There was delight across Ireland as the nation took another stride back to normality with the reopening of pubs, restaurants and leisure facilities.
From Monday, hospitality venues can serve food and drinks outdoors, while gyms, swimming pools and leisure centres can facilitate individual training.
Beer gardens and outdoor eating areas at cafes and restaurants saw smiles of delight with the return of customers enjoying the bank holiday sunshine.
Around 4,000 pubs reopened for outdoor service, with an estimated 25,000 bar staff returning to work.
Irish premier Micheal Martin described a “very significant day” for eateries.
“That of course illustrates the continuing progress we are making in reopening society and our economy bringing thousands of people back to work,” he said in a video posted on Twitter.
“The vaccination programme continues to roll out very effectively and efficiently. Close to 55% of the population have had a dose one now with close to 26% fully vaccinated and we’re close to three million doses being administered overall.”
For traditional pubs in Dublin, it will be the first time they have reopened since the start of the pandemic.
Cinemas and theatres can also reopen, while outdoor amusement and theme parks will reopen to the public.
In Carlingford, Co Louth, streets were transformed by outdoor hospitality.
Sharon McGuigan, owner of the Carlingford Arms for 26 years, said they were so glad to reopen.
It has seating for 32 customers outside with indoor hospitality still not allowed.
“We were closed for nine months, it was absolutely desperate,” she said.
“It was so sad to see Carlingford so quiet, but we’re back open now and we’ll be as busy as ever.
“It’s absolutely brilliant having customers back, there are plenty of families around and that is what Carlingford is looking for.
“Outdoor dining is new for us, we don’t have a beer garden so we got permission from the council operate outside, and it’s a great sunny day – we’ve no umbrellas so we don’t want any rain until September.”
Bernadette and Michael Heaney, who own gastropub PJ O’Hare’s, were also delighted to be able to reopen.
“The atmosphere is great, it’s a beautiful sunny day and everybody is feeling the warmth and the gladness of being able to be back open,” Mrs Heaney said.
“It’s been very exciting, getting ready for this big day to get back into business, the cobwebs brushed off and to get doing what we do best.
“The customers were absolutely delighted to be back, and get talking to people who aren’t living with them. Everyone is so uplifted.”
Mr Heaney said Christmas had been a particularly bleak to remain closed.
“We were closed for 15 months – bar three months last summer – the dark months just after the Christmas period was very very bleak, the town was deserted,” he said.
“But over the last month everyone has been revitalised with the date for reopening. We’ve been painting, washing everything, preparing hard for this week.
“For the customers being out again is like a dream.”
In Athy, Co Kildare, there was also excitement at 3G Fitness gym.
Darren O’Brien, from the gym, said membership numbers had surged by 10 to 15% every time a Covid-19 lockdown ended.
“There’s been a huge uptake,” he said.
“Now everybody can get around and do stuff and get out of the house, they want to get into the gym.”
Mr O’Brien said the pandemic had brought a “small blessing in disguise” in that it had made people concentrate more on their physical health.
“What has happened has actually made people think about their health and fitness, which benefits us in the long run,” he said.
He said his focus was now on rebuilding the business.
“It’s been tough to say the least,” he said.
“We have overheads every month going out. Money was going out but not much money was coming in.
“For us it was survival to get to this point and now it’s about rebuilding again.”
In terms of domestic gatherings, an unvaccinated household can now have visitors from one other unvaccinated household inside their home.
The number of people allowed to attended a wedding has increased to 25, while outdoor sports matches can also resume.
The maximum number of people allowed to attend an organised outside event now stands 100.
A number of pilot events with larger crowds will also take place in the coming weeks, with one of the first events taking place on Thursday.
The first concert in Ireland since the pandemic will be at Iveagh Gardens, where up to 500 people will be allowed to attend.
Monday’s lifting of restrictions will see more than 50% of Ireland’s pubs reopen for outdoor service. Indoor hospitality is set to return in July.
Publicans have reported strong bookings for the first day back, with many pubs fully booked out a week in advance of the bank holiday.
Some pubs have reserved tables for “walks-ins” to cater for customers on the day.
Padraig Cribben, Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI) chief executive, said: “There is a strong sense of anticipation among publicans to get open and get back to what they do best.
“The message from publicans to old regulars and new customers alike is ‘we’ve missed you and welcome back’.”
Mr Cribben added: “To get pubs back open will be a great sign the country is returning to normal.”
Another 377 confirmed cases of Covid-19 were notified in Ireland on Monday.