Pictured in the Castle Inn in July 2018 were, from left, Tom Scott, Tom Gillespie, Tom Brett, Tom Toolis, Tom Gibbons and Tom Ruane.

Remembering the good old days in my local

By Tom Gillespie

THOSE were the good old days, when you could go to the pub for a pint, a packet of crisps and a chat with whoever you bumped into.

It’s just over a year now since we were excommunicated from our locals, with the exception of a few weeks during the summer and in the lead up to Christmas.

Back then you could sit anywhere you liked, drink together, shake hands and, if the urge came on you, even hug someone.

No need for face masks, visors, social distancing or hand sanitisation, and you only washed your hands after a visit to the loo.

There was never a restriction on the number of customers that could crowd into a pub and food with alcohol was not mandatory.

When the lockdown came I had my last pint of stout at 3:42:33 on Sunday afternoon, March 15, 2020, served by the cordial John McHale in Johnny McHale’s pub.

How things have changed. Lockdown after lockdown, cocooning, and no chance of a foreign holiday for the foreseeable future. No contact with neighbours or grandchildren and you daren’t go beyond your 5k limit.

But a year on and the real everyday heroes are our dedicated health workers and those at the front line in the battle against the deadly coronavirus.

The Taoiseach has indicated that no consideration will be given to reopening hospitality until mid-summer.

So while we are confined to having a can of stout or a glass of wine at home, let me reminisce on what were the good old days.

This photograph was taken by barman John Scott in The Castle Inn on Castlebar’s Castle Street on July 26, 2018.

There is nothing unusual about this group of happy patrons lined along the counter - except that they are all named Tom - all six of them: Tom Scott, Tom Gillespie, Tom Brett, Tom Toolis, Tom Gibbons and Tom Ruane.

It was most unusual to have six Toms sitting together and it was John Scott who brought it to our attention.

So the unique occasion had to be captured on camera for posterity. It was obviously a magnificent sunny day judging by the summer attire of the drinkers.

Will we ever see the day when we can return in safety to our locals, and how many will not reopen at all. There will be casualties but I hope not too many will bite the dust. Each pub had their own customers and unique characters.

My usual routine, pre-Covid, was to call to Pat Moran in Bucko’s, Amy Mulrennan and Cooks Culkeen in the Bungalow, and Ger Whyte and John Scott in the Castle Inn.

As long as I have been taking a pint, Johnny McHale’s was always my Sunday venue. It was there that I had by first glass of Guinness with my father, Dick Gillespie, and sacristan Pat Jordan and his son Liam.

They say the pub is the poor man’s university and this was certainly the case for these four emporiums where all the latest news, and may I say scandal, not forgetting tall stories were shared.

Not being a night-time imbiber, I prefer a few pints in the afternoon. I spend the mornings, and still do, writing articles like this. It is something of a habit since I retired coming up on seven years ago next month. Most mornings I will get in a 5k walk, regardless of the weather.

It is also a vital means of keeping my sanity and acts as a temporary daily escape from the everyday Covid bad news.

Unfortunately, the social and hospitality scene will be greatly changed post-Covid. What it will be like I do not know. But one thing for sure is we will not be going back to the routine we were accustomed to in the past.

Many who were employed in the hospitality sector may by now have found alternative employment and may be content to remain on their new career paths.

I have got the call for an appointment for the long-awaited Covid jab. This is due to happen on April 3. I will willingly take it in both arms.

From April it is expected, all being well with the vaccine roll-out, that 1.5 million of the population will get the dose every month.

So by the autumn the vast majority of the adult population will have been inoculated and things will begin to return to normal again, or as normal as they can under the circumstances.

It has been a trying year and sadly we have lost so many in the county.

But for now it’s back to the basics and a somewhat deja vu situation. Like March last, I have just planted my early crop potatoes - Pentland Javelin, Duke of York and Home Guards - and my Moneymaker tomato plants are doing fine on my sitting-room windowsill.