ON Friday, January 21, Pub Spy and his band of merry men sat together watching the Six One news and simply couldn't believe what we were hearing.
Was it real? Were the shackles finally coming off? Nphet were allowing us freedom? Ireland's medical version of Eliot Ness had finally conceded defeat in his bid to stamp out alcohol consumption?
The hospitality sector was no longer the work of the devil and publicans and restaurateurs were finally going to be allowed earn a proper living after 22 months of mistreatment?
Hallelujah! Thank Christ, praise the Lord or Allah, whoever it is you worship.
Gone are the dark days of €9 meals, 8pm closings, vaccine passes and no sitting at the counter. We can dare to live again, dare to dream, dare to be happy, dare to sit at the bar and have a chat with your local barman!
I'm not sure our Commandos were ever this excited to be visiting a pub as they were this past week.
It was quite surreal to be walking into B Shevlin's pub in Carrickmacross without having to wear our masks or produce a vaccination passport, without having to stand at the door waiting to be seated, without having to avoid people or to stay 2m away from everyone else.
"Come in come in, you can sit at the counter so you can, no problem," the barman said to us immediately.
He was clearly delighted to welcome customers back properly and having waited almost two years we were only too happy to oblige him.
"I can't believe it," he said. "It came out of nowhere, it really did, but it's brilliant. I'm delighted to be able to get back working properly," the barman said as the Old Commando quizzed him.
For some pioneers or non pub goers, the whole concept of Irish people's love of sitting at the counter must seem bizarre, but it's special.
To sit at the counter and talk with your friends or indeed a stranger who becomes a friend over the course of the session, to have the barman pull your pint as soon as you arrive and to have him pour your refill before you even ask, folks that stop and have a chat on their way past you for a quick catch up, the barstools at every counter are arguably one of the most sociable place we have in society and boy have we missed them.
The Guinness cost €4.70 and we savoured every last drop.
The fridges were full, the shelves well stocked and there are drinks available on draught that we aren't familiar with. Brehon Blonde and Open Gate Summer Ale were two of them.
The brown leather barstools were mostly in good condition, while the black leather bench seating looked as good as new.
The timber flooring is old but it was swept clean, so we had no complaints.
There was a good atmosphere among the locals and it was fantastic to witness things returning to normal again.
A photo of the Monaghan senior football team that won the Ulster Championship in 2013 hangs proudly on the wall and we noticed, too, that this pub has its own golf society.
We stayed in the front bar for the duration of our stay and there is one TV in this area behind the counter. There was live football on and plenty of opinions flying back and forth, too.
One area that required some attention was the toilets, with the cubicle and toilet seat in particular needing a scrub down. Apart from that, we had a wonderful time and really enjoyed the barman's company.
Rating: Three pints out of Five
One for the road
Deery’s – Carrickmacross
BEFORE we entered Deery’s bar we could have sworn we’d been here before, but once we stepped inside the bar it all looked new to us. Perhaps we’re mixing it up with somewhere else.
The barmaid on duty was kept busy throughout our stay and although customers were seated at the counter we did notice she was still providing table service to some of the regulars.
It was an all-male clientele, and horse racing was definitely what most of them had assembled to watch with plenty of expert opinions and plenty of money being won, and lost.
The blue leather barstools were pretty basic with no back support but it didn’t seem to bother the locals who were just thrilled to be back to normal.
We really enjoyed the atmosphere and the toilets checked out fine.
Rating: Three pints out of Five