'It's the first time I've had to close my pub in 28 years'
The four-page 'Abroad In Uncertain Times' feature in this week's Westmeath Independent includes the following interview with Patrick Griffin, a native of Ballydangan, Athlone, who is the President of the St Patrick's Day parade committee in his adopted home of Providence, Rhode Island.
He has been running Patrick's Pub in the city for the last 28 years and has also been working in City Hall.
You can read the interview with Patrick below. The 'Abroad In Uncertain Times' feature will be concluding soon, so if you're a local person living abroad who would be interested in taking part, please email Adrian at: email@example.com
* How has the Coronavirus affected your daily life?
Pat Griffin: In late February or early March there was talk that we might have to close the pub for a couple of weeks before we got back to some sort of normality, but of course it got a whole lot worse since then. I've unfortunately had to lay off all of the staff, and now they're all collecting unemployment payments. There are no real signs of knowing when a bar can reopen or when any large gatherings can take place. From listening to the TV, it could be months away, and yet there are some other States that are opening up again.
Here in Rhode Island, they have just gone through the first phase, of opening the parks and some outdoor dining with social distancing. That, for me, doesn't work because it's a bar and you can set up all the distancing you like but people are still going to want to come together and have the chat! So it's going to be very difficult.
I am not working in City Hall at the moment but I am working from home, answering Treasury Department phone calls, and luckily enough I'm still getting paid from the City.
* What's been the hardest aspect of the situation for you personally?
While you come to accept it on one level, you can feel very depressed about it at times. I have been open for 28 years and this is the first time ever that my door is closed. I don't even close on Christmas Day or Thanksgiving Day here - I open up at 6 every evening! So for me to be closed is tough on my staff and something I feel emotional about, because I miss the camaraderie with my friends and with the customers.
I miss going out on the weekends, going to dinner with people, or going up to Boston to visit my friends from Athlone. We go to an Irish club there, and go dancing. But at the moment, we can do nothing. All we can do is the video calls, and it's tough. You feel like you're in some sort of a Zombie world. It's hard to believe that this is actually going on.
In March, we were ready to roll with the Providence St Patrick's Day parade - we had the booklets printed and in circulation, we had the dinner done, we had all the bands booked - and then we were shut down on March 16! I had brought 1,500 pounds of corned beef for St Patrick's Day, but thankfully I was able to freeze that.
* Are there any positives you can take from this situation?
Well, coming from a farming background in Ballydangan, I've never been used to hanging around doing nothing. For me to hang around and do nothing during this time would be unacceptable, so I decided to totally demolish my two bathrooms in the bar and I am remodelling them as we speak. Of course, I'm practising social distancing because I'm here on my own doing the work! I'm doing various other projects in the pub as well - things I have been meaning to do for a long time - so that's the positive side of it.
Another thing is that this has made us realise how lucky we were. We didn't realise how good we had it before. We were flying here and flying there, going to dinners, and doing all those things we can't do now. And I'm sure it has brought a lot of families closer because they are spending more time with each other.
* When do you think 'normal life' might resume?
That's the most difficult part of it - we don't know when this is going to end. We don't know when we're going to get a vaccine. They are saying that several vaccines are being worked on, and they might have something before the new year, but that's still a very long time away. From a business perspective, every week that you are closed is putting you more and more in debt.
I have so many people asking when the bar might reopen. People have been calling me up and saying they miss coming in, and miss seeing everyone there. And my answer is, 'Me too'.
* What's your message for your family and friends in Athlone?
Stay safe, and heed the health advice. I am so looking forward to going back to Athlone and visiting my friends and family there.
I want to say a big hello to my friends John Henson, Eugene Dooley and PJ Recks, my brother John, sisters Maureen and Ann, and their families. I'd also like to say hello to councillors Frankie Keena and Aengus O'Rourke, who have been to Providence for St Patrick's Day. To the Army members from Athlone who have been coming to Providence, we look forward to seeing you marching down Smith Street for St Patrick's Day next year. I miss everybody, and we'll have a big party when we all get together again.