One thing's for sure, we are heading into a winter like no other. And whatever the restrictions on the number of visitors to our homes, many of us will prefer to do our small-group socialising outdoors.
And, not to put the wind up anyone, but Christmas is on the horizon.
Until now, and unlike some other Northern European countries with similar or less temperate climates (December temperatures in Ireland average between 7-10C), we haven't had much of a culture of outdoor living - but that's about to change. If we want to get the maximum possible use out of our gardens over the next few months, we'll need to address the twin issues of shelter and heat.
Garden designer Dominick Murphy lives in rural Wicklow and has the luxury of an old barn separate to his house which he has kitted out for outdoor cooking and eating.
"I cook and entertain outside all year round," he says. "This is our climate and we have to make the most of it. I live close to the Wicklow Way and I often have friends dropping in when they are walking. I have a Morso wood-burning oven which is ready to cook on quickly and gives off great heat, plus electric radiant heaters on the walls and a fire pit as well. Together they make things cosy. And proper clothing is key."
But for those of us without a handy spare barn ready to repurpose for outdoor living, what are the options? A pop-up gazebo is all well and good in the summer, but it's unlikely to be robust enough for the coming months.
If you have the space, you may want to consider a sturdy, permanent open-sided structure, such as the Sorcha gazebo (pictured below) supplied by Damien Kelly of Outdoor Living.
"People may not be splashing out on holidays abroad," says Kelly, "but they are spending on their gardens to make them suitable for family gatherings. We have never seen such demand."
Awnings of Ireland is another Irish business supplying sophisticated outdoor shelters, with some made by Belgian company Renson, fitted with self-cleaning glass and manoeuvrable louvres to give year-round flexibility. Bear in mind that, depending on the size and design of structure you have in mind, you may need planning permission.
Colum Sheanon of Murphy Sheanon, Dominick Murphy's business partner, has installed a number of outdoor rooms for clients, including at Ciara Denvir's Belfast Manor, named Home of the Year 2019 by judges Hugh Wallace, Deirdre Whelan and Peter Crowley in the RTÉ series.
"At the upper end of the market," says Sheanon, "you can create something very special that will enable you to eat out of doors all year round. A client with a large period house in Terenure wanted an outdoor recreation space providing a sense of enclosure, somewhere that would be a destination within the garden in its own right. It has a fire wall and is designed to be retrofitted with a glass roof between the slats of the pergola, if the client wants that in the future."
But if you don't have the budget to call in the professionals, a simple and cost-effective solution is a pressure-treated timber structure with a rippled perspex roof which anyone with basic construction experience should be able to put together over a weekend.
Other options in terms of shelter include the German-made Markilux retractable awnings operated by remote control, which come in self-cleaning fabrics (so you don't have to worry about bird poo), have a built-in gully that collects rainwater (ditto drips) and can withstand winds of up to 37km an hour.
"That means that you'll go in before the awning does," says Michael Maguire of Awnings of Ireland. "They also have dimmable lighting and can illuminate the garden."
For those who prefer a simple temporary canopy that they can rig if it's raining, the Kookaburra shade sails - available in a wide range of colours (aquasystem.ie) - are an economical solution that protect from light showers.
Once you've figured out how to keep the rain out, the next challenge is staying warm. There's something visceral and appealing about a real fire, with fire pits and chimineas becoming popular in recent years; veterans of the chiminea world say that metal is a better, more durable option than clay.
Most garden and outdoor furniture suppliers stock a range of fire pits, but you can make a simple one out of old wheel rims, as Francis Nesbitt, who runs eco-tourism business Croan Cottages in Co Kilkenny, has done, or use the drum of an old washing machine.
But the downside of fire pits is smoke, which can be a problem both for neighbours, particularly in urban areas, and guests, who may baulk at going home smelling like a bonfire. (In Stockholm, celebrity chef Niklas Ekstedt of the eponymous Ekstedt - where he has ditched electricity and gas and cooks over live fire using charcoal and wood - reminds customers at his Michelin-starred restaurant to leave their furs at home.)
Irish company Midos has come up with a smart and well-priced solution to the smoke problem with its double-chamber Phoenix fire, (pictured below) designed to burn kiln-dried logs.
"The engineering means that it burns wood first and then the smoke before it leaves the pit," says Tony Smith of Good Wood Fuel in Drogheda, which stocks the Phoenix and the wood to fuel it. "It's ingenious, efficient and clean."
"We Irish like the idea of a big wood fire," says Colum Sheanon, "but I think gas is the way to go. There is a lot to be said for the convenience of flicking a switch. If you're lighting a fire, it can take an hour to settle down and then the mood is gone. Gas allows you to be spontaneous."
Fans of the Netflix show Selling Sunset will know that gas-fuelled fire pits and fire walls are all the rage in LA, and Sheanon says that more and more of his clients choose these custom- designed options, often integrated into outdoor furniture.
"For a fire wall, you need a semi-sheltered environment with a pergola over the seating area," he says. "It has its own chimney out the back. Unless it's covered, you can only use it when it's not raining."
Gas fires may look good, but generate less heat than electric options. Which may not be a problem in California, but is more of an issue here.
"The state-of-the-art Bromic heaters from Australia are in demand from both restaurants and domestic customers," says Michael Maguire. "We are run off our feet with them. Because they are infra-red, they heat you rather than the air, and you don't get any of that red-light effect that you do with other electric heaters."
For those looking for a more sustainable option, Pearse O'Dwyer of Woodco Renewable Energy in Co Tipperary has the answer. He recently supplied several wood pellet-fuelled patio heaters (see below) to Neven Maguire for the outdoor terrace at MacNean House and Restaurant in Blacklion, Co Cavan.
"There is something about being Irish and wanting to look at a fire," says O'Dwyer. "Our heaters are fully carbon neutral and portable. They work like a stove, with a vibrant flame at the core thrusting heat outwards and up. And they are cheaper to run than a gas heater - a bag of wood pellets costs about €5."
When deciding which outdoor heating option to choose, it's important to be mindful of the surface of your garden. If you have a wooden deck, your options will be limited for safety reasons - and you may have to opt for a tabletop bioethanol fire, which is pretty to look at but will not generate any significant heat. If that's the case, stock up on a supply of thermals for yourself, and fleeces and blankets to distribute to guests. A wine coat can help too.