Pub closures: ‘We’ve lost the best months of the year’

Concern for regulars fuses with economic wipeout for publicans in information limbo

Tom Sweeney, whose family has run Mary Anne's Bar in Masseytown, Macroom, since shortly after the Famine, considered permanently closing his doors after the Covid-19 lockdown

“I wasn’t going to open anymore but the word went out and the locals were on to me. I said ‘Okay I will go again. I feel sorry for all my regulars. I know them all by name. By nickname even,” said Sweeney.

Deeply disappointed by the decision to delay reopening public, he said: “People miss the chats. A lot of my clientele are the older generation. They are in seven nights a week and nearly have their own stools in the pub.

“I don’t know how the older lads pass away the day now. You could normally time them coming in the door,” says Sweeney, who had up to 40 customers in his bar during busy times before the pandemic struck.


Social distancing rules will put "huge pressure" on them "as it's a small pub", he went on. "I cancelled my Heineken order this morning. The girl said that the phone isn't stopping with people cancelling orders."

For fellow Macroom publican Denis Dineen, the postponement is "like a knife in the heart", since he had restocked the bar and like others in the trade has to continue paying insurance, utilities and accountancy bills.

‘Down a fortune’

Closure has meant a loss of work for himself, his son, daughter and two part-timers. Serving food was a non-runner for him, since the pub does not have a working kitchen. “I am down a fortune since the closure. I was expecting to be closed for four weeks.”

Every pub should have been allowed to open together: “People have flouted it. I heard of lads going in to Cork and drinking for the night and being told “Give me a tenner (for food) and they went across the way and got them a pizza.”

In Crosshaven, JP English, owner of the Oar Bar and a trained chef, was able to put on a bar menu so he could open this weekend for the first time since March, but he will not be opening during the week.

“Ninety per cent of my customers I would know very well. I have been through births and deaths with them. I have driven them home. I have walked them home. We look out for each other. That is the Irish pub.”

In Kilkenny, Arthur Drohan, who runs Andrew Ryan's pub just off the High Street, on Friary Street, had been looking forward to reopening on Monday, though he always had doubts that it would go ahead.

“We were measuring up for various contingencies and things, but because we didn’t have any clear guidelines other than the ones that were given out on June 29th for the restaurants, we were cautious about doing anything we might have to backtrack on.

No clear guidance

“That’s the main problem – the information wasn’t there,” said Drohan, whose pub remains largely similar to how it looked on March 15th when it closed. Without clear guidance, he has held off on making wholesale changes.

“I think the main thing, for me, is I don’t mind not opening if it is in the interests of public safety. I think that’s a good thing, and I would rather stay closed if it wasn’t safe. For customers, staff and anyone.

“But why is it deemed safe for a pub serving food to be open under the same guidelines?” he asks, “I have no problem with those venues because they are entitled to open. That’s it. But how can you have a two-tiered system?”

For the likes of Drohan and other pubs in Kilkenny, the impact of Covid-19 will be felt for a long time. If the pubs do reopen on August 10th, then it will be almost five months to the day when the decision was made to close.

“We’ve lost the best months of the year – the tourist season, the festivals. Your turnover is probably down 50 per cent of the whole year up to now. The leaner months would be November, October, January, February,” he says.

However, the next deadline cannot be handled in the same way, he says, arguing that two weeks’ notice must be given: “If we have to put tables elsewhere, put in shelves, put up screens, fine. But what do they want? You are in the dark.”