‘Publicans like me are willing to follow the advice and get on with things’

Damien Clarke, who runs the Dunlo Tavern in Ballinasloe, is one of thousands of publicans and restaurateurs reopening indoors from Monday

Damien Clarke, the owner of the Dunlo Tavern, Ballinasloe, Co Galway: “People are loving being back socialising once again.”

Damien Clarke, the owner of the Dunlo Tavern, Ballinasloe, Co Galway: “People are loving being back socialising once again.”

 

Thinking of the days before Covid-19, Ballinasloe publican Damien Clarke recalls weekend evenings where customers stood shoulder-to-shoulder with a band playing in the corner.

Clarke, who owns the Dunlo Tavern in Townparks, is one of thousands of publicans and restaurateurs reopening indoors from Monday, but he does not believe he will see the return of those busy nights for quite some time.

“I don’t think we’ll be back to what we were – a fairly quiet week of regulars showing up Sunday night to Thursday night, followed by the weekend rush – for another year or two yet. As long as there are cases of Covid-19 in the world, we have to live with it,” he says.

On a good night, the Dunlo Tavern comfortably holds 45 people.

“We’re a ‘landlocked’ pub, so short of investing massive amounts, we wouldn’t have the money for installing a beer garden, or indeed outdoor dining,” Clarke says.

Regarding the reopening, Clarke said he believes the latest legislation signed by President Michael D Higgins “isn’t the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back”. He intends to just follow the advice and regulations as ordered.

“To me, it’s just adding two more steps to the process. I ask them to provide their information for contact tracing, and I ask for their digital Covid-19 cert, and that’s it.”

Unimpressed with much of the media debate, which tends “to heighten the argument”, he said: “Publicans like me are willing to follow the advice that has been given and get on with things.”

Clarke estimates that roughly 90 per cent of income for pubs in the town comes from local patrons, with the remainder coming from tourists or guests staying in the nearby Shearwater Hotel “stopping in for a pint or two”.

“Compared to the likes of Galway city or Dublin, Ballinasloe doesn’t necessarily need tourism money to survive,” says Clarke, though the one exception is the Ballinasloe Horse Fair every October. Three hundred years old next year, the fair is estimated to be worth €8.5 million locally. It was not held last year because of the pandemic and there is no guarantee it will go ahead in October.

Another cancellation would be a major blow to local businesses, Clarke says. “The fair is a great source of income in October, but the reality is we might not have it three years in a row as well.”

‘Craic and banter’

Joby Kelly, who owns Joe’s Bar nearby, is also short of outdoor space, though he is “ever so grateful” to his neighbours, the Ryans, for giving use of an archway for outdoor customers.

“So we had a go at it. Although it’s not ideal, we have tried our best to make it work. To be fair, customers who have come have been very understanding of the circumstances we find ourselves in and that has made it a tad easier.”

Kelly, who has been open on Society Street for 30 years, is confident that his establishment can weather the Covid-19 storm.

“No doubt it’s going to be very tough to sustain the pub economically, but I’m quietly confident [that] with hard work and keeping your eye on the ball and feet firmly on the ground we can survive,” he says.

“People genuinely have missed the craic and the banter... I feel people are loving being back socialising once again. The last fortnight has filled me with great hope that the traditional pub is not dead.”