Pubs are daring to dream of busy bars once again as Covid limitations on the hospitality trade will lift on Saturday.
The closing time for hospitality, which had been 8pm during the Omicon wave, will return to normal from tomorrow.
In a speech tonight, the Taoiseach said that the country had weathered that Omicron wave as he announced that almost all public health restrictions will be lifted - some as early as 6am tomorrow.
From tomorrow, a Covid pass will no longer be needed to access pubs, restaurants or hospitality.
People will be allowed to move freely around indoor hospitality and entertainment venues.
While restrictions for nightclubs will be lifted from tomorrow, it will be Wednesday before some reopen if they must apply through the courts for a late licence.
Whoops and applause at Taffe's Bar Galway as Taoiseach announces resumption of normal trading @rtenews #restrictions #todayisagoodday @MichealMartinTD @rbx_taoiseach @rtesixone pic.twitter.com/r8ZX4yQBLQ— TERESA MANNION (@TeresaMannion) January 21, 2022
The hospitality industry welcomed the announcement that bars and restaurants can resume normal trading from tomorrow night.
In a statement, the Licensed Vintners Association (LVA) described today as "monumental".
Vintners and restauranteurs said they look forward to rebuilding their businesses and will begin hiring extra staff in the coming weeks.
Tonight in Taffe's pub in Galway City, there was unbridled joy and excitement as customers watched the announcement on the lifting of restrictions. Pints were pulled, music played and glasses raised.
Mairtín Lally of Taffe’s Bar was clearly emotional, calling it a truly wonderful day for all of the bar staff and traditional musicians.
"They've been calling and asking if there was any news of a full reopening and now it's happened at last and we're overjoyed. It will take time to get back on our feet and return to normal and bring custom back into the pubs. People have been drinking at home for almost two years now. But we hope to be properly up and running by the summer with a full complement of staff and people meeting and connecting once more."
In Dublin, the Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI) welcomed the announcement, saying it was an emotional day for the sector after an "economic hammering" over the past two years.
RAI Chief Executive Adrian Cummins said it was time now to rebuild the sector, hold on to staff and hire in more people with the right skills-set, including restaurant workers from outside of Ireland.
Earlier, the Government said there will be no "cliff edge" when it comes to phasing out wage subsidies and Covid financial supports.
In Galway and Cork, there were plenty of people inside and outdoors enjoying a Friday evening tipple and looking forward to late night socialising tomorrow.
Tonight, it was 8pm closing for the last time around the country with a weekend of socialising stretching ahead.
But people are being reminded that the pandemic is not over and to exercise due caution going forward.
Hope and some apprehension
In Dublin's pubs and nightclubs this evening, there was a sense of hope but also some apprehension.
Gary Cusack, owner of Mulligan's pub in Dublin city centre, said: "It's a funny one, how quick it has changed from restrictions to all of a sudden a free-for-all."
He said the pub could adapt relatively quickly despite, as Mr Cusack admits, being a "bit tight" for staff.
While restrictions on hospitality end on Saturday, he said he believes that it will take longer for people to embrace a return to normality.
Mr Cusack said: "It will take a while. People are used to table service. In a full pub, there will be certain people who will be wary about that. It will be different. We're two-and-a-half years doing it this way.
"All of a sudden, to go back to the old way - not checking at the door, coming up to the counter to get your drinks, sitting at the bar - it will be all new."
Mr Cusack, who had Covid-19 over the Christmas period as the country reported record case numbers, said he was worried for his customers and his family.
"It's not so much me, it's my family around me that I'm more worried about. My wife's parents are a good age, so you have to be cautious about that," he said.
Ian Redmond, the owner of the Tramline nightclub, had only enjoyed several weeks of trading before concerns over Omicron shuttered the venue once again late last year.
"I'm feeling a sense of nervousness and trepidation that finally we might be at the end of this after 23 long months of being closed," he said.
"We did get to open for a 47-day period, we traded 44 nights. It was absolutely fantastic to see the trepidation on these 18, 19-year-old faces who had never been to a nightclub before.
"They walked in the doors here to get hit by the sound from the DJs playing on the stage. It was just fantastic."
"There will be even more new 18-year-olds over the last couple of months that will be coming to Tramline for the very first time," he predicted.
The nightclub on Friday was in the middle of a minor renovation.
Mr Redmond said: "We've decided that we could open tomorrow night, but we're going to wait until next week."
He was optimistic about the weeks ahead.
"This has been a really tough time on DJs as well as live musicians," he said.
"They've been virtually out of work for the last two years. It has been horrendous for them.
"With a bit of luck and a bit of good fortune, Covid and Omicron are all behind us and we can just look forward to the summer and getting out of this."
On the other side of the city at The Swan Bar, owner Ronan Lynch welcomed the moves to lift restrictions.
He said: "I think everybody was a bit surprised by the way things moved so quickly.
"From a business perspective, it's like getting your Leaving Certificate results - really, really apprehensive.
"For the last two years, it has been a rollercoaster all the way.
"Hopefully this is the end of it now and we can concentrate on what we do best."
Mr Lynch said that he and his staff have been ready to get back to full opening with a moment's notice.
"Over the last two years, we nearly have a master's degree at juggling the balls," he said.
'A nightmare 22 months'
The Vintners' Federation of Ireland (VFI) said today's news has been met with a huge amount of relief and expectation by publicans and their staff across the country.
It said the sector had seen "a nightmare 22 months of lockdowns, closures, partial shutdowns and restricted trading", however it said from tomorrow pubs can get back to the business of what they do best - serving the public in a warm, safe and friendly environment.
VFI Chief Executive Padraig Cribben said: "The removal of all restrictions this weekend is the green light for pubs to get back to doing what they do best and I know for a fact they can't wait."
The Irish Hotels Federation said the announcement marks a "new dawn" for the tourism and hospitality industry and the 270,000 livelihoods it supports.
In a statement, IHF Chief Executive Tim Fenn said the removal of restrictions is truly fantastic news for hotel and guesthouse owners and their teams.
"It's very welcome news too for the many businesses up and down the country that supply our sector, many of them small employers who also rely heavily on tourism and hospitality.
"Meanwhile guests, including couples and families, can finally plan holidays, weddings and gatherings with much-needed confidence, certainty, and anticipation of a very warm welcome."
The chief executive of the Irish Hotels Federation added that while today is a good news day, that hotels and guesthouses, and the wider tourism and hospitality industry face a very challenging few months ahead with a lot of uncertainty.
He said: "The Government strategy of supporting the sectors most affected has worked so far, and we are very grateful for the solidarity it has shown to our industry. We urge the Government now to stay the course and continue with its supports until business levels stabilise."