THE owner of one of the oldest pubs in Ireland says people are “bursting to come out” to socialise when bars reopen on Monday.
Marion Sweeney, owner of The Old Thatch, Killeagh, recently spoke to some of her customers, who are looking forward to going to their local for the first time since March.
“I met a couple of local ladies, while walking up Glenbower Wood two weeks ago,” says Ms Sweeney, who can trace family ownership of the pub to the mid-1700s, making it one of the oldest businesses in Ireland.
“They told me they couldn’t wait to come to the pub and have a meal with a glass of wine, just to socialise.
“They are fed up with cooking and baking constantly for three months and they want a well-earned break to socialise for an hour,” she says.
“I thought Monday evening would be quiet. The Old Thatch was never busy on a Monday evening for food,” says Ms Sweeney.
“But we are booked out for this Monday. People are bursting to come out. They’ve had enough. When I mentioned to anyone Monday night will be quiet, they said, ‘You must be joking’!”
Women didn’t frequent pubs until the late 1960s. “I can still remember, after Mass on Sundays, the men bringing out the minerals to their wives waiting for them, while they enjoyed a pint in the bar,” Ms Sweeney says.
The pub is ready for customers. “There is plenty of space and scope in The Old Thatch, including the new restaurant and the beer garden by the river, to accommodate everyone safely,” she says
But there’ll be no music sessions?
“No, those days are gone for now,” Ms Sweeney says. “Sessions lasting four or five hours are a thing of the past. The time allotment is one hour and 45 minutes for each person/party. I can’t envision the Old Thatch being crowded.”
She is optimistic about the future of the Irish pub and preserving sociability in the new environment.
“It is part of being Irish. The pub is where we do our socialising,” Ms Sweeney says.
“We don’t know what the future holds. It will be a whole new ball game.”
She is the proud owner of six All-Ireland camogie medals with Cork.
“Pubs will behave like restaurants and provide table service.”
“Irish pubs will be very similar to Continental pubs, where people don’t sit at the bar counter, but avail of table service,” Ms Sweeney says.
“And if you don’t have a seat, you don’t get to come in. It’ll take a bit of getting used to; but we can adjust. We’d ask people to bear with us and have patience.”
Adjusting to the new normal brings its own challenges.
“Public liability insurance costs have gone way up,” Ms Sweeney says.
“Staff will have to be employed to ensure hygiene measures are in place regarding sanitising and managing the toilet facilities.
All our staff have been trained in Covid-19 procedures.
“They will be very vigilant and we say to people, if they feel nervous then don’t come out.”
Ms Sweeney says the tourist trade, including the pubs, can forget about profit in 2020.
“2020 is a non-event for tourists. The days of the coach loads of American tourists pulling up outside are a distant memory,” she says.
“Yes, we’ll be able to welcome Irish tourists. The business will take a hit, but we are looking forward to welcoming back all our customers and, hopefully, we can look forward to a good summer.”