“I was jubilant last night when I heard about it,” Mary Liddy said of the Taoiseach’s announcement that the Covid-19 emergency was over.
With the vast majority of pandemic restrictions lifted from 6am on Saturday, 12 hours after Micheál Martin’s final address to the nation, Ms Liddy said she felt ‘relieved’ as she entered the new normality of the city of Galway.
“I live a fairly, I suppose, adventure-free life, but I like going to the movies. I like going to church. I like going to the theater,” she said.
Ms Liddy said the latest developments in the pandemic, 22 months after Covid-19 arrived in Ireland, were “brilliant” on a practical level. But, as Mr. Martin noted on Friday evening, she believes the country is not yet completely out of the woods.
“We still need to be very careful with masks where they are needed, especially for hand disinfection,” she said.
“Let’s not forget all these things if we want this kind of trend to continue. I measured the confidence shall we say, but I am delighted with this decision.
Danny Winters, a 23-year-old bartender and student, said he was “very excited, but worried” about the removal of most of the brakes that have impacted social and economic life in Ireland for almost two years.
“The idea of lifting the restrictions was what we’ve all been waiting for, but giving people a day’s notice seems counterproductive,” he said.
“Hospitality is still a dying industry, it is very difficult to have enough staff, inventory and rooms ready in one day, especially after two years of uncertainty.”
He urged customers to be understanding and supportive of bar staff, “especially the nightclubs; don’t be surprised if it takes them an extra week or two to get their house in order”.
The general feeling among those who had come out to experience life in the less restricted city was one of cautious relief.
Maggie Rowe, a 22-year-old American living in Ireland, said she was happy to be able to do more things but expects the changes will lead to “more cases” of Covid-19.
Although she hoped it was really the end of the pandemic, she said: “Things are going to close. I feel like it has to. What if Omicron was not the last variant? Then we will have to start all over again.
Danny McBrearty, a Donegal native living in Galway, took a different view.
“Our cases in January were the highest ever, but we still haven’t locked down. They might change some things, opening hours of venues might change, but I think overall we’re back to normal,” he said.
In Cork City, people working, shopping and socializing in the Victorian Quarter – home to an eclectic mix of pubs, restaurants, cafes and lounges – were adjusting to the nightly changes.
At Moody Café Wine Bar, co-owners Noreen Gallagher and Jadowslaw Paduch were thrilled to run a business with normal opening hours.
They opened the business in December 2020 and had to close after just eight days due to Covid-19 restrictions.
“We basically had to give away all the food we bought. Two and a half months later, we opened for take-out coffee only, just to let people know we were still here,” Mr Paduch said. “Since then we’ve just had to go through each month with different things going on [with restrictions]. I’m just glad we’re still here.
“We were trying to reassure the staff while not being sure ourselves that everything would be fine. People who loved the industry stayed. We have 12 employees and it was anxious for them. I understood their anguish because I was the same.
“There is relief today, but hopefully lessons have been learned and people realize how important hospitality is.”
Mr Paduch said he had felt ‘embarrassed’ in recent weeks about having to ask people to leave before 8pm and that he believes there has been huge loneliness in society throughout the pandemic due to restrictions.
Ms Gallagher, who also owns Gallagher’s Gastropub nearby, said there has been a ‘massive buzz’ in the locality since the Taoiseach’s address to the nation.
“Bookings immediately increased. The biggest heartbreak I have felt during the pandemic has been closing the kitchen a few times due to the restrictions. There was no warning. You could lose up to €5,000 worth of shares,” she said.
At the Gallagher pub, Andrew Gannon, who works alongside his mother Noreen, said it was “a bit surreal” to finally see almost all restrictions lifted.
“It was a bit of a shock. It came out of nowhere,” he said.
“At least we won’t have to rush people out the door now. We don’t like to do that. People did their best… A customer asked me when we were going to pick up the bar stools. It will be weird but great to have them back.
Friends Judy Golden and Clare Kennedy, from Mallow, were having coffee while contemplating the prospect of a night out.
Ms Golden said she was looking forward to going with “an extended gang” of friends instead of limiting it to groups of six.
“We’ve just gotten used to the new normal, but it’ll be great to go out to dinner without having to make a date.”
Ms Kennedy, who was with her baby, Oisín, said he had been somewhat “sheltered” since his birth in September due to concerns over Covid-19.
“We met very few of my friends and family. It will be nice for people to be able to hold it and enjoy it and be able to relax a bit.
Maria Djukic, owner of beauty salon I Lash You on MacCurtain Street, expected a surge in customers seeking eyelash extensions now that nightclubs and pubs are fully open.
However, she was able to survive the pandemic because for many young women eyelash extensions have become an “essential” part of their overall grooming.
“We hope for more business with more people coming out. We have been here for three and a half years. Before the pandemic, we were very busy. We continued and we are very happy today.