RELIEF was palpable in Bodyke last weekend with the easing of pandemic restrictions and the return of customers to the long bar at The Cobbler’s Rest.
Like thousands of so-called ‘wet pubs’, the venue was hit hard by the pandemic, enduring months of complete closure. The pub, which had never served food, chose not to provide the now infamous €9 meal in an effort to keep the doors open.
The result was that it remained shut down between March and September of 2020 and worked around various waves of restrictions in the 15 months that followed.
“It’s like a cloud has been lifted over Bodyke last weekend,” said Susan McMahon, who runs the popular rural venue alongside Martin Butler.
“The relief was palpable and there was a great sense of excitement on Saturday night. Ironically, I’d say a lot of people chose to go to a restaurant that night, so we were fairly quiet, but it was great for that sector of the trade.
“On Sunday, we showed the Clare – Limerick match and to have people sitting at our long bar counter once again was really something. I must have clocked up the same mileage as climbing Mount Everest because of all the table service in the last few months. It was great to see people being able to line up along the bar. To be honest, I think that was always a safer option for people and it was one of the restrictions that I really could never get my head around, but we had to toe the line and that’s what we did.
“Our locals are terrific and so glad to be back to some kind of a normal situation. To be honest, some were getting used to the 8pm closing time and were beginning to wilt a bit by the time 11pm came.”
With publicans representatives associations estimating that almost 350 pubs went out of business during the pandemic, concerns remain about the future of the trade, especially in rural areas.
“There were some dark days,” Susan admits. “It was impossible to avoid the constant feed of bad news and it does affect people. We did really feel that the pub trade was targeted. I think we could have been left open, maybe with restrictions, or even limited to weekends in the early days [of the pandemic]. Being closed down altogether was a bitter pill to swallow.
“I think it could have been organised in such a way as to reduce the house parties, which weren’t safe. Young people had to get out. We all understand the greater good, but you have to live too.”
As regards their own future, the publicans did have to consider their options.
“We had to wonder, ‘What’s the next step?’,” Susan admits. “And we had to start looking at alternatives, because we really didn’t know, at some stages, if the pub trade would come back, but our locals were so supportive and, after we reopened, they kept coming in, and sticking to all of the different restrictions.
“We had great support from our landlord too and the government supports helped us. The rates break meant a lot too. At the same time, the bills kept coming in for the likes of light and heat and running a cold room.
“We’re lucky because we live on the premises and were able to keep the place cleaned and aired. But, working with all of the uncertainty was difficult. We had to try to stock up without opening boxes, for example, because those couldn’t be returned. Literally we were waiting from week to week to see what would happen and then the bandage was ripped off in one go. We’ll be moving forward and keeping the doors open.”
Now that almost all of the public health guidelines have been removed, The Cobbler’s Rest is looking to the future.
“It is time to lift all of that doom and gloom,” Susan said. “It’s onwards and upwards to St Patrick’s Day and the new Bank Holiday is welcome. We’re getting ready and it’s actually proving a challenge to book music, because so many people in that sector have left and gone to work in factories or construction. They’ve had a very difficult time and some people aren’t going back to music.”
Susan describes the mood among her regulars as “cautious but positive”. “We have a great community and while there is excitement, there is a bit of a sense of unreality too,” she said.
“You have to respect people’s fears, but you can feel that the air has lighted a bit. People do want to be out socially and The Cobbler’s Rest is a lot more than a pub, it’s a community venue and a focal point for people.”
The venue now boasts a new patio and beer garden and preparations are already being made for the Bodyke Festival on the May Bank Holiday weekend.
“It won’t be as big as usual, because we haven’t had time to get ready, but we will have bands and music to give a real lift to the area,” Susan said.
“Everyone has had a really tough time and we’re going to be putting our best foot forward now to bring life back to the community.”