Friday was a big day for us. We went to a pub for the first time since early March 2020. It may sound weird but that IS a big thing! In Ireland, going to the pub is an important part of social life, and it doesn’t necessarily have to do with drinking – pubs are places where social gatherings take place, whether you drink beer, whiskey, or tea. Pubs are also important meeting places for community events, or to have a chat after said events.
Because of the nature of this pandemic, of course pubs were the first places to be shut down and the last to reopen. To see pubs open again, even if only outdoors so far, is a step further towards a somewhat normal life so it is a milestone in the reopening of Ireland. It’s still early days and I don’t call this “post-pandemic” yet – I’m aware that we may still face setbacks, but for now the situation looks good and I’m going to enjoy what we have during this time – but do it safely, of course.
O’Neills in Butlerstown
O’Neill’s bar is our favourite pub – it’s like home for us. It’s a small, rural pub in Butlerstown, the village where we lived when we first moved over to Ireland. It’s a lovely, vibrant little village with some wonderful people. The bar is an authentic old style pub and is unique in its kind, being one of few rural Irish pubs still in business.
The owner, Mary, is more to us than just the pub owner. She has become a good friend of ours, and before the pandemic we often visited the pub mainly to have a good chat. I’ve even been behind the bar to learn how to pour a pint! I’m glad the guests that evening were just the local lads – they all know who I am (aka no pint expert) so the expectations were low and we had some good fun.
We have known Mary since 2008, the last time we lived in Ireland. A singer we know from other pubs invited us to come and join the music session at O’Neill’s, and we felt right at home there from day one. After moving back to Sweden we made sure to be around for a Sunday night session in Butlerstown whenever we went to Ireland in holidays. No trip to Ireland was complete without at least one visit to O’Neill’s.
O’Neill’s is a family run business that opened in 1967. It’s without doubt one of Ireland’s smallest pubs – the indoor area is probably smaller than your living room. There’s the bar, some benches, and two table areas. The small space hasn’t prevented the bar from attracting lots of guests though – during pre-pandemic summer weekends the pub was absolutely packed with people. Some Sundays we had to have the music sessions in the pool room!
Until the pandemic hit, the music session has continued to take place on Sunday nights, now with much fewer musicians than when we first joined but sometimes there’s a good number of singers. We have continued to come to the pub for good chats, to see friends – old and new – and to play some tunes on Sunday nights. Most musicians we came to know in 2008 don’t come to the session anymore, but often people around the bar take turns to sing songs, including Mary while she continues to pour drinks. In addition, it is not uncommon that she comes out from behind the bar and starts dancing with someone while we play tunes. That’s the attitude in this bar!
Obviously, music sessions don’t happen this summer, but at least pubs are open! Pubs and restaurants were allowed to open on the 7th of June for outdoor service, and I had been wondering if Mary had opened. Then last Wednesday we were delighted to hear from our neighbour that O’Neill’s was open on weekends. We planned to visit as soon as possible, so when the weather was good on Friday afternoon, my husband came home early from work and we headed to Butlerstown.
Even with outdoor service only, seeing the pub open again was fantastic and it gave a feeling of hope and normality. D had his first pint of Murphy’s since over a year, while I enjoyed a gin & tonic with rose petals, and since their own cocktail expert was there, I later had a mojito too. We met some lovely people we hadn’t met there before and had a good time chatting with them. The joy of meeting and socialising with other people was immense!
The most important thing with this visit was to see Mary (and her crew) again, and to see that she is thriving and her usual, energetic, self. Now let’s hope that the Covid situation remains stable so that pubs and other businesses can stay open.