Gawd save us all from the IRISH pub and the chic of it

by John Boland

DOWN IN Ballykissangel last Sunday night, Assumpta’s pub was up for sale, and the locals were understandably worried. “The worst thing that could happen,” one of them said, “would be for someone to buy it and turn it into an Irish pub.” His companion pointed out that all pubs in Ireland were Irish pubs. “No, I mean an IRISH pub,” he replied witheringly.I know exactly what he meant, and I know, too, what Quigley meant in the same episode when he envisaged the village’s sacred drinking-house being taken over by “some Johnny-come-lately with a ponytail and fifteen different words for a cup of coffee.”

There are lots of such Johnny-come-latelys in Ireland these days.


Seventy years ago James Joyce said that a good trick would be to devise a way of crossing through Dublin without encountering a pub, and while that intriguing problem has still to be solved, a more difficult task nowadays would be to chart a course through the city without encountering either a cafe or one of those vast theme-based emporiums that have the nerve to call themselves pubs.

This is not to say that the traditional Irish pub as mythologised in song, verse, movie and in-flight magazine is dying out: that would be putting it too strongly.

Nonetheless, the profound social changes that have occurred in this country in the last decade have meant corresponding changes in the social lifestyle and demands of the Irish people.

Especially, of course, the lifestyle and demands of the young. Dublin, for instance, has changed from being a city where, until recently, the young had few social outlets to being a city where (it sometimes seems) only the young have social outlets.

Certainly anyone over the age of twenty-five may feel special permission is needed if entry is to be obtained to some of the newer cafes and bars.

But then some of us don’t want to get into these places. Cafes are a welcome development, but the trendy aircraft hangars that masquerade as bars are something else.

Anyway, there are two things that some of us will never do: 1) queue up in the street like eejits for the privilege of pouring alcohol down our throats, and 2) enter any premises guarded by a bouncer. The very young are obviously quite content to suffer both of these indignities; the older among us search out those bars where sanity, decency, civilised social interplay and (when needed) the chance of solitary reflection prevail. Mind you, these hallowed establishments are becoming harder and harder to find. The old, dimly-lit bars in which, over a pint of Guinness or a ball of malt, one ruminated on the meaning of life are still a cheering feature of rural Ireland. That’s the curse of suddenly becoming as chic as bedamned, and some of us worry about it. The outstanding virtue of traditional Irish pubs was that they were meeting places in which the young and the old, the rich and the poor mingled. You don’t get that kind of egalitarianism in most of the bars and cafes that have sprung up recently. Still, if you seek you shall find, even on the fringes of Temple Bar where The Palace has been lovingly maintained in all its glory and proprietor Liam Aherne politely but firmly tells roistering stag parties that their needs would be better served elsewhere.

THAT’S MY kind of pub, and there are a few others like it. I was in one such recently when an Italian tourist entered, approached the bar and requested a coffee. “What do you think this is?” the barman snorted. “A restaurant?” The bemused Italian visitor opted for a pint. Proper order.

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