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#MyLockdown: “I feel like a broken man, to be honest”

This week, Gript’s #MyLockdown series will try to tell the stories of the people who have suffered the most over the past twelve months, in their own words.

Submissions have been edited, in some places, for clarity of language, as well as spelling and grammar, but no content has been added. The stories are those of the people themselves.

We begin with “Tom”, aged 47, who runs a small rural pub in the midlands, and who told his story to John McGuirk.

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“Owning a pub isn’t really like any other job. It’s not for everybody. You need a certain kind of personality.

If you want to own a pub and be successful at it, then you have to like people. You have to enjoy talking to people, and more importantly, you have to enjoy listening to them. Especially in a small rural area, you can end up as much being a counsellor as a barman.

Some people find lockdown easy because that’s not the kind of person they are. If you’re happy enough at home with your wife or husband and kids, and you don’t enjoy socialising, then you probably don’t get what people are complaining about. But for someone like me, it’s been very hard – very isolating – and that’s before we even get to the money end of things.

The hardest bit was when I lost my best customer. Truth to be told, he was actually my worst customer. He would come in every Tuesday night and every Thursday night – twice a week, usually at about eight o’clock. He’d order one pint of Smithwicks, and take a good hour to drink it. Then he would order a half one of whiskey, with a glass of water, and drink that. It would take him another hour. And the whole time, he would just sit at the bar and talk away to you. He’d annoy you at times but he was a very nice, harmless man.

I only found out at his funeral that he was 78. He was one of those fellows you find in rural Ireland that never married, and farmed the 22 acres or so his father left him. The nearest relatives were a niece in Cork and another niece over in England. Last November – he hadn’t been into the pub in about 6 months because either we were closed, or he was too worried about the virus – he took a bad fall in his yard and it was a good hour before a neighbour heard him roaring. Broken hip. Off he went to the hospital, and sure enough, a week or so later, he’s dead. Of the covid.

That man never had covid, let me tell you, until he went to that hospital. We couldn’t go to the funeral so I stood out along the road, and put a wee black flag up above the door for a week. And I cried my eyes out, because he didn’t deserve that. The land will be sold now, and the cattle – he never sold many cattle, he had cows that were his for twenty years – sent to the factory for dogfood. It’s just a little piece of our community gone, and none of us got to say goodbye.

When you own a rural pub, men like him don’t give you an income. He might have spent twenty euros a week with me. We gave him a life, and a place to go. That’s what we do for a lot of people like him.

The way you make money in this trade is the events. In an area like this without much tourism, our bread and butter are people’s family events – 21sts and 18ths and 30ths, and then the big days like St Patricks day. You do a good trade on Saturday night after mass, or maybe on a Sunday after a GAA match.

When we locked down at the start I remember everyone I talked to in the trade was annoyed, but not too worried. It was only going to be for a few weeks – that’s what we all believed. It was just before St. Patricks day. We thought we’d be out of it by easter. That’s what the local TD told me too. “Out of it by Easter”.

Well we’re heading for a second easter now, and the latest I hear is that it will be the middle of the summer before I’m allowed to open my doors again. And I probably won’t be able to open even then.

To make this pub financially workable in this new way of living, I’d have to spend about twenty thousand to build a kitchen and an outdoor area. I can’t afford it, and there’s no end in sight to this lockdown. At the very best, if they let us open, it will be outdoors only, and sell them a burger with their pint. The kind of people who used to come to us in rural pubs don’t want to come any more anyway. They’re older, they tend to live alone, and most of them are scared out of their wits about the virus.

My wife works, and its thanks to her that we have not gone bankrupt, but we have no money. I have kept a few thousand to one side in a long term deposit account, and that money will be used to re-stock the bar if and when we get the word that we can open again. I have to give the bank two weeks notice before I touch it. After the mortgage, my wife and kids and I have about 200 a week to live on. A hundred of that goes on the weekly shop in the nearest Lidl. We are down to one car, because I couldn’t afford to insure or tax mine. When my wife goes to work, I am stuck here at home, writing this. I was never a man for luxuries but the one I did have was sky sports because I follow Liverpool, but that had to go. The internet had to go too, and now I tether the laptop to my phone. Last night my wife was hand sewing patches into my son’s trousers, because we can’t afford new ones.

I know that there are people in other countries worse off. I know we are not starving. But I feel humiliated, and broken.

You try to put a brave face on it, and not let other people see how bad things are. You smile and wave and say things to people like “see you down in (PUB NAME REMOVED – ED) soon”. But I feel like a broken man, that’s the truth.

I do blame the Government. I voted Fianna Fail at the last election. I don’t think I’ll even vote in the next one because there’s nobody to vote for. I feel like nobody hears what people like me – and believe me, there are others even worse off – are going through, or cares.

I feel so angry about my friend and customer who died. That man didn’t have covid until he went into a hospital. I know others who got it in nursing homes. These were the people we were supposed to protect. My sacrifice was supposed to help them.

But they’re gone anyway. And lockdown is still with us. I do not feel suicidal or anything like that, thank God, but I absolutely understand people who do.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak.”

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