yourself that’s taking the risk,” he said.

‘Devastated’

Ger Morrison, general manager at the Derrylahan on Bridge Street, is devastated by the July 5th reopening delay, with two chefs, kitchen, bar and wait staff back and stock bought.

“We’d painted the exterior and redecorated inside. I closed that door at Christmas with a heavy heart and to think the Government led us to believe we would reopen on Monday. It’s horrendous,” she said.

Staff are hard to find, especially chefs. “I was in a hotel last week dining in a room with 100 others, so to think of the trade we could be doing, it’s so disheartening. It doesn’t make sense,” she said.

Next door, keen cyclist Louis Freiter opened the Seven Wonders cafe on Wednesday after a €60,000 spend on a building that lay idle for 40 years, serving coffee, brunch and toasties.

He, his wife, Trina, and their two-year-old daughter came from Dublin to stay in her family’s holiday home last summer and did not want to go back. He’s being positive about the latest delay.

“Being honest, it gives us time to find our feet and get used to things. We’re lucky because we have space out the back to facilitate something other than takeaway,” Freiter said.

The family rented their Dublin home and have only been back twice. “The stars aligned with having the option open to us from a unique set of circumstances that wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for the pandemic.”

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