‘We are like cows let out of the byre’: Enniskillen is buzzing as restrictions are eased

Feel-good factor in Fermanagh town is in stark contrast to silence in Bundoran

Early on Friday morning queues of men started to form outside certain outlets along the main street in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh. On Townhall Street and Darling Street and the adjoining laneways, men of all ages waited in line in the sun outside barber shops, standing by for their turn to be shorn and shaved.

As Covid-19 restrictions eased in Northern Ireland, permitting personal grooming services to reopen, men and women raced to have what one beauty therapist described as "their wee bits and pieces" improved.

"Shocking" was the verdict of Brad Ferguson from Enniskillen's Switchblade Barbers about some of the heads presented to him throughout the morning. "You get the ones who let the wife or the girlfriend at it and then you have ones who waited it out and the hair is below their shoulders – I don't know which is worse," he said.

While for women seeking hairdressers it was appointments only, most barbers in the town were operating on a walk-in basis, and by 9am there were 10 men queueing outside the Turkish Barber. One man, Mac Frederick, reckoned he had been to the barbers once in the last 12 months, although he insisted the palpable feel-good factor in the town wasn't just about personal grooming.

"It does you good to get it cut, but it is also a sign that people are trying to return to normal," said Mac, who warned against too much complacency. "There has been talk of another surge. And look at what those poor people in India are going through."

At the head of the queue, Colin Greaves, a former executive with the Impartial Reporter newspaper, was beaming, despite waiting for half an hour. "It's fantastic to be here. I haven't had my hair cut since before Christmas," he said.

Wash and set

Across the street in Salon Twenty2, Peggy Barry (88) had the distinction of being first through the doors at 8am, and was delighted to be having a wash and set, having driven from her home a few kilometres outside the town. "I haven't been here since Christmas Eve," said Peggy, who lives alone and who says her next outing will be to Knock when the Co Mayo shrine reopens.

Frances McKenna has been doing Peggy’s hair for 25 years, so it was about more than the hair when the two friends caught up.

Salon owner Frances lost her 50-year-old husband Frank to cancer last September, so while she said it was “nice to be back to some kind of normality”, normal is relative for her. She is booked out for weeks ahead. “We will look after our regulars first because they are our bread and butter,” said the salon owner, who has noticed an increase in queries from women south of the Border, who are still in the dark about when their hairdressers will reopen. “To be fair we’re a Border town so we have always had customers from the South, but we are getting a lot more calls from there,” said Frances.

If men were happy to queue on the street for a haircut, clients of Breige Leonard from Sculptic Clinic are more private about their Botox or body sculpting needs. Luckily Breige, a qualified nurse who has done frontline duty throughout the pandemic, has her clinic in a quiet lane, where until recently a bookie shop and a pub were the other thriving businesses. "I think they'd [the clinic's customers] be happy if people thought that's where they were going," joked Breige, who estimated that about 5 per cent of the clinic's clientele are men.

Thirty per cent of her clients are from the South, but Breige reckons that if she could facilitate them she could currently easily double the number based on recent queries from south of the Border.

Friends Roy Robinson and Jim Melanopoly were also out queuing on Friday, but they were outside the Jolly Sandwich cafe on Darling Street, apparently more concerned about their tummies than their heads.

The pair said Enniskillen had transformed overnight. “This time last week it was a ghost town,” said Roy. “This morning it was hard to get parking. The sun is shining and everyone is out. We are like cows who have been let out of the byre after being in all winter.”

Stark contrast

Forty kilometres away in Bundoran, Co Donegal, there is an air of expectation as a similar easing of restrictions is awaited, but the contrast is stark. The main street known locally as "the golden mile" was deserted at lunchtime, with the shutters down on the amusement arcades, the surf schools and most shops. The beach was deserted, Waterworld was empty and a pair of seagulls were the only visitors in the nearby playground.

"It is sad," said local hotelier Brian McEniff, who lives behind his family's Holyrood Hotel in the centre of town.

Brian, whose son Brian jnr runs the Great Northern Hotel in the town, says he and his wife Cautie sometimes drive down the main street at night and are always struck by the silence in a town that is traditionally a magnet for visitors from Northern Ireland, and normally bursting with the sounds of country music and slot machines and people socialising. “It is so quiet and it’s as if there’s tumbleweed at the top of the town,” he said.

But the former All-Ireland-winning Donegal GAA manager stressed that last summer ended up turning into an “excellent season”, with domestic holiday-makers coming from counties in the Republic who had never ventured there before.

He thinks another summer will be pulled out of the bag, if as expected hospitality is fully open by mid- to late June. “But what we don’t want is a fourth wave.”

His sons who have followed him into the hotel business are optimistic too, but they say a roadmap is needed. “The phones are busy but it’s the same question from everyone – when are you opening – and we can’t give the answer,” said Brian jnr.

His brother Seanie says staffing will be a major problem if they don’t get advance notice of hospitality reopening dates.

The brothers say Christmas Day used to be the only day in the year when Bundoran was silent. “We used to think that was lovely – be careful what you wish for,” said Seanie. “It’s silent now, especially at night, and all the lights are off.”

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