A pint of Guinness. A half-eaten meal. And an alarm clock.
All are laid out on a table in front of an older man as he gazes out the window of a pub in Galway, Ireland, in a photo that has come to capture the nation’s coming to terms with coronavirus regulations.
The image has come to symbolize different things for different people: Some have used it to criticize the government’s restrictions on pubs, while others have applauded the man’s commitment to regulations on dining out.
Pubs that serve food have been allowed to open since the end of June. But new restrictions require that customers have a “substantial meal” costing at least 9 euros (about $10.60) if they also purchase alcohol. The rules also require patrons to leave within an hour and 45 minutes — hence the timer.
Like many countries across Europe, Ireland has seen a spike in coronavirus cases in recent weeks, with daily cases moving from the single digits during a lull in new infections during June and July to 307 new cases announced on Tuesday.
The man who took the photo said he hoped it highlighted the struggles of people isolated by the pandemic.
The pub’s owner, Fergus McGinn, on Monday posted the photo on the Facebook page of McGinn’s Hop House, where it has been viewed and shared tens of thousands of times. Offers to buy the man his next meal or pay for his pint have also poured in, although Mr. McGinn said he “wants to pay his own way.”
While he said the intention was to show a man enjoying the simple pleasure of a meal and a drink, he also hopes the photo will make people aware of the role the local pub plays for isolated members of the community.
“Taking that away from people, that social outlet for that generation, it could be detrimental and savage on their mental health,” Mr. McGinn said.
Particularly in Ireland’s smaller rural communities, pubs serve as a central place to connect socially, even for those who aren’t big drinkers. Yet pubs that don’t serve food have been closed since the lockdown began in March, though this week the government agreed to reopen them on Sept. 21.
“The picture of the old man itself was a beautiful image,” Mr. McGinn said, recalling that at the moment it was taken, the table beside him had been occupied by a mother and son with a smartphone, who also noticed the timer. “We smiled and acknowledged the generation gap.”
Mr. McGinn was cautious about naming the man in the photo to protect his privacy. But local news reports identified him as John Joe Quinn, and he told The Irish Independent newspaper that he was surprised by his newfound fame. He also said that in addition to being careful not to exceed his allowed time in the pub, he had been using the timer to ensure that he didn’t miss the evening news broadcast.
He said that he was less concerned about going out for a pint than he was about staying safe.
“Health is more important,” he told the newspaper. “People need to do what they are told. That’s as simple as that.”