There is grave disappointment across rural Ireland this week, with the announcement that pubs which don’t serve food (all 3,500 of them) will not be allowed to reopen before September at the earliest. Like every story, there are two sides to this one. Nothing is worth one human life and the government is rightly putting the health and welfare of the citizenry above the unquestionable importance of the local pub. But there is a ‘but’ …
This is not about alcohol consumption, but the fact that the country pub (especially) has traditionally been a haven for the community in combating the problems of loneliness and isolation. Most publicans are very responsible professionals and it is to be hoped that by September, bars will be able to open under the umbrella of ‘the new normal.’
The Irish pub is the best in the world and it is sad to see most of them closed as we drive the roads. Sadder still is the realisation that many of these family run businesses will never again open the pub door. A significant number were doing ‘just Ok’ before Covid struck, and this is the straw to break the camel’s back. Britain is not quite as badly affected with pub closures, but in my travels in recent years I notice many fine, once beautiful Tudor-style pubs closed up. In Spain – where there are too many pubs, hopefully the stronger and better run ones will come out even stronger post pandemic.
The ‘Local’ was always the centre of the community: Wakes were held there to give departed friends a ‘decent send-off’ as was the ‘wetting of the baby’s head’ to welcome a new arrival. Football and hurling teams were picked, deals were done and problems solved. Everyone knew or learned what was going on around them and a strong sense of ‘my place’ was cultivated.
There was banter and nostalgia; Sport and politics were dissected and any pub worth its salt carried a couple of barroom philosophers. Conversation ebbed and flowed as all waited patiently for an opening to slide in with the quick retort, quip, put-down or ‘good one.’ Your typical publican was a highly respected pillar of the community and the facilitator through which things got done.
A well run pub is not really a pusher of the alcohol drug, but a pleasant conjuncture of social intercourse in a homely atmosphere. The pub was the heartbeat of the parish and the engine room of local activity. The consistently longest lasting GAA club teams came from where there was a pub in the vicinity.
This may sound like a contradiction; you could have the best pitch, a covered stand and modern changing rooms – but it was in the pub that club spirit was fuelled. When emigrants returned from England, Canada, America (and now Spain!) it was into the bosom of their school pals down at the pub, often realising for the first time that there was a special heavenly smell from a turf fire.
With the cup of coffee becoming as normal as the pint of Guinness along the bar counter, today’s pub is a more inclusive establishment
The Irish pub became famous all over the world due to our ability to enjoy the real art of conversation without an agenda: The cut and trust of differing opinions and the Americans in particular love the Irish flair for talking around the subject rather than getting to the point! Without the pub would we ever have had a Patrick Kavanagh or a Brenden Behan? A James Joyce or even a Ronnie Drew?
Pubs have caused this writer both grief and gain on both sides of the counter since I started ‘serving my time’ at the age of fifteen; but my love-hate relationship is much more love than hate. Yes, the pub will continue, but in a changed format and there will be fewer of them. Most will have to serve food to survive and the often-too-loud background music discourages inclusive pub conversation.
Pubs are suffering similarly in the UK and of course it is worth mentioning that Ireland does not have exclusivity to “The Local.” You can see how much of Coronation Street is centred in “The Rovers Return”. “The Pig ‘n Whistle” was a famous television pub in Canada and many readers will have been fans of Dianne and Sam in the American bar comedy, “Cheers” – which incidentally I visited in Boston.
Could my soft spot for pubs have anything to do with the fact that in December 1968 I rambled into Bartleys Bar in Drumcree –“ just for one”, but finished up marrying the daughter? I tell you – anything is possible in the pub!!
Unused experience is a dead loss.