'twas a wee quiet day on St Paddy's in Temple Bar
The cellar of The Temple Bar in central Dublin would normally be stacked head-high with enough kegs of Guinness to serve thousands of pints to revelers toasting Ireland’s patron saint.
But this St Patrick’s Day, only a smattering of empty caskets line the chilled basement of the crimson-colored pub, the cornerstone of the capital’s drinking district.
For the second year in succession, the normally raucous celebrations have been canceled by coronavirus curbs on Wednesday.
“It’s a year on now and ... we seem to be back where we started,” said publican Tom Cleary, perched on a barstool next to a Guinness tap fashioned in the shape of the Celtic harp.
“It’s sad there’s no end in sight,” he said.
“I mean, will we be here next St Patrick’s Day with the same problems?”
St Patrick’s Day is traditionally a bonanza trading day for publicans across the Republic of Ireland. Huge crowds heave into city centers, jamming pubs cheek by jowl and spilling out into the streets in an alcohol-fueled celebration.
But the global health emergency has brought Ireland’s most emblematic industry to a grinding halt.
The first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Ireland on February 29 last year. The government asked all pubs to cease trading after March 15.
Last year, 4,534 people have died after testing positive for coronavirus in Ireland — home to just 4.9 million — and the nation is currently in the midst of its third lockdown.
As case figures waned last year, pubs in certain counties and those serving food were permitted to open for short spells.
But cases surged after the government loosened restrictions ahead of Christmas, and in early January Ireland was the most infectious nation in the world, according to Oxford University data.
All pubs nationwide have now been shut since Christmas Eve and the government said they are unlikely to reopen until mid-summer.
“We’ve endured the longest most severe lockdown in Europe,” said Donall O’Keeffe, head of the Licensed Vintners Association, which represents pubs in Dublin.
“When you’ve been closed for a year, every day is an eternity.”
In Ireland, pubs and pints hold a semi-mystical status and there are signs that drinkers have sought to recreate the magic at home during the pandemic.
Police have raided numerous “shebeens” — unlicensed bars operating below the radar while the nation has been in lockdown.
More broadly there are signs of discontent in Ireland as a third lockdown stretches on.