They had had to book a table, restrict their group to four people, sanitise their hands, shun the bar, not sing, and leave after 105 minutes, but Johnny Knox and Tommy Flannery were not complaining.

After three months of lockdown, Ireland eased restrictions this week and the pair were back in the pub, sinking pints and talking up a storm. “The first pint? Absolutely brilliant,” said Knox, 64, working his way through another Tuborg.

The safety measures did not appear to chill the atmosphere in McLoughlin’s, a venerable, wood-panelled pub in Dún Laoghaire, south Dublin. Customers nicknamed a hygiene-focused barman “Let us spray” and teased the barmaid that the bar’s perspex screen violated her promise never to let anything come between them.

If this was the new normal, so be it, said Flannery, also 64. “We make our own craic.”

Johnny Knox, left, and Tommy Flannery

Johnny Knox, left, and Tommy Flannery, having their first post-lockdown session at McLaughlin’s pub in Dún Laoghaire, Dublin. Photograph: Rory Carroll/The Guardian

Ireland’s pubs started reopening on Monday, and the verdict seems to be so far, so good. A devastated industry is again making money and providing jobs, the public can socialise in a time-honoured way, and the drunks who forget the rules and wander to the bar can be steered back to seats.

On Saturday it is England’s turn, when licensed premises will readmit customers for the first time since 23 March. Pubs in Northern Ireland reopen on Friday and in Wales on 13 July; in Scotland the date has not yet been set. “Super Saturday” in England is prompting excitement and trepidation, with A&E doctors imploring people not to get “plastered” in case they overwhelm the NHS.

If Ireland is any guide, there will be plastering, at least on day one. “The first night we had six guys that drank 10 pints of Guinness each, then cocktails, then gin and tonics,” said Alan O’Reilly, a co-owner of Kelly & Coopers, a gastropub in Blackrock. “We think it was a bet.”

After several drinks, customers tended to revert to pre-pandemic habits such as trying to order from the bar, he said. “You have to manage it.”

In other parts of Dublin there were tales of groups weaving their way through an itinerary of 12 pubs, having a drink in each – a challenge that riffed on the 12 days of Christmas. In such cases, physical distancing probably went the way of sobriety, but most punters appear to have behaved responsibly.

On Monday the average customer of Revolut, a banking app, spent €27.64 in Irish pubs, more than double the pre-lockdown average of €12.47 but hardly enough for bacchanalia. Especially since one new rule obliges drinkers to buy a meal worth at least €9.

“It’s been very busy, packed each night. People have been locked up for three and half months, they’re just delighted to get out,” said Joe Cahill, the manager of McLoughlin’s.

Joe Cahill, manager of McLaughlin’s pub in Dún Laoghaire, Dublin

Joe Cahill, manager of McLaughlin’s pub in Dún Laoghaire, Dublin. Photograph: Rory Carroll/The Guardian

Packed is a relative term: under the new rules, many pubs can host far fewer people than at pre-pandemic capacity. Customers must be seated and not mix with other groups. Most book tables in advance. A member of each group must leave a phone number and email in case it is needed for contact tracing. Police and about 500 government inspectors monitor compliance.

Cahill had advice for British publicans: “Take names and phone numbers. And be alert all the time.” Danger was just a cough away. “If anyone came in spluttering, we wouldn’t serve them.”

“And we don’t allow singing – the saliva,” he added. Instead the juke box – playing a Kerry ballad when the Guardian visited – works overtime. People have swiftly adapted, even to the rule that they must leave after 105 minutes. “I tell them when their time is up, and that’s it,” Cahill said.

Peter Kane, nursing a pint, grumbled that the time limit had been on his mind since entering. “It’s like an egg timer.”

At the Lighthouse pub up the road, two cafe workers noted the coronavirus posters and the hand sanitiser dispensers. “It’s different but it’s nice to be back. I’m not going to lie, it’s lovely,” said Mia O’Regan, 21, sipping a Peroni. Kate Fitzgerald, 20, worried about endangering staff if she unknowingly carried the virus. “I get anxious.”

Kelly & Coopers, the gastropub, installed self-cleaning antibacterial door handles, paper menus and other precautions before reopening, and this week came up with an additional tip. “Keep the noise level down and people are more concerned about social distancing,” said Brian Kiernan, a co-owner. “It’s part of the Irish psyche that we go to the bar and shout at each other. Those days are gone.”

Alan O’Reilly, left, and Brian Kiernan, co-owners of Kelly & Coopers pub in Blackrock, Dublin

Alan O’Reilly, left, and Brian Kiernan, co-owners of Kelly & Coopers pub in Blackrock, Dublin. Photograph: Rory Carroll/The Guardian

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