THERE is a sense of relief among hospitality traders in Limerick this Friday as gastropubs, restaurants and hotels re-opened for the first time in six weeks.
Following on from non-essential retail's reopening on Tuesday, businesses which invite customers to sit in were allowed re-open, as Ireland moved from level 5 back to level 3 Covid-19 restrictions in the run up to Christmas.
For the Glen Tavern, it was actually the first time the bar was open and trading since early October, after initial restrictions then meant bars could only serve pints outside.
Today, however, the warm glow of a pub interior was back again, with Christmas decorations up, and festive tunes on the radio.
Cathal Callanan said: "A lot of our regulars have come back, thank God. They are good to support us, we know that from the last lockdown. It's good to be back - yet again. But we know we are lucky to be open with the restrictions that are involved at this level. There are a lot of places which are closed."
"Bookings have been coming in thick and fast for weekends, because this second lockdown was much tougher, with the shorter days and longer nights. People just want to get out and have some kind of Christmas, even though it might be an awkward one for them and us," he added.
But Cathal is looking forward to 2021: "Hopefully we will be OK for the New Year. Hopefully the conversation about the vaccine will relax it down a bit and we can get it to those who really need it and will keep the country open. It gets difficult for people mentally, especially when you get into January and February. Hopefully we can fight through to St Patrick's Day and be back to normal then. Then it will have been a year."
Customers were again back in The Limerick Strand Hotel, with its manager Stephen O'Connor delighted in particular for his 50 colleagues who've been out on furlough.
He said: "It's a really positive day. It was a very difficult six weeks, especially for our staff temporarily laid off for the second time. Thankfully today, we can welcome back our valued guests and staff for what looks like a really busy period. It feels very Christmassy. People want to get out, come for a night away, reconnect with friends and enjoy a drink. They want to do it in a safe and controlled environment. I think that's what we can offer."