Virus Risks Making St. Patrick’s Day a Dry One for Dublin’s Pubs

Dublin barman David Leavy should be bracing for one of his busiest days of the year. Instead, he’s wondering if anyone will show up.

Leavy works in McDaid’s, a storied city-center pub and a magnet for the Dubliners and tourists who flood into the Irish capital every year for the March 17 St. Patrick’s Day parade. Except this year, the celebrations have been canceled as authorities seek to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“Paddy’s Day would be massive, from 11 a.m. right through to the last orders,” said Leavy, looking around at the bar, a quintessential Irish pub — with its wood floors and high stools — that’s the rumored setting for a James Joyce short story. “Obviously, it’s going to affect business. How bad, only time will tell.”

Bars and restaurants have become the front line of the battle against the virus in Ireland, which has 90 recorded cases, including one death. The St. Patrick’s festival attracts about a half a million people to Dublin, luring tourists from around the world. Every year, Irish authorities floodlight world icons such the London Eye green to promote the country’s national day.

“People think St. Paddy’s Day is just March 17, but it’s four days; it’s a festival, “ said Leavy. “Those four days business would be like 10 days. Outside Christmas, Paddy’s weekend is the biggest — it’s like the cherry on the top. This weekend should be massive, and chances are it won’t be.”

The government has placed the country into a partial lockdown, shuttering schools, colleges and creches, and urging people to stay apart as much as possible. Yet they’ve left cafes and bars open, restricting numbers to 100 drinkers at any one time.

That means bars will use doormen to limit numbers in some of the so-called super pubs dotted around Temple Bar. On the banks of the River Liffey, the area is a tourist mecca, brimming with bars and restaurants.

The Auld Dubliner pub, for example, has become so popular it has developed Asian tourist partnerships, with as many as 10 groups from the region visiting every month, according to bar manager, Conor Kennedy.

“In the last week I’d say we’ve had 10 of them canceled. We’d never get that before,” he said. “Parties from now until July are being canceled.”

The big unknown for bar owners is how patrons respond to the new measures, especially on St. Patrick’s Day itself, when pubs are traditionally full all day round.

On Thursday, after the government laid out its new measures, some were undeterred. Canadian Molly Gagne, 29, traveled to Dublin after her trip to Italy was canceled.

“Not a bone in my body is worried about it,” Gagne, 29, said, as she sat in the Bad Ass bar. “The North American media has blown it out of proportion. When you’re over here it’s fine. When it’s Italy I can understand, but everywhere else – just wash your hands.”

Still, back at McDaid’s, Leavy is worried.

“There’s a lot of Irish people who will come out anyway, it won’t be busy as previous years, but it will still be busy,” said Leavy. “It’s the unknown that’s a bigger worry. It’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

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